3/1/16: Too Close For Missiles, I’m Switching to Young Guns

Tuesday night’s game in Winnipeg was a nerve-wracking one for Panther fans — filled with goals, a blown lead, and new players. This portion of the season continues to be exciting as ever.

The Cats got off to a great start with Reilly Smith grabbing the first and only goal (20) of the first period at 13:48 — joining the 20 goal club for the second time in his career. The play was reviewed for offsides but replay proved to be inconclusive. How about that Hayes for Smith trade now?! The goal was initiated by a fantastic pass from Trocheck, leading to a slick tip in from the high slot. As great at Smith is playing, I can’t get over the impeccable play by Trocheck. He is arguably the most improved player of the year, performing at a high level every night.

The second period wasn’t great. The Cats allowed two goals by Byfuglien (16) and Copp (2, SH), to give up the lead. Without another goal, the Panthers would be down one heading in to the third period — a familiar scenario as of late.

The last frame started off with a bang! At 1:46, Reilly Smith scored his 21st on a PPG, the result of a high stick by Copp on Trocheck, assisted once again by Trocheck and also Purcell — earning his first point as a Panther. With the game tied, Jagr capitalized on the momentum by taking the puck into the high slot, and letting loose a shot to the corner. Deflected by a defensive stick, the puck fluttered in and gave the Panthers the 3–2 lead with 16 minutes to go.

Photo: Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

The Panthers did a great job controlling the rest of the game. That was most evident in the final minute of the game when the Cats successfully killed a 4-on-6 Gudbranson penalty.

“[Balanced scoring] has been one of the strengths of our team. We’ve gotten contributions from throughout the lineup. It was huge for our [team] to tie it up, momentum-wise, and get the boys going a little bit there.” -Roberto Luongo

Regarding the newbies, Purcell in particular stood out to me. Without Mackenzie in the lineup, Purcell did a great job making the hustle plays and grabbing a bunch of touches on special teams. I’m looking forward to seeing both Purcell and Hudler find their respective places in the lineup and begin contributing on a more consistent basis.

A quick congrats to Ekblad, Jokinen, Barkov, and Kulikov for being selected to their respective World Cup of Hockey teams. Hopefully we see one or two more additions from the Panthers when the full rosters are announced (Huberdeau). I have to say that the jerseys are great except Team North America. While the main crest design is smart and edgy, the whole package feels a little amateurish in comparison to the regal national jerseys.

Tonight’s fourth straight road game, in Colorado should be equally exciting. The Avalanche are a similarly constructed team composed of young talent, quality vets, and high-quality goaltending. Now, with the Lightning hot on our tails due to their ongoing win streak, it’s important to grab as many points as we can. Look for the Cats to come out strong and set the tone early.