After a disappointing first game back after the All-Star break, Florida was looking to rebound Thursday night against Washington. The Panthers are still securely in second place with 68 points in the Atlantic Divison behind Boston, who has 73 points after a win over Vancouver. Washington is second to last in the Metropolitan Divison with 51 points, and Florida won their last meeting earlier in the season. Bobrovsky got his first start after a great showing in Toronto at the All-Star Game, and Head Coach Paul Maurice got creative with some of the lines late in the game. Overall, the Panthers finished strong against the Capitals after a disappointing start.
Bobrovsky Back after his All-Star Appearance:
Sergei Bobrovsky was back between the pipes Thursday night after a great All-Star showing. He was all smiles while up in Toronto playing on Team McDavid, where he was mistakenly called Sam when he got drafted. The Cats media team had a little fun with the joke Thursday, Putting Bob on the jumbotron with the nameplate reading Sam Bobrovsky. Bob was as solid as ever against the Capitals, stopping 21 out of 23 shots and achieving a .913 save percentage. That brings his averages on the year to a .910 SV%, 2.49 goals against, and 24 wins, putting him in 3rd place overall for goalie wins this season. The night’s highlight for him was his blocker save on Beck Malenstyn’s penalty shot. Bobrovsky was very patient and waited until Malenstyn committed to a shot and then made his move to stop it.
Forward Lines Shakeup:
The match started with all the usual suspects in the lines we’ve seen for the majority of the season. However, there was about a 50/50 success rate Thursday night. The Cats started off a bit sluggish and sloppy in the first period, and the same song and dance fans have seen over the last few matches: shots being inches from going in, getting blocked, or missing the net entirely. Add to that the revolving door of penalties from both teams and the opening twenty minutes, dominated by specialty teams’ play. Washington scouted well on the Panthers’ Powerplay and clogged up the passing lanes, making the PP Units less effective than during the dominant stretch prior to the All-Star Break. The second period was much better, the Panthers came out and held the offensive zone time for the majority of the period and took lots shots but the Washington defense was still blocking a good number of those chances. The 3rd period is where Head Coach Paul Maurice made the chances, specifically the left-wingers. Verhaeghe got bumped up to Barkov & Reinhart’s Line, Cousins moved to be with Bennett & Tkachuk, and Rodrigues moved down to Lundell & Loustarinen’s line. The change was effective and opened up scoring chances for the bottom six players. Florida has been lacking in depth scoring, but the bottom six have been working hard over the last few games to get those scoring opportunities. Thursday night, it paid off, and the Cats got two goals out of the bottom 6, including the game-winner from Lomberg.
It was a frustrating opening period marred by penalties throughout the first twenty minutes. Florida looked like there was still some hangover from Tuesday’s game against the Fliers and wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen them be. Over the final 40 minutes, the Panthers outshot the Capitals 28-10 and had around 88 shot attempts for the entire game. They kept things close on defense as well, blocking 20 shots to Washington’s 27 and had 21 hits to Washington’s 17. After the first period, the Cats skated a much cleaner game, taking only one penalty in the last two periods as opposed to 4 penalties in the first. The teams were even in the faceoff dot but Florida was the team to have more takeaways 5 to the Capitals’ 1. The Panthers’ goal success came from shots into traffic in front of the net, utilizing tip-ins and rebounds from players like Reinhart, Tkachuk, and Lomberg. Overall, the Cats had a strong showing after a struggling start. They’ll need to keep the momentum up as they face Colorado on Saturday, who’s coming off a tough loss to Carolina.