Panthers search for first win in matchup with Canucks
The Panthers (0-1-1) have only played two games — some rivals have played as many as five — so there’s a l-o-n-g way to go. But even so, the Panthers know they came up one point short of the playoffs last season, and these October games count just as much as the ones in February.
The Panthers also know that their Hall of Fame goalie, Roberto Luongo, is out with a knee injury, likely for a month, and a lot is riding on backup James Reimer, who gave up five goals in Thursday’s 5-4 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We win and lose as a team,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said when asked about Reimer. “There’s no talking about goalies or individual play.”
Coaches generally don’t talk about goalies only when they’re not happy with the performance. It’s possible that Boughner will start third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson, who has played 102 NHL games and was recalled from the American Hockey League once Luongo was injured.
Meanwhile, the Canucks (2-2-0) traveled to Tampa Bay and beat the Lightning 4-1 on Thursday night. The score was tied midway through the third period, when Brock Boeser scored the winner.
Vancouver figures to start former Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom. However, it’s possible that Anders Nilsson, who made 33 saves to beat Tampa Bay in his first start of the year, gets the call in an effort to play the hot goalie.
The Panthers will pay special attention to Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Pettersson, who drives hard to the net, turns 20 next month, but scouts already rave about his “elite” playmaking ability and “exceptional” vision.
Playing against men last season, he led the Swedish Hockey League with 56 points, scoring 24 goals and earning Rookie of the Year and Forward of the Year honors. He was also named the playoffs MVP, the first time the SHL has awarded that trophy unanimously.
This season, Pettersson leads Vancouver with four goals, including one on Thursday that bounced off his chest.
“Very lucky, but I’ll take it,” said Pettersson, who also leads Vancouver with seven points. “Every goal is worth one. It doesn’t matter how ugly or nice it is.”
The Panthers wouldn’t mind scoring some hideous goals — as long as they get a win.
Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov’s first line — with Evgenii Dadonov and Nick Bjugstad on the wings — is clicking. On Thursday, Dadonov had one goal and two assists, Barkov had one of each, and Bjugstad had one goal.
“Daddy, Barky and Bjuggy were flying,” Boughner said.
Barkov and Dadonov are each averaging four shots on goal per game this season, and Bjugstad had four on Thursday.
Barkov, however, isn’t focused on the stats.
“We scored a couple of goals, but we lost, so it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’re playing really well in the offensive zone. But we need to learn how to block shots at the end — those small things that win games.”
Florida’s power play is 0 of 7 in two games and has also allowed a short-handed goal.
Meanwhile, Vancouver’s power play, which was the ninth-best unit in the NHL last season thanks in part to Bo Horvat’s lethal shot-making, has converted 26.7 percent of its chances so far this season. Horvat has two of Vancouver’s four power-play goals.
Boughner is certainly wary of Canucks forwards such as Pettersson, Horvat, Boeser and Sven Baertschi.
“Our special teams have to be better,” Boughner said. “It’s just a matter of execution and bearing down on our chances.”