The Panthers skated into a raucous Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay tonight for the opening game of the 2019-20 season. The Cats got out to a quick start and kept the game close, but timely goals from the Bolts and late mistakes from the Panthers resulted in a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the cross-state rivals. This is certainly not how we expected to start the season as the Cats really opened with a thud, and lost Mackenzie Weegar to a head injury (more on that later) in the process. But, the Panthers get to do it all over again at home on Saturday.
- The Cats got off to a flying start and were buzzing all over the ice for the majority of the first period. Dryden Hunt hit the post early, the Panthers got the first power play of the game, and for the majority of the period, the Cats dominated in the shot department. But, a delayed penalty led to extended zone time and a Nikita Kucherov one-time blast for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead. Anton Stralman found Evgenii Dadonov for a breakaway chance late in the period for a chance to tie, but Andrei Vasilevskiy made a stellar save to preserve the Tampa lead. The period would end 1-0 in favor of the Lightning, but the Panthers dictated the game and had a lead in the shot department.
The second period was played like a playoff game and the Panthers had a clear upper hand. They looked to be head and shoulders above the Lightning in every aspect after the break. The Panthers fast and aggressive pace finally paid off when Vincent Trocheck took a big hit from Victor Hedman but managed to find Mike Hoffman all alone in front of the net. Hoffman roofed it and the Panthers tied the game at 1. The theme of the night was quick responses from the Lightning. The tie only lasted eight minutes until Kevin Shattenkirk fired a slapper from the point which took a deflection and found the net. The Panthers continued to dominate the period after that with a flurry of chances, but Vasilevskiy was up to the task again and again. The score remained 2-1 until the end of the period.
The third period is where things really started to get crazy. The Lightning came out firing in the third period and the Panthers didn’t appear up to the task. Things got chippy when Nikita Kucherov threw a questionable hit to Trocheck, but Trocheck came right back with a heavy hit of his own which drew a crowd of the Lightning and Panthers players to a scrum near the Panther bench. It wasn’t long after that when Aaron Ekblad got a beautiful steal short handed and fed it to Trocheck who scored the short handed breakaway goal to tie things up again at 2. But this tie lasted jst 45 seconds as Ondrej Palat batted a puck out of mid-air to take the lead back for Tampa. They would not give it up again. The game really went off the rails when Gemel Smith delivered a clear dirty hit to the head of Mackenzie Weegar against the glass. Weegar left the game and presumably has suffered his second concussion in the last calendar year which is not good at all. The play was questionably called a two-minute minor on the ice. That is a huge red flag considering the hit was to the head, caused an injury, and Smith clearly left his feet to initiate contact. Weegar did not return. The Panthers took a penalty of their own on the ensuing power play after Mike Hoffman hit the post with a chance to tie and Pat Maroon scored at 4-on-4. An empty netter later sealed the deal and the Panthers fell 5-2.
Shots: Lightning-30 Panthers-37
Power Plays: Lightning-(1/3) Panthers-(0/4)
Faceoffs Won: Lightning-36 Panthers-23
Hits: Lightning-17 Panthers-14
Blocked Shots: Lightning-15 Panthers-15
This was certainly not the result anyone wanted on opening night. The bad news is the fact that the scoreline looks like the Panthers got stomped. That’s not the case. Obviously, losing Mackenzie Weegar is tough to swallow this early in the year given that he is one of the more reliable players on Panther blue line. And nobody likes losing to the biggest rival on the schedule. But, the Panthers get a chance to remedy this loss with a home-opener of their own on Saturday. The power play needs to be much better, along with the penalty kill. The Panthers need to get a whole lot more physical before Saturday as well if they want to get away with a win. But, the offense looks very solid, the defense showed better than I anticipated, and the Panthers really took it to the Bolts for the majority of this game. The Panthers’ top line didn’t produce even a single point tonight, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that. They’ll likely come out swinging on Saturday. The second line looks scary good and Vincent Trocheck appears to be back to his old self. Expect Mark Pysyk to fill in for Weegar and Jayce Hawryluk could add some punch to the fourth line this weekend. I’d love to see Riley Stillman get a call-up but it’ll be Pysyk on Saturday who gets the nod. Watch for the top line to break out for a big game and Sergei Bobrovsky should be much better. I predict a 4-2 Panthers win. The BB&T Center will be packed to the rafters and buzzing on Saturday and I would highly recommend that any Panther fan who is able, find their way to this game. It should give us a little taste of what the arena will feel like should we have hockey here past April. The puck drops at 7 pm.
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