After returning from the All-Star break and bye period, the Florida Panthers were traveling to take on the inconsistent Montreal Canadiens.
With almost two weeks off from hockey, the Florida Panthers were approaching this game with some rust on their skates, needing some time to settle in. The Canadiens, on the other hand, were not off as long as their visitor’s, coming in with more jump.
Unsurprisingly, the Habs controlled play from the start of the puck drop, causing all sorts of problems for the Panthers in their zone. They came close to tacking on a goal in the opening few minutes, but thanks to Sergei Bobrovsky, that didn’t happen.
As the game progressed, the Panthers were finding it difficult to create any scoring chances as the Canadiens played a tight blue line, denying them any zone entries – let alone any opportunities in front of goal.
Shortly after, the Panthers received a power play of their own but were unable to capitalize as the Canadiens’ PK unit was too stubborn to allow them quality shots on goal. Florida struggled to move the puck closer to Carey Price’s cage, allowing him to turn aside every attempt with ease.
Montreal continued to attack Florida in waves, keeping the play in their end throughout the rest of the first period. They came awfully close to doubling their lead, but Bobrovsky managed to sprawl across in his crease to deny the bank shot from going in. Needless to say, it was all Bobrovsky in the first twenty minutes, and without him, the Cats could’ve been three goals down.
The Panthers would head straight to the dressing room down a goal after the first period of play, with the Habs owning play with 16 shots on goal to Florida’s 8.
In the second, things got worse for the Panthers as they were penalized early on. Mike Hoffman was called for taking down Artturi Lehkonen, sending the Habs to their first man advantage of the game. Luckily, the Panthers’ PK unit did a good job of limiting the Canadiens’ shot selections, killing off the penalty entirely.
Meanwhile, the Canadiens continued pressing in search of that second, which was found thanks to Lehkonen. With a shot thrown towards the front of the goal, Lehkonen put his stick out in front and redirected it to double the Canadiens’ lead.
If things weren’t already getting worse for the Panthers, the Cats suffered an even bigger blow when Aleksander Barkov went straight down to the dressing room in pain, leaving the game. Without their No. 1 centerman, the Panthers were forced to play Vincent Trocheck on the first line.
Montreal added some more salt to Florida’s wound as Tomas Tatar potted the Canadiens’ third of the afternoon, notching his 18th of the season. The Panthers would conclude the second period down by three goals after forty minutes of play, digging themselves quite the hole to climb out of.
At the start of the third, it was announced that Barkov would not be returning to the game after sustaining a lower-body injury (more info to come). The Cats, despite receiving a couple of power-play opportunities – which included a couple of 5-on-3s – were unable to move the needle and get a shot past Price.
The Canadiens, though, continued playing with the same intensity, knowing very well that their season is on the line at a very critical moment in the season. They didn’t stop skating once and found their fourth of the afternoon through Brendan Gallagher on the man advantage, completely putting the game to bed.
The Panthers were fortunate enough to receive power play No. 5 and 6 but were still unable to cash-in, let alone get anything by the brick wall of Price. Nothing was going for them this afternoon, which signaled the end to their six-game win streak. The Canadiens would go on to defeat the Panthers by a score of 4-0.
In short, the Cats didn’t come prepared to play and were outworked from the moment the puck was dropped. More importantly, however, they also left Bobrovsky to dry on a number of plays, and had it not been for him, the game could’ve gotten worse earlier on.
Realistically, Florida had no business being in today’s game with the way that they were playing, which the scoreboard was a full representation of that. The Panthers better come prepared and ready to play on Monday when they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.
The remaining meetings with the Maple Leafs are what’s likely going to determine who gets the third seed in the Atlantic Division. Florida cannot afford to blow that meeting and need to get back on track with a win after throwing away today’s game.
Be sure to tune in on Monday, February. 3 @ 7 P.M. as the Panthers look to grab their second win against the Maple Leafs this season.