The new-look Florida Panthers have been as marketed of their first regular-season sport of the 2022-23 NHL season — for higher and worse.
Gone is the free-wheeling, Jonathan Huberdeau-led offense of final yr, in addition to the relentless stress made attainable by one of many deepest rosters within the league. In their place is a extra conventional look, with extra our bodies across the web and Matthew Tkachuk, their new All-Star proper wing, reshaping the Panthers in his personal picture.
The finish end result Thursday nonetheless was a 3-1 win in opposition to the New York Islanders at UBS Arena — a becoming end result to begin this new period in South Florida.
The Panthers’ two objectives got here on a deflection by heart Eetu Luostarinen with 7:15 within the second interval — lastly beating star goaltender Ilya Sorokin after he stopped the primary 16 pictures he confronted — after which on a wraparound off a rebound by proper wing Patric Hornqvist with 16:17 left, simply 30 seconds after the Islanders tied the sport on an influence play.
The third got here from Tkachuk in opposition to an empty web with 1:15 left on his sixteenth shot try of the sport.
New York all the time desires to play low-scoring video games. The Panthers, for the previous few years, have all the time been content material to play high-scoring shootouts. On opening evening, Florida (1-0-0) beat Islanders (0-1-0) at their very own sport in Elmont, New York.
▪ Tkachuk lived as much as the hype in his debut and it solely took him about 14 minutes to elucidate to everybody why common supervisor Bill Zito and Co. are so enthusiastic about him.
The Panthers went on their first energy play simply 22 seconds into the sport, and Tkachuk instantly arrange across the crease and tried to attain a through-the-legs objective. About a minute later, he tried once more and in the course of all of it he additionally drew shouts from the gang when he bumped into Sorokin and not using a penalty.
A short while later, he almost scored on a penalty kill and he initiated one of many greatest scrums of the primary interval when he got here in late for a bump after the whistle.
In his first 14 minutes, the All-Star proper wing recorded 5 shot makes an attempt and 5 scoring probabilities — each led the workforce — and did simply as a lot as a pest and agitator. In the primary half-hour, he fired 9 shot makes an attempt at Sorokin.
▪ The Panthers beat a red-hot goaltender with precisely the type of play Maurice is emphasizing.
Luostarinen’s go-ahead second-period objective wasn’t something fancy — a deflection on a giant slap shot by defenseman Radko Gudas — but it surely was precisely what Florida wanted to beat Sorokin, who in any other case stopped 26 pictures.
It was additionally precisely what the Panthers felt they wanted extra of by the top of final yr, when star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy nearly singlehandedly led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a second-round sweep of Florida within the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Hornqvist’s objective was equally heady, leaping on a rebound behind the web after which wrapping round to the opposite facet to beat Sorokin after the goalie lunged within the different route to disclaim left wing Ryan Lomberg.
The Panthers’ two objectives got here from its backside two traces, even these two trios misplaced the possession battle once they have been on the ice.
▪ Sergei Bobrovsky picked up the place he left off, with 29 saves on 30 makes an attempt.
It tracks with how the star goaltender performed all yr final yr, together with in the course of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If that is what he’s going to offer Florida all season, Bobrovsky goes to cowl up a ton of his workforce’s weaknesses, significantly on protection.
▪ These should not the outdated Panthers and it means the common season isn’t going to be fairly as carefree.
A yr in the past, Florida was so deep at each place it by no means felt prefer it was at a drawback. Even its fourth line may go toe to toe with nearly every other line in hockey and never look overmatched.
The wage cap meant the Panthers couldn’t hold lots of these third- and fourth-line forwards — or do a lot in any respect about its protection — and the distinction was stark. Newcomers Colin White, Nick Cousins and Rudolfs Balcers mixed for only one level on a secondary help and the the Islanders had extra shot makes an attempt than Florida when each of the Panthers’ backside two traces have been on the ice.
▪ MacKenzie Weegar is the departure Florida is feeling essentially the most as a result of this protection is clearly a participant or two brief.
The Panthers knew this was going to be the case and it’s why the commerce for Tkachuk may in the end make this workforce worst, with the tradeoff of being a long-term constructive. The Huberdeau-for-Tkachuk swap is in the end one thing near a wash, however Florida gave away a respectable star defenseman within the deal and didn’t discover a clear-cut substitute for him. The Panthers are going to want both Marc Staal or fellow defenseman Josh Mahura to exceed expectations after which they’ll be capable of improve the protection subsequent season with about $10 million in projected cap area.
Statistically, Staal and Mahura each fared effectively of their Florida debuts.
▪ The energy play picked up proper the place it left off — type of.
The Panthers went 0 for five on the facility play, which is horrible, however they did generate seven pictures, 15 scoring probabilities and eight high-danger probabilities. There’s a shoot-first mentality they lacked on the facility play once they went 1 for 31 within the playoffs final yr and it ought to finally pay dividends.