Florida Panthers: Defense the Demise in 7-3 Loss to Boston

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 23: Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers defends against Noel Acciari #55 of the Boston Bruins as he circles behind the net with the puck at the BB&T Center on March 23, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 23: Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers defends against Noel Acciari #55 of the Boston Bruins as he circles behind the net with the puck at the BB&T Center on March 23, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

The Florida Panthers collapsed at the back on Saturday night, conceding five goals in the second period to lose 7-3.

Before I dive into the details of the game, the Florida Panthers need to see how the Bruins played last night and model that.

Throughout the game, Bruce Cassidy’s side was efficient. The team’s forecheck kept the Panthers on edge in their own zone, their attacks were calm and patient, and the players stayed disciplined throughout most of the game.

So before I get to the Panthers, hats off to Boston last night; they played a very mature game of hockey.

Anyways, now onto Florida. One of the ways that Boston was able to play so mature was their ruthlessness off their forecheck.

The Panthers gave away the puck way too many times last night, and they were made to pay for it in the end. Goals from Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, and Karson Kuhlman were all Florida’s own undoing.

Cheap, careless giveaways from defensemen like Mike Matheson, Josh Brown, and MacKenzie Weegar, respectively, led to three easy goals for Boston. Take two of these mistakes away, and it’s a very different hockey game.

The team gave zero support to Sam Montembeault, who shipped six goals for the first (and hopefully last time for a while) time in his career.

He wasn’t pulled after giving up three goals in seven minutes of the second period, which is a showing that it really wasn’t his fault last night.

Despite the goals conceded, Montembeault still made 32 saves; back-to-back outings where the 22-year-old shot-stopper has made 30+ saves.

Some other credit needs to go to Mike Hoffman’s performance. He earned third-star honors from game media after his solo goal and assist to Jayce Hawryluk to give the Cats’ faithful some hope in this game.

His shot, which beat an in-form Jaroslav Halak, was an absolute bolt into the bottom corner, taking Halak by surprise. This put Hoffman on 35 goals this season, putting him tied with Mark Scheifele, Auston Matthews, and Johnny Gaudreau for the 15th most goals in the NHL this season.

That’s the good, but now to the bad. In light terms, Mike Matheson was benched, and Brown and Weegar were outright awful. That’s as modest as I can be.

I’m a really big fan of both Brown and Weegar, but their mistakes last night cannot go avoided. Brown’s failure to clear the puck really became a nuisance, leading to long shifts for forwards in the defensive zone, hindering the Cats’ ability to create any offense that night.

Weegar, who has looked so mature in these last few games, made an extremely reckless pass back into the center of the ice. Whether it was fatigue or just a lapse in concentration, it can’t happen again.

Weegar had the puck in his own zone, with no Bruins player within ten feet of him. He tries to fling the puck up the ice, but plays it right into the center of the ice, straight to Kuhlman of Boston.

Going back to the “ruthless” theme, Kuhlman turns on the afterburners into the zone and snaps a devilish wrister past Montembeault, off the post and in.

He also played part in Boston’s opener, falling asleep after David Backes beat Keith Yandle to the puck to beat out an icing.

Not expecting anything to come of the play, he leaves the slot wide open for Backes to feed Noel Acciari for a tip-in. His fifth goal of the season set the theme of how the night would go at the back for Florida.

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Matheson was absolutely out of it tonight. No confidence, very relaxed in the defensive zone, ultimately terrible.

His hit on David Pastrnak in the opening 20 seconds of the second period was impressive, but immediately after it, he gave up the puck to Bergeron while out of position, leading to a tap-in for Brad Marchand’s goal.

The Panthers tried to pull it together at the back during the third, and did well, not letting in a goal until the last minute of the game: an empty-netter for Bergeron.

The signs at the end were solid, but how much validity do they really have? The Bruins had the game won after the second period and might have simply taken their feet off the gas during the final period of play.

This loss means Florida stay at 78 points, while Montreal’s 7-4 win over Buffalo at Bell Centre propels Claude Julien’s team to 87 points, nine points clear of Florida for the final wild-card spot.

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Florida will take on Montreal Tuesday night, fresh off a game versus Toronto on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena.