Once again, the Cats were unprepared to start the game and a couple of mistakes in the neutral zone quickly had them down by two goals.
After denying Patric Hornqvist entry into the Panthers zone, friend of the opposition Mike Matheson stepped up and lost a bid for the puck to Marcus Pettersson. The defenseman absorbed a hit and sent Tanner Pearson in with a nifty little backhand pass and the former King beat Roberto Luongo through the five hole at the 1:29 mark.
Jonathan Huberdeau tripped on his own blue line and turned the puck over to Sidney Crosby (gulp) and “The Kid” sent a lazy cross-ice pass over to Jake Guentzel. The speedy Guentzel tipped the puck through the skates of a flat-footed Aaron Ekblad and burst into the zone before centering to Bryan Rust, who had a step on Keith Yandle, and he went to the backhand to easily score on Luongo at 3:03.
To their credit the Panthers settled down and played well the rest of the period, testing Matt Murray 16 times, including a Colton Sceviour breakaway, to no avail. Murray would go on to finish with 36 saves and win his eighth start in a row.
The second period featured not one, but two shorthanded goals, Rust at 3:04 (terrible piece of defending by Huberdeau in the slot) and Riley Sheahan (after stealing the puck from Yandle) 5:52 later, as the bewildered Cats tied the Chicago Blackhawks for most shorties allowed this season with nine.
Sheahan’s goal sent Luongo (12 saves on 16 shots) to the bench for James Reimer. Aaron Ekblad blasted the puck by Murray 31 seconds later, but the goal was disallowed due to an earlier offsides on Frank Vatrano. Oops.
The Panthers finally did get on the board with 44 seconds left in the frame when Aleksander Barkov deflected another Ekblad rip by Murray for his 17th of the season. Evgenii Dadonov picked up the secondary assist on the goal.
Reimer was solid in relief allowing just the one goal to Crosby on 15 shots, Chances are he’ll start against Edmonton on Thursday, but then again Bob Boughner…
The Panthers hit the halfway point of the season with a thud, falling to NHL .500 with a 17-17-7 record and boy are they ever as mediocre as their record indicates. One had the sense this was going to be a tough one with the red-hot Penguins coming off a surprise loss to Chicago, and the Cats didn’t put up much of a fight, with the exception of the last 17 minutes of the first period. With the way this club allows goals, it’s hard not to think the second half of the season isn’t going to go as well as the first… a bit of a scary thought. The goaltending is spotty at best, the defense remains Swiss cheese, secondary scoring is a problem, and guys seem to be checking out (at least here and there) as the schedule wears on. The bright spot of the season thus far has been the power play, if that goes, like it did last night, expect the Cats to be in the mix for a very high draft pick.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)