The Florida Panthers led the NHL in goals scored last season before being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
This season, the Panthers — who will host Tampa Bay on Friday night in Sunrise, Fla. — are employing a bit more defensive style under new coach Paul Maurice.
It’s working thus far, as the Panthers have won three of their first four games, including a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.
“We’re not playing as much run-and-gun as we have in years past. We’re playing better defensively,” said Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe, who scored twice against the Flyers.
“That takes a little away from our offense, but it’s worth it. Going into the hard games and down the stretch, it’s going to be worth it.”
The Lightning have been one of those “hard games” for the Panthers. Tampa Bay has made it to the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last three seasons, winning twice.
This season, though, the Lightning are off to a slow start after losing three of their first four games.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said it’s easy to “take for granted” what his franchise has achieved.
On Tuesday, the Lightning squandered a two-goal lead and lost 3-2 to the Flyers.
“We should never have left that game with zero points,” Cooper said. “We should have probably left with two points (for the win). This (veteran Lightning) group should have closed that game out, and we didn’t.
“That’s probably a little bit of a concern.”
What is not a concern for Tampa Bay is the play of star captain Steven Stamkos, who has scored six goals this season. He tallied twice on the power play against Philadelphia.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, nobody else on Tampa Bay’s roster has more than one goal.
The Lightning have two veteran goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy, 28, and backup Brian Elliott, 37. Vasilevskiy has led the NHL in wins in each of the past five years.
So far, Vasilevskiy is 1-2-0 with a 2.72 goals-against average this season. Elliott is 0-1-0 with a 5.05 GAA.
Meanwhile, the Panthers were sent reeling on Wednesday when standout defenseman Aaron Ekblad was placed on long-term injured reserve. He has a groin injury that will keep him out at least one month.
The Panthers received solid performances from their defensemen on Wednesday as Josh Mahura and Radko Gudas posted plus-3 ratings. Mahura also scored his first goal with the Panthers.
“I have been welcomed with open arms,” said Mahura, who played 79 games over the past four years for the Anaheim Ducks before being claimed on waivers by Florida earlier this month.
“I just want to continue to build every game.”
Matthew Tkachuk has a four-game point streak and leads the team with six points. He joined captain Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett with two assists against the Flyers.
Florida’s goalies are Sergei Bobrovsky (2-1-0, 2.75 GAA) and Spencer Knight (1-0-0, 3.00 GAA).
–Field Level Media