The Florida Panthers put in a solid performance for their last game in Canada for the season, downing the Ottawa Senators by a final score of 5-2.
Vincent Trocheck called the defensive effort “embarrassing” after the team’s 6-1 loss at the hands of Montreal, eliminating them from playoff contention.
So, the Panthers made some minor alterations to the lineup last night. The biggest move being newly signed defenseman Brady Keeper replacing Mike Matheson in the lineup, pairing up with MacKenzie Weegar.
The 22-year-old’s story had been incredible so far and had another great chapter written last night, with his family members coming to Ottawa to fully support him.
He led the team out for warmups and even got to take the ceremonial opening faceoff, with captain Aleksander Barkov deferring the option.
Before delving into the game, my thoughts on Keeper’s first performance: I thought he played well last night; he kept it simple, alert at the back end, and did his job as a defenseman.
He took a few too many shots towards the end, trying to get his first NHL goal in front of his family, but it definitely earns a pass for criticism.
Don’t just take my word for it, take it from Aleksander Barkov, who had high praise of the rookie during his second-intermission interview:
"“[Keeper’s] done a good job, and he’s really good in the practices and he’s a very good guy… he’s been very calm, it looks like he’s been in the league forever.”"
Now, the game. The Panthers came out bright right off the opening shift, scoring just thirty seconds into the game. Keith Yandle found Barkov open in the slot, Barkov took a shot on goal, which was re-directed in by Evgeni Dadonov.
Dadonov’s 26th goal of the year meant he now has five goals in eleven games against the Sens. This was also Yandle’s 50th assist of the year, the first time he had hit this landmark in his illustrious career.
The Panthers kept the pressure on early, with Jayce Hawryluk, who’s been in the goalscoring mood as of late, blasting the iron on a cannon of a wrist shot from the slot.
The Panthers were looking very good early on and looked composed, something that had lacked over this most recent stretch.
Then, the Cats dug themselves into trouble. Colin White tore through the neutral zone with speed, straight past Aaron Ekblad, who swung and missed at a poke check. White drove right at Roberto Luongo and finished on the breakaway, tying the game at one.
This first defensive pairing of Ekblad and Yandle would go on to cause more problems, easily the worst defensive pairing last night from the two top defensemen on the team.
A terrible end to the first, with Ottawa dominating time on attack in the final 10:00 of the period, but the score stayed at one. The Panthers, however, did well to shake off these issues.
Early into the second, the fourth line got their chance to show their talents at scoring goals into the period.
This was Brouwer’s 10th goal of the season, his second against Ottawa during the year. The Panthers seemed to become a lot more comfortable afterwards, soon bagging another goal.
This time, it was the first line striking yet again. Barkov, getting his 90th point of the season (first time he’s reached this milestone), played a great pass to the slot for Jonathan Huberdeau, who couldn’t miss from right out in front.
Dadonov also got an assist on the goal, putting his tally level with his career high (65). The Panthers held a 3-1 lead into the second intermission, feeling positive about themselves going into the third.
The Cats had some decent chances early into the third, with Yandle’s and Mike Hoffman’s efforts denied by Nilsson. When it looked like they could have put the game out of sight, Ottawa got back into it.
The Senators were always going to create a chance on the counter with their youth and speed, and they exposed the Panthers three minutes into the third period.
Brian Gibbons, who wound up having a quietly solid game, broke out from the back, setting up Tkachuk for his 20th of his rookie campaign.
Yet again, it was the top pairing of Yandle and Ekblad who looked lost on the ice. Neither took the puck or took the free winger, Tkachuk, and left Luongo with little chance at a save. Tkachuk converted, and Ottawa were back into it.
The two created a few more chances for Ottawa later on, with Yandle giving the puck away near the crease, but Bobby Ryan’s chance in close was denied by Luongo.
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Roberto Luongo wound up having a very solid night, making 28 saves, and not making any real errors. The two goals given up to this point weren’t his fault, and he hadn’t given Ottawa any freebie chances, covering the puck very well to prevent any rebounds.
Eventually, the Panthers killed the game off with 1:28 to go. Dryden Hunt’s lob from the defensive zone hit the back of the empty net to clinch the victory for Florida.
This was Hunt’s second ever multi-point night, the first coming earlier this month against Carolina, where he had two assists.
Jonathan Huberdeau would add another empty-netter with 13 seconds to go, his 27th goal of the season.
It was set up by Evgeni Dadonov, who’s second three-point game this month meant he now had a career high in points, with 26 goals and 40 assists putting him on 66 points, beating out last year’s tally of 65, though he played four more games this year.
All in all, this was a positive kind of performance that has been rare over this last stretch of games. The team did well to split up the time of ice between all lines, with all players getting at least eleven minutes of ice time.
The defense was mostly compact, and the offense did well to set up chances for everyone on the ice.
The one complaint I have is why Sam Montembeault didn’t start. Yes, he played 45 minutes in the Cats’ last game on Tuesday night, but he had started 8 of the last 10 Panthers games, not showing too many signs of fatigue.
With his confidence possibly lacking, last night might have been a good game to play him and restore his confidence, then play Luongo Saturday against Boston.
It wasn’t much of a problem though, as Luongo tallied win No. 487 of his career as the Panthers marched out of Ottawa victorious.