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.
To join in the conversation about the game, head over the SB Nation’s blog on the Panthers, Litter Box Cats.