“It’s very frustrating,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “Some of the goals that they scored tonight were just some mental lapses. We’ve got to clean that up if we want to be a playoff team. We’re not getting it done right now.”
As it has been in recent weeks, the Panthers once again suffered from a slow start, as Anthony Duclair scored on a breakaway to put the Blue Jackets up 1-0 just 1:37 into the game. However, Florida was able to respond quickly, scoring twice to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
“Obviously our starts haven’t been great, but if the other team gets a goal you can’t get down on yourself,” Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. “You’ve got to continue with the process and continue with what the coaches tell us to do. I think tonight we did a better job of that.”
After Josh Anderson made it 2-2 with 2:56 left in the second period, the Blue Jackets would take their second lead of the game at 6:58 of the third, when Brandon Dubinsky scored during 4-on-4 play, beating goaltender James Reimer after opting to take the shot himself on a 2-on-1 break.
Reimer has backstopped Florida to at least one point in six of his last eight appearances.
“He fought all night,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of Reimer, who had 31 saves. “He made saves when we needed to get saves from him. But, again, when you give three breakaways up it’s tough to look at your goaltending and say that cost us. We’ve got to be smarter than that defensively.”
With 2:13 left in regulation, Ekblad scored on a backhand goal to get the game to overtime. But just 18 seconds into the extra frame, Seth Jones lit the lamp to hand the Panthers their second straight loss for the first time since early December, a 6-3-1 stretch over their last 10 games.
“Happy with the no-quit mentality,” Yandle said. “I thought we worked hard tonight. We found a way to get one at the end, a big goal by Ekblad. Then in overtime… it’s always tough to swallow when you lose in overtime.”
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s loss in Sunrise…
1. BARKY’S BUDDY
Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau have got this whole chemistry thing figured out. With the Panthers trailing 1-0, the top-line duo connected on one of the prettier passing plays you’ll see this season, with Barkov sending a quick backhand pass from the slot to Huberdeau, who then beat Sergei Bobrovsky with a one-timer to make it 1-1 at 13:19 of the first period.
Florida’s scoring leader with 46 points, Huberdeau also ranks first on the Panthers in assists (35) and tied for fourth in goals (11). Since Nov. 24, the 25-year-old winger has recorded 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) tied for fourth in NHL scoring during that span.
As for Barkov, who drew his league-high 30th penalty of the season on Saturday, you can vote him into the All-Star Game through the league’s new week-long “Last Men In” vote HERE.
2. YANDLE’S MILESTONE
Already named to the third All-Star Game of his career on Wednesday, Yandle added another significant feather to his cap — or helmet, one could say — on Saturday night. With the secondary assist on Huberdeau’s goal, the Boston native picked up the 500th point of his illustrious career.
The 67th defenseman in NHL history reach the 500-point plateau, Yandle also stands as just the 13th U.S.- born blueliner to hit that mark. Of those points, 131 have come in a Panthers uniform.
One of the main reasons Yandle was able to reach that mark is because, well, he simply never misses a game. The NHL’s active iron man leader, the 32-year-old suited up in his 755th straight regular-season game on Saturday night, finishing with a pair of assists in 23:03 of ice time.
The quarterback of the league’s second-ranked power play, which is converting at a franchise-record 28 percent, Yandle leads all Panthers defensemen in points (34) and assists (28) this season.
3. HOFF MAKES HISTORY
Mike Hoffman is scoring goals faster than any newcomer in franchise history.
After intercepting a pass in the neutral zone, the 29-year-old winger skated in on Bobrovsky all alone before beating the former Vezina Trophy winner with a ferocious slap shot from the top of the left circle to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead at 18:09 of the first period.
“Hoff does what he does: he scores goals,” Boughner said. “Our power play’s been one of the better power plays all year with him on there. Obviously he’s a huge threat. Again, he got us one tonight. It’s too bad we didn’t get the win on his 20th.”
His team-leading 20th goal of the season, Hoffman has now reached the 20-goal mark quicker than anyone else in their first season as a Panther, breaking Scott Mellanby’s franchise record set all the way back in 1993-94 when the “Rat Trick” originator scored 20 times in 45 games.
Leading Florida in the goals and sitting third in points (38), Hoffman also ranks first on the club in shots (135), getting at least one puck on net in a team-best 39 of 40 games this season.
4. EKBLAD TIES SVEHLA
He’s only 22 years old, but Ekblad is now tied with one of Florida’s all-time greats.
With his game-tying goal at 17:47 of the third period, the former first-overall pick lit the lamp for the 61st time of his young career, moving him into a tie with Robert Svehla for the most goals by a defenseman in franchise history.
Ekblad’s historic goal came in his 349th game with the Panthers.
Florida’s leader in goals among defensemen, Ekblad’s eight tallies so far this season are tied for eighth among the league’s blueliners. In addition to his goal-scoring capabilities, he also paces all Panthers defensemen in average ice time per game (23:05) and ranks third in hits (58).
5. HITTING THE ROAD
After a one-game pitstop at home, the Panthers will now hit the road.
Following a game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Florida will make the long trek across Canada for games against Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal. The Panthers are 9-10-2 on the road this season and have picked up the “W” in four of their last six games away from home.
“We’ve had a lot of travel and we’re hitting the road again,” Boughner said. “Obviously we’re going into a little bit of a hornet’s nest there in Pittsburgh. I think they’ve won eight or nine in a row, so we’re going to have to be ready for that.
“Tomorrow’s just to recharge batteries and forget about hockey for a day. We’ll come back Monday and work. We’ve been a good road team for most of the year. We’ve got to find a way to scrape here and get some wins on the road in this next week and a half.”