After a delay to the Florida Panthers season due to COVID-19 related issues in Dallas, the Panthers opened their season last night against the struggling Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks played their first two games of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it was a tough few days to put lightly.
The Blackhawks allowed five goals in each of their first two games. Coming into game three against a Panthers’ team without regular starter Sergei Bobrovsky, the Hawks were looking to score a handful of goals on the hockey ridden Panthers. Chris Driedger had not seen NHL action since March 9th, 2020. That didn’t seem to matter as Driedger stopped 25 of 27 shots in a 5-2 win.
The Blackhawks’ struggles continued last night as they let in another five goals – for the third consecutive game. The teams will battle it out again Tuesday night as the Panthers look to Bobrovsky as he suits up for his season debut.
Newest Panthers Prove Their Worth
After a busy offseason for Panthers’ general manager Bill Zito, the team he put together and changed entirely finally showed what they could do in NHL action, and it sure was impressive. The team had eight new skaters on the ice last night, and almost all of them made a big impact in the first game of the year.
Eetu Luostarinen, who was acquired in the Vincent Trocheck trade with the Carolina Hurricanes last season, was the most visible difference-maker in his first game with the team. Luostarinen scored the game-winner to go along with an assist on the very exciting Keith Yandle goal. After speculation Yandle’s iron-man streak would come to an end in the opener, he scored in the first game of the season to help prove his worth to the team.
Yandles’ new defensive partner Radko Gudas also had a great first game with the Panthers as he managed an assist, three hits and a block in just over 15 minutes of ice-time. Gudas was brought in via free agency as a strong presence in front of the net to protect the team’s goalies while playing a solid defensive game. To see him chip in on offense as well is a very good sign for the team.
Wennberg Line Looks Sharp
Head coach Joel Quenneville shook things up to start the year and “spread the wealth,” so to speak, as he separated stars Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau to balance out the top-six. Huberdeau was placed with Alexander Wennberg at centre and Patric Hornqvist on the other wing, both new arrivals to the team.
Although Wennberg didn’t chip in on the scoreboard in his first game, he made some crucial defensive plays in the neutral zone. I’m sure Quenneville hopes that Wennberg will find his offensive game again, as he’s playing with an elite offensive talent like Huberdeau.
The best part of this line that shined last night is Hornqvist’s great game. His presence in front of the Chicago net was effective as he set many meaningful screens and played a great game deep in the offensive zone. He was also rewarded with a goal and an assist last night after he looked sharp all game.
Most Interesting Moves
The move that may have concerned Panthers fans the most was putting Carter Verhaeghe on the first line with Barkov and Anthony Duclair. This worked out well in the opener as Verhaeghe carried the puck with confidence and looked good playing with top linemates. He put up an assist in just under 17 minutes of ice time. Although Duclair was held off the scoreboard, he and Barkov – who put up one assist – had good games. Barkov won 16 faceoffs, which was helpful in the offensive zone, while Duclair’s speed was visible, and I’m sure it will be something that the team will have to adjust to as the season goes on.
The most exciting thing for the team is that Bobrovsky will make his season debut tomorrow night, and he must get off to a hot start after his very rough and disappointing year last season.