After handicapping themselves during the first two periods of play by committing six penalties — two of which led to power play goals for the Coyotes — the Florida Panthers pulled themselves together in the third period and mounted a late attempt at a comeback. They outshot the Coyotes 12-6 over the period, and only committed one minor penalty to Phoenix’s two.
With 15 minutes to go in the game, Coyote goalie Mike Smith went down like a brick after making a save on a routine shot. Nobody hit him on the play, but it appeared in the replay that he pulled a groin muscle. He was forced to leave the game, so backup Jason LaBarbera took over in net. This seemed like a golden opportunity for the Cats to tie the game, but LaBarbera was perfect for the rest of the game, saving all eight shots on net.
The clock continued to trick down, and although the Panthers were putting considerable offensive pressure on the Coyotes, they couldn’t sneak another goal in. And then, during the final minute of play, the Panthers were given a golden opportunity to tie the game. Two Coyote defenders dislodged the net with 30 seconds remaining in the game, giving the Cats a penalty shot. Coach Kevin Dineen chose Stephen Weiss to take the shot, and he nearly snuck the puck through LaBarbera’s legs. The puck slipped through his legs, but it had lost so much momentum that it stopped precisely on the goal line. The Panthers tried valiantly to make something happen in the final 30 seconds, but that was that.
The Panthers still retain first place in the Southeast Division, although this is the first time in 10 days that they have not added at least one point in the standings. This game was also the 13th home game in a row for the Panthers that was decided by only one goal, dating back to October 31st.
The Panthers entered the second period trailing the Coyotes 1-0, hoping to cut down on their penalties and re-take control of the game. But for the majority of the second period, things didn’t go the Panthers’ way. They committed another penalty within the first two minutes of the period, but then got lucky as the Coyotes were called for a penalty about 30 seconds later, ending the penalty kill. They Coyotes put more consistent pressure on the Cats this period, playing a more aggressive and hard game (16 hits in the period), and they broke through by scoring another power play goal at nine minutes in.
To the Panthers’ credit, they reacted to falling behind 2-0 by immediately jumping on the puck and controlling possession. They had a number of scoring chances in the later half of the period, and eventually scored at 19 minutes when Kris Versteeg dropped a pass back to defender Brian Campbell, who moved the puck inside the faceoff circle and scored on a snapshot.
Unfortunately, after the Panthers scored their goal, on their following possession Mikael Samuelsson was hit by a hard check and went down head-first into the boards. He was slow getting up and was removed from the game; there hasn’t been an update about his condition, but he seems unlikely to play the remainder of the night. The Panthers are already without four of their regular forwards — Sean Bergenheim being the most recent player out with an injury — and all their lines behind their first line are severely depleted of talent. They could use Samuelsson to future games, so here’s hoping his injury is not that severe.
If you were to erase the final five minutes of the first period, I’d be able to tell you right now that the Florida Panthers have started off tonight’s game on a strong foot. In many ways, they outplayed the Phoenix Coyotes on the ice. They had the same number of shots as the Coyotes (7-7), more hits (12-8), and more faceoff wins (10-8). They limited the Coyotes to two shots for the first 15 minutes of play, killing off three penalties in the process.
But during those final five minutes, the Panthers shot themselves in the foot. They committed another penalty — this time, it was Kris Versteeg with an obvious slashing call — and weren’t able to finish off their fourth straight penalty kill. It took the Coyotes almost the entire two minutes, but Ray Whitney snuck a shot past Jose Theodore with seven seconds to go in the period.
If not for all those penalties, the Panthers would easily have finished the first period with the edge — maybe not in the scorebook, but they were outplaying the Coyotes during even strength play. We’ll have to see how the Panthers come out in the second period, as they’ll need to dramatically cut down on their penalties going forward.
Both the Panthers and Coyotes enter tonight as surprise successes in their division. The Panthers currently lead the Southeast Division with 42 points, while the Coyotes are in third place in the Pacific Division with 35 points, putting them a mere four points behind the division-leading Stars (39 points). The Coyotes have lost six of their last ten games, though, so they’re looking for a win to prove their early season success isn’t a fluke.
Ray Whitney – Martin Hanzal – Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker – Daymond Langkow – Shane Doan
Raffi Torres – Boyd Gordon – Kyle Chipchura
Taylor Pyatt – Cal O’Reilly – Lauri Korpikoski
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Derek Morris
Adrian Aucoin – Keith Yandle
David Schlemko – Rostislav Klesla
Tomas Fleischmann – Stephen Weiss – Kris Versteeg
Marco Sturm – Tomas Kopecky – Bill Thomas
Shawn Matthias – Mike Santorelli – Mikael Samuelsson
Krys Barch – Tim Kennedy – Matt Bradley
Defense: Jason Garrison – Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov – Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski – Erik Gudbranson
Greg Rallo was optioned back to the San Antonio Rampage. Tim Kennedy was recalled to fill his slot. Bill Thomas will also rejoin the Panthers from San Antonio to replace the latest injury setback, to Sean Bergenheim.