Exhale, Florida Panthers fans. The Panthers experienced a change of pace last week as they enjoyed their first win streak of the season. After a few days to recover from the travel of the NHL’s Global Series, Florida played three games in four nights at home. They controlled the better parts of all three games and are on a four-game win streak.
The Panthers Week in Review
Nov. 8 vs. Edmonton Oilers, 4-1 Win
After a slow first period, action picked up in the second when Florida’s new top line of Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, and Mike Hoffman combined for a beautiful goal. That, plus a strong play in the offensive zone by Nick Bjugstad and the Panthers entered the third period up 2-0. Connor McDavid found Leon Draisaitl for an odd-man rush goal early on, but the Panthers did not let off the gas as Jonathan Huberdeau answered on the power play shortly after. Colton Sceviour sealed it with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
The star of this game, however, was Roberto Luongo. He was stellar in his second game back from injury. He controlled rebounds, challenged shooters confidently, and made some saves that you must see to believe.
“He was the best player on the ice tonight.” -Coach Boughner on Roberto Luongo pic.twitter.com/2vOJAZTuE8
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) November 9, 2018
Nov. 10 vs. New York Islanders, 4-2 Win
Luongo got the start in goal for the third game in a row, and he picked up right where he left off against the Oilers two nights prior. Panthers forward Denis Malgin opened the scoring with his first goal of the season. The Islanders responded with two goals of their own from Mat Barzal and Brock Nelson, although neither could have been stopped by the very best of goaltenders. Barzal showed off his soft hands on a breakaway off a turnover, and Nelson dangled around a sliding Keith Yandle.
In the last minute of the second period, Hoffman recorded his seventh of the year as he bounced it off of an Islanders defender, and the nail in the coffin came from captain Barkov on the power play in the third.
Nov. 11 vs. Ottawa Senators, 5-1 Win
Luongo got his first game off since Finland and James Reimer got the start in net. Both teams looked sluggish at the jump, and the Senators opened the scoring with a power play goal late in the first period.
The period that haunted the Panthers through their first 10 games would not haunt them tonight. They came out of the first intermission flying. Barkov scored his fourth and fifth of the season, Huberdeau recorded a power play goal, offseason free agent acquisition Troy Brouwer and the fourth line combined for a tally, and Frank Vatrano ended the period going five-hole on Mike McKenna for a grand period total of five goals. Florida led the period in shots 22-7. With the second assist on Brouwer’s goal, rookie center Juho Lammikko recorded his first career point in the NHL.
Takeaways From the Week
Barkov, Dadonov, Hoffman = Best Friends
Since being paired together following the Panthers’ first game against the Winnipeg Jets, the three forwards have combined for 15 points. Barkov has looked better than usual with the puck on his stick and is scoring from all parts of the ice. For the first time since maybe Barkov, Huberdeau, and Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers have a forward line that has the chemistry of some of the best lines in the league.
Going Streaking: Both Dadonov and Hoffman, by the way, have not stopped scoring. As of Tuesday morning, they both have active point streaks at 11 and 12 games, respectively. Dadonov has six goals and seven assists during his 11 games, and Hoffman has seven goals and seven assists in his past 12. Pavel Bure holds the Panthers record for longest consecutive point streak at 13 games, a record Hoffman will aim to match Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
As a team, Florida looks much more comfortable when they have Luongo between the pipes. He stopped 26 of 27 shots on goal against Edmonton and 29 of 31 against the Islanders for a combined .948 save percentage, and he made enough highlight reel saves in those two games to make up for all of the time he missed early on this season. As long as he remains healthy, the Panthers as a whole show no signs of slowing down.
Amidst the line shuffling surfaced a third line of Jared McCann, Malgin, and Bjugstad. They looked good this week as well, especially during the Islanders game. Though they are all young, their skillsets complement each other nicely. McCann is playing center for now, but each of them has experience at the position and the versatility to play on all parts of the ice.
Bjugstad has the unique combination of size, speed, and offensive instinct, thus requiring plenty of attention from the opposing defense. He can create a lot of room for McCann, who has promising playmaking ability, and Malgin, who is shifty and has a nose for the net. Keep an eye on these three to build some chemistry should they continue playing together.
Final Cat Bite
It’s true that their opponents did not look good at times, especially the Senators, but it is important not to forfeit points to inferior teams, something Florida has struggled with as recently as October. The Panthers should be encouraged that none of these three games felt very close at any point, and they must bring the same intensity when they hit the road next week against more difficult opponents.
They face the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and New York Rangers every other night beginning Tuesday, Nov. 13. The Panthers have a history of disappointing road trips following successful home stands and it’s vital they don’t fall into this trap as they still find themselves at the bottom of the standings despite a fortuitous week.