The Florida Panthers kicked off their season with a 2-0 loss on the road against the Minnesota Wild Thursday night.
Playing without Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour, and Sam Bennett, they could be forgiven had they been unable to match up against what should be a good Wild team this season, but no excuses were necessary as they looked like the better team for most of the game.
However, with the scoreboard at the end saying differently, there will need to be some adjustments going forward.
Florida Panthers needed bodies in front of the net
The Florida Panthers had no issues getting the puck on net as they recorded 41 shots on goal. Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson was rock solid in stopping all their shots, but the Panthers could have made his night more difficult.
They shot the puck from all over the offensive zone but did not get traffic in front of the net. Without players taking Gustavsson’s sight off the puck away, all he had to do was make the initial save without coughing up a rebound — a manageable task for the goalie that saved over 93% of shots faced last season.
When the team next plays in Winnipeg on Saturday, getting players to the net and in front of the goaltender needs to be a priority. And with Connor Hellebuyck expected in net, the challenge of beating the goaltender without players in front will not get any easier.
Defense held up without Ekblad and Montour
Entering the season, I had worried that the Panthers might have trouble moving the puck out of their own end without injured defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, but those concerns were quickly put to rest as the Panthers controlled the puck for the majority of the game and never seemed to get stuck in their own zone for long periods of time.
Although had Ekblad and Montour been playing, they might have been able to create better scoring chances that would have led to a goal. But to me, the issue was the forwards not getting to front of the net, not the defensemen moving the puck.
Samoskevich reinforced that he is NHL ready
By the end of the Florida Panthers’ preseason, it felt like rookie Mackie Samoskevich’s on-ice talent and work ethic were high enough that he could immediately play in the NHL. But until he backed it up during an official NHL game, it was not certain.
Slotting onto the third line with Anton Lundell and Sam Reinhart, Samoskevich recorded 14:36 of ice-time and had opportunities to showcase his shooting talent. No goals on debut, but he did record two shots on goal.
One moment that stood out was late in the third period when Samoskevich had the puck in the offensive zone. He dropped his shoulder to deliver a defensive hit on a Wild player to maintain puck control and then continued the play in the zone. Samoskevich being able to play physically and not be pushed off the puck at a pivotal moment in his first game was great to see and just another indication that the team was right to put their faith in him to start the season.
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