Well, we knew we were going to have to lose eventually. The Panthers dropped a 4-2 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, dropping their season record to 1-1-0. There were things to like in this game, but there were more negatives than I would’ve liked.
I’ll just get the negatives out of the way first. All too often it looked like the Panthers were really sloppy around the net. This was most evident in the Richard Park goal at 15:21 of the second period. The Panthers were on the power play, and Tomas Fleischmann had the puck behind the net. In a pretty boneheaded move, Flash tried to deke around Craig Adams behind the net. The puck got away. Richard Park took the loose puck in front of the net and rang a shot off the post that was accidentally deflected back in by Dmitry Kulikov. That shorthanded goal made it a 3-1 game, and the Panthers could not recover.
Examples of miscommunication between Jose Theodore and his defensemen were evident, too. On one goal to James Neal, a loose puck bounced softly off of Theodore’s pads in front of the crease. No Panther made an aggressive attempt to sweep the puck out of the zone, and James Neal knocked in the puck for an easy fourth Penguins’ goal. Pittsburgh’s first goal at 14:57 of the 1st was similar. Pascal Dupuis jammed in a pass from Joe Vitale, but the Panthers defensive pairing of Erik Gudbranson and Ed Jovanovski didn’t have much to say about it. Dupuis didn’t receive a lot of physicality even though he was right up at the net, and he was able to pocket the goal at his leisure.
The last Penguin goal came from the “changed man” Matt Cooke, who tapped in another great pass from Vitale on the rush. This goal resulted from a slow line change for Florida, and Stephen Weiss couldn’t back to Cookie in time to stop the play. Chalk it up to early-season inexperience, I guess. By November, those mistakes from the Panthers will be close to non-existent.
Of course, there were a lot of things to admire about the Panthers’ performance. Both my dad and I noticed the energy on every line for the Panthers. They were fighting behind the net for puck possession, and they sprinted all up and down the ice. You have to hand it to the Panthers tonight: they didn’t lose from a lack of hustle. All of their mistakes were simply cases of trying to do too much. Not great, but there is something to admire in hustle mistakes.
Jose Theodore was at least solid tonight as well. All of the goals he surrendered were in front of the net, and very little blame could be given to Jose on any one of them. His reflexes looked great, stopping hard slap shots from close range and securing loose pucks when he could get them. His defense let him down in this one, but the Panthers’ D is not something I’m too worried about at this point.
The Jack Skille line was great again, and the Panthers’ first goal was almost a directly caused by his hustle. He sprinted with the puck down the wing and put a backhand shot on net. Marc-Andre Fleury played the puck poorly, and Marcel Goc was there to collect an easy rebound goal to put the Panthers on the board. So far, Skille has been a spark plug on the bottom lines.
Stephen Weiss’ assist to Tomas Fleischmann was also a thing of beauty. The play started in a bizarre fashion: the linesman dropped the puck in the Panthers’ defensive zone without a Penguin even in the circle. Weiss took the uncontested draw and started a mad rush up the ice. After a Gudbranson slap shot on the other end, Weiss went behind the net, got the loose puck and made a sweet no-look pass right on Flash’s stick. Fleury and the Penguins’ D were stupified by the whole play, and Fleischmann had an empty net to shoot at. He didn’t miss. It’ll be just one of the great goals the Weiss-Flash tandem will score this year.
Well, the Panthers didn’t embarrass themselves on national TV tonight. They played with guts and tenacity, but the Penguins had too much staked in this game (home opener for Pittsburgh) and they were simply too good together for the Panthers to beat right now. Still, it would’ve been nice for the Panthers to steal one in the Steel City with no Crosby or Malkin playing. Oh well, we say.
Next game will be the Panthers’ home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. I hope everyone has tickets! Leave a comment on the bottom if you’ve got something to say (or get off your chest).
Follow the Rat Pack on Twitter: me @ScottFMullin, Frank Rekas @TheRatTrick, David Lasseter @davidlasseter, Josh Luecht @joshluecht, Patrick McLaughlin @PatrickRattrick, Cameron Tahernia @Lord_Panther, and Yuri Peralta @FlaPantheress. Also, please join our Facebook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and make some comments.