Friday night was an absolute bloodbath, and I am not talking about my bar tab when spending $8.50 a beer at the FLA Live Arena to watch the Panthers game.
Florida came out and absolutely beat the wheels off of Dallas. Dallas was out of the game within the first 2 minutes of the puck dropping.
Because the arena is out in the middle of BFE, we did not get in until they were finishing the national anthem. By the time we made it to our seats, the Cats were already up 1-0 thanks to Captain Alexander Barkov.
While this game was the Panthers turn to start their key guys inclusive Barkov, Huberdeau, Duclair, Bennett and Reinhart; Dallas gave Benn, Seguin, Pavs, and Radulov the night off.
But don’t think the Cats were lighting up some career AHL goalie, the boys were working poor Dobby who got the nod in net. The Panthers were all over Anton Khudobin from the moment the puck dropped, scoring in the first 90 seconds of the game. Dobby stopped 30 of the 35 shots faced, but considering he was being helped out by an AHL team against the Cats big guns, he held his own.
For the Cats, the big guys appeared to be in mid-season form. Barkov had a goal and 2 assists to be the #1 star of the game. Reinhart and Hubby both had a goal and an apple to help solidify the win for the Panthers. Even though the score says 6-3, the game was never in reach. Dallas scored two late garbage time goals against a cold Gibson in net. But the Cats showed why they just might get over the hump and do some damage in the playoffs this year.
After leaving the game, the biggest question remaining is who stays and who goes. The Panthers look deeper than they have ever been and seem to be getting contributions up and down the lineup. Sure it may be preseason, but I believe this is probably the best Panthers team in its entire history.
The two biggest question marks for me are the same ones that we had last year, Ekblad and Bobrovsky.
Ekblad plays the game like he is the 4th forward and not a defenseman. Sure, the league is built for offensive and puck moving guys, but they still need to have some sense of responsibility in their own zone. He often got caught in the offensive zone and left his partner, usually Weegar, flying solo on the backend.
This style of play may work against certain teams, but he cannot be caught playing that deep when you are faced with an actual threat of an offense. I feel as though if he did this against a high-powered offense like Tampa, it would not yield the same results. I am not taking away anything from his offensive game as I think he is an excellent offensive d-man, but I do think if the Panthers want to go on a run, he needs to sure up his defensive game and make smarter decisions.
The other problem child has been an issue since signing a $10-million-dollar contract for the Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky did not look to be worth half of what his contract pays. He gave up 1-goals on 12 shots which normally is not bad; however, he did not look set and seemed to be more “lucky than good”. The lone goal was a bad angle, short side shot that any NHL goalie should have had. Instead, he dropped, at a weird angle, and flat out got beat upstairs.
Bob seemed to have a lot of misplays with the puck, leaving juicy rebound and forcing the Cats to bail him out. Maybe I am just over critical, but he did not look solid and sounds in that net. For the Panthers to go far, Bob must be better or he must move over and let Knight step up.
In summary, the Panthers beat the daylights out of the lightning and proved why they should be in the discussion as a legitimate Cup contender. If the Panthers can clean up and few defensive issues and get some consistency in the net, they have a real shot at bringing home Lord Stanley’s Cup.