So we have the first week of the NHL under our belts and the Florida Panthers have only played two games, but what a great two games they were. We’d also have the games between Florida and the Hurricanes, but with North Carolina being the COVID hot bead that it is; the games had to be postponed due to Carolina players contracting the virus. So let’s look at the two games we did get.
Simply put the Florida Panthers look great so far. We’re not a completely different team; we saw flashes of the Panthers of old during the second game against Chicago; but we are definitely a team that has made changes and it shows.
On the January 17th game we really took it to the visitors from Chicago. The first period ended in a 0-0 stalemate, but not due to a lack of trying. We were defending our zone, getting pucks into the opposing zone, and getting pucks and bodies towards the net. Even though we didn’t score we looked great in the opening period. It looked like the Blackhawks would take the lead in the first period, but Quenneville challenged the play being offsides and it was ruled as such; taking away the Chicago goal. I got a chuckle from Kane, who had scored, skating over by the Panthers bench and giving Coach Q a look that said “C’mon man I thought we were cool.” Period two started with a Panthers goal twelve seconds in. Ekblad took a long distance shot that was then deflected in by Verhaege; or so it seemed. It was actually deflected in off a Chicago defender. Verhaege then took a shot that looked as if it was in, but bounced out off the post. Then just past 15 minutes in Keith Yandle made it 2-0. The fact that Yandle played both games against Chicago makes me really wonder if Florida ever really intended to bench him or if it was just a scare tactic to make sure he produced in game. Either way he really came through for us and I really hope he stays with us. Chicago would get back by one with a goal from DeBrincat on a Hawks power play. Then there was period three. We get 4 on 4 action early on in the period and the lets Chicago tie the game, but things quickly turned around after that. Almost immediately on the same 4 on 4 shift Luostarinen get the Panther lead back; which is also his first NHL goal. A few minutes later Hornqvist would score his first goal as a Panther giving a two goal lead. In the last three minutes of the game we would get a power play goal from Hubie Doobie Doo; putting us up by three and I couldn’t have been happier with this team. We’re moving the puck, defending the net, and getting bodies in front of the opposing goalie. We looked great that first game. Shout out to Chris Driedger as well; he was amazing in net. He made multiple amazing saves and the couple that got past him were done on great plays by Chicago.
The January 19th game was not as dominant, but was still a great game. Verhaege would open up the scoring with the goal he was robbed of twice night previous with a beautiful back hand goal. With three minutes left in the period Hornqvist would put us up 2-0 by posting up in front of the Blackhawks net and relentlessly attacking the net during a power play. The Blackhawks would also score on a power play in the dying moments of the first to get them back within one. Early in the second period Duclair would make a streak on the net and although he would not score his attack would leave the net wide open for Verhaege to score his second of the night. Chicago would make it a one goal game once again during their power play about halfway through the period. Patrick Kane would tie the game in the dying moments with a backhander on Bobrovski. Around the 14 minute mark of the third period Chicago would score on a shot that I thought Bob would’ve stopped, but didn’t, giving Chicago the lead. This is where I started to get flashbacks of previous Panther games and thought “welp, this is it” but had faith in what I had seen the previous night. I’m glad I did too because, Yandle tied the game on the Panthers power play with a beautiful one timer. The game would go to over time and at one point we had a 3 on 1 but too much passing saw the opportunity fail. That’s fine because Frank “The Tank” Vatrano would end the game in overtime.
Will still have improvements to make, but if we continue the way that we are I seriously think we will be the dark horse of the Central Division. I fully believe we can make a playoff run; especially if we continue to grow. Hornqvist and Verhage have made their presence felt as well as Yandle and Dreidger continuing to show why they should stay a part of the Panthers organization. I cannot wait to see where this season takes us
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