The Florida Panthers opened the 2019-20 season with a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and special teams played a vital role in the season opener. The Lightning scored one power play goal and added two other goals immediately after a pair of Florida penalties expired. Those three goals can directly be attributed to the Tampa Bay power play, which proved to be the margin of victory as the Lightning won the first game of the season.
NHL’s Top Power Play
The Lightning had the top power play in the NHL last season, converting at a 28.2 percentage. Their lethal power play employs Steven Stamkos around the top of the circle on the left side, while Nikita Kucherov stations himself in a similar position on the right side, which gives them a rare dual option on either side of the power play. Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson says it’s the most difficult power play to defend in the league.
“Yeah, for sure,” said Matheson, who logged two minutes and 24 seconds of time on the penalty kill in the opener. “A lot of teams have a big weapon on one side but the fact that they have one on each side makes it more difficult.”
Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville echoed Matheson’s assessment. “They have those dangerous one-timers on the sides that are as good as shooters as you can get.”
In the opener, the Lightning capitalized on special teams to take the lead for good. Ondrej Palat’s power-play goal broke a 2-2 tie midway through the third period as Panther Frank Vatrano was serving a penalty for interference.
Earlier in the game, Kevin Shattenkirk gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead just one second after a Panthers penalty to Jonathan Huberdeau expired. Huberdeau came out of the penalty box after serving a hooking penalty but could not get back into the play before Shattenkirk’s goal.
Pat Maroon’s goal just two seconds after Mike Hoffman’s penalty expired pushed the Tampa Bay lead to 4-2. It was the fourth goal surrendered in the first start by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year, $70 million contract during free agency.
Panthers’ Defensive Strategy
When asked what the Panthers can do to slow down the high flying Lightning power play, Matheson did not want to provide the exact strategy. “Without giving away too much,” Matheson said with a sheepish laugh, “You have to be aware of it and look for little tendencies that lead to what they like to do.”
Quenneville, who was hired last April, knows that stopping or slowing down the Lighting power play is key but doing so is not an easy challenge, as they are so good at many different areas.
“The way they move it around. The predictability of where other people are,” said Quenneville of last season’s top-ranked power play. “They’re good at seaming passes, as good as anybody in the game.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers, who were second best in NHL last season on the power play, failed to convert on four opportunities with the man advantage. However, the Panthers penalty kill did score a goal as Vincent Trocheck evened the score at two in the third period with a short-handed breakaway goal 45 seconds before the eventual game-winning goal by Palat.
Oct. 4 Practice Notes
The Panthers lines in Friday’s practice were:
Jonathan Huberdeau-Aleksander Barkov-Evgenii Dadonov
Frank Vatrano-Trocheck-Mike Hoffman
Jayce Hawryluk-Henrik Borgstrom-Brett Connolly
Dryden Hunt-Noel Acciari-Colton Sceviour/Denis Malgin (rotated)
Keith Yandle-Josh Brown
MacKenzie Weegar-Aaron Stralman
Mark Pysyk (rotated into multiple spots)
Connolly skated on the second line in Thursday’s game but moved to the third line in practice and Vatrano switched from his third line spot into Connolly’s spot the second line lines in practice. Quenneville advised any lineup changes would be made prior to Saturday’s home opener.
I have followed the NHL since the early 1980s, when offense was king. I lived in the midwest until 2013, when I relocated to south Florida.