As is his nature, Keith Yandle spoke quietly.
His words, though, rang loud.
“We get coached the right way. Our coaches do a great job getting us ready for games. It’s just one of those things when [we’re] in [a] situation we have to find ways to step up,” Yandle said after the Panthers’ 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night in New York. The Panthers fell to 1-3-3 overall, and dropped the first of five games away BB&T Center. The Panthers will play the New York Islanders at Barclays Center tomorrow, then the New Jersey Devils Saturday afternoon before traveling to Finland for a back-to-back against the Winnipeg Jets.
“We have confidence in our game,” Yandle said. “We know we’re a good group. It’s just finding a way to execute. Once we find it and once we have confidence in ourselves, we’ll hit the ground running.”
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One of the issues that have plagued the Panthers in the early season has been special teams. The Panthers entered the game tied with Chicago and Nashville for 26th in the NHL with an 11.1 percent success rate on the power play, and were last in the league with a 66.7 percent success rate on the penalty kill.
Against a Rangers team that seems earmarked for the NHL Draft Lottery, Florida went 1 for 4 on the power play, allowed two power play goals, and a shorthanded goal.
“We have to work for our bounces. We have to find ways to get key kills or key goals on a power play when we have the opportunity,” said Yandle, who echoed Bob Boughner’s pregame thoughts about “controlling the momentum of the game.”
Following an opening 10 minutes in which both teams played cautiously, the Panthers began to pressure the Rangers as they outshot New York 10-1 in the final 8:23 of the first period. For the period, the Panthers had a 14-5 advantage in shots. And for the game, Florida finished with a 38-22 advantage in shots.
And outscored them 1-0, on Vincent Trocheck’s power play goal from the right circle at 18:15 as Alexander Barkov screened Alexandar Georgiev (36 saves).
“Great start,” Boughner said.
But the early season inability to manage prosperity revealed itself during the second period of the first of three regular season meetings between the Eastern Conference franchises.
Mika Zibanejad’s wraparound, shorthanded goal 3:10 into the second period tied the game 1-1. And New York took a 2-1 lead on Mats Zuccarello’s power play goal eight minutes and 22 seconds later. Zuccarello’s goal came seconds after Denis Malgin was assessed a two-minute minor for high sticking Filip Chytil. Malgin had been given a two-minute minor in the first period for tripping New York center Kevin Hayes along the far boards in the defensive zone.
“We took too many penalties,” Boughner said. “A little undisciplined with our sticks.”
Zibanejad increased New York’s lead to 3-1 with his power play goal from the top of the left circle with 3:52 left in the period. Zibanejad’s second of the game occurred 52 seconds after Frank Vatrano tripped Pavel Buchnevich in the defensive zone. Zuccarello scored his second of the game 1:27 into the third to increase the deficit to 4-1. Mike Hoffman cut New York’s lead in half with a wraparound goal at 10:37 of the third. Hayes’ empty netter with 51.9 seconds left ended the scoring.
“Right now, it’s a struggle,” Boughner said.
Michael Hutchinson allowed four goals on 19 shots before being replaced by James Reimer, who stopped both shots he faced. Mark Pysyk, Derek MacKenzie and Troy Brouwer were the scratches.