Given the way Philadelphia’s previous three seasons have started, a home-and-home set with the Flyers to begin 2015-16 might have struck the Florida Panthers as appealing.
They took full advantage of that in the opener and head to Philadelphia on Monday night looking to complete the sweep, while the Flyers try to avoid a fourth straight season of going winless through three games.
The Panthers (1-0-0) came out in top form with four goals in under seven minutes during Saturday’s 7-1 victory and are in position to win their first two games for the first time since 2005-06. Jaromir Jagr and Reilly Smith each scored twice, and Vincent Trocheck had a goal and three assists.
The 43-year-old Jagr has five goals in his last two games against Philadelphia, as well as eight goals and 12 assists in 21 games since joining the Panthers from New Jersey on Feb. 26. The future Hall of Famer, who signed a one-year deal in April, was limited to 29 points in 57 games with the Devils.
"It was very special. That’s the start everyone’s looking for, every game," Jagr said. "We got good bounces, scored four goals, the momentum was on our side."
It was Trocheck’s first career four-point game, and the 22-year-old said the team’s focus is improving on last season’s 4-4-4 start. The Panthers managed just 20 goals in that first month’s worth of games.
"We came out to a little bit of a slow start last year and it affected us late in the year, so we know how big those first games are," said Trocheck, who had seven of Florida’s 198 goals last season as the team finished 25th in scoring.
The Panthers have won four of the last six meetings in Philadelphia and three of the last four overall while limiting the Flyers to seven goals. That’s happened in part because of a 12-for-13 penalty kill and in part because of goaltending.
Roberto Luongo made 38 saves and has a 1.77 goals-against average and .942 save percentage over a 4-1-0 span against Philadelphia.
For the Flyers (0-1-1), the embarrassment has them in position the repeat the winless starts for their new coach that they experienced with Craig Berube last season and Peter Laviolette the two before that, though the six-goal loss isn’t rattling Dave Hakstol.
"It’s early in the year, and the one thing that is absolute is that nobody’s going to over-react," Hakstol said two days after the Flyers fell 3-2 in overtime at Tampa Bay. "You take this situation and you deal with it for what it is, deal with it honestly, and most of those dealings will take place in the locker room."
The quick deficit came with Steve Mason in goal before he was replaced by Michal Neuvirth after the fourth goal having faced eight shots.
"There’s nobody to put this game on but myself. I take full responsibility," said Mason, whose team plays the next three at home. "I put everyone behind the eight ball and am disappointed."
He’s otherwise been strong against the Panthers with a 7-3-1 career record, 1.86 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.
Part of the blame for Philadelphia’s early season struggles also falls on a 6-for-10 penalty kill a season after finishing 27th (77.1 percent) in that category. The Panthers were 3 for 7 on the power play after finishing 24th (16.3 percent) in 2014-15.