"A good night offensively," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "I liked our balance. I thought all the lines were effective. Everybody was doing what we're looking to do both ways with the puck. The penalty killing was good; the power play was effective. We're happy with our game."
Just one game removed from scoring the first goal of his NHL career, Juho Lammikko was right back at it again tonight. Cutting into the crease, he took a pass from Brett Connolly and ripped a shot into the top right corner of the cage to give Florida a 1-0 lead at 6:09 of the opening period.
Less than two minutes after that, MacKenzie Weegar collected a centering feed from Jonathan Huberdeau and whipped a shot past goaltender Thomas Greiss to make it a 2-0 game at 7:58. Not letting up at all, Patric Hornqvist then scored from on top of the crease make it 3-0 at 12:45.
Getting one back for the Red Wings as the period began to wind down, Bobby Ryan blasted a heavy slap shot past goaltender Chris Driedger to trim Florida's lead down to 3-1 at 14:06. But just 1:09 later, Aleksander Barkov deftly poked a loose puck past Greiss to make it 4-1 at 15:15.
Those four goals were tied for the most the Cats have scored in the first period this season.
"Our first period was really good," Hornqvist said. "We were hard on pucks and were always three-man close support in their corners. Our D did a good job gapping up, too. We were all over them in the first period and we got rewarded."
While the goals flowed like water for the Panthers during the first 20 minutes, the second period belonged to the goaltenders. Coming into the game in relief of Greiss, who was taken out after giving up four goals on 13 shots, Jonathan Bernier helped settled things down a bit for Detroit.
Keeping his scoresheet clean in the middle frame, Driedger turned aside all 12 shots he faced, including an otherworldly paddle save on a rebound attempt from Darren Helm near the midway point of the period. Across the ice, Bernier was also almost perfect - the keyword there: almost.
With 22 seconds left on the clock, Aaron Ekblad took a feed from Weegar and teed-up a hearty one-timer from within the left circle that screamed past a baffled Bernier to make it a 5-1 game.
"It's huge," said Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle, who racked up three assists in the win. "They brought it to us a little bit there in the second. Within a 60-minute game there's going to be stretches where you're playing in the D zone. I thought we did a good job of weathering it."
At 2:49 of the third period, a shot from Valtteri Filppula took a fortuitous bounce off a Panthers skater and found its way into the back of the net to cut Detroit's deficit to 5-2. Squashing that comeback effort in a hurry, Hornqvist banged home a shot on the power play for his second goal of the night to make it 6-2. Then, at 8:56, Anthony Duclair scored to cap off the 7-2 win.
Making his third straight start - which matched a career-high - Driedger finished with 30 saves, while Bernier stopped 23 of 26 shots in his relief appearance. Building off his very strong debut in 2019-20, Driedger owns a 6-1-1 record with a stellar .926 save percentage so far this season.
"I feel great," Driedger said. "Playing a few [games] in a row, it kind of gets you rolling a little bit and gets you in a bit of a rhythm. The guys have been playing incredible. Playing those games and getting those wins is the most important thing. It's been awesome."
Adding more fuel to the fire that is their best start in franchise history, the Panthers improved to 11-2-2 and remain in first place in the Central Division following tonight's victory. On Saturday, they'll look to extend their winning streak to four games when they close out their back-to-back set with the Red Wings, who currently occupy last place in the division with a 4-12-3 record.
"It's part of being a team: showing growth and moving forward," Quenneville said. "I think we want to do things in a positive way. We want to get off to a good start and build off what we're doing. How we move going forward, being respectful of our opponents has always got to be in place. Let's incentivize ourselves knowing that the better we play, the more fun we're having."
Here are five takeaways from Friday night's dominating win in the Motor City…
1. STOP… LAMMY TIME!
Florida's fourth line is buzzing right now.
After he tipped a stretch pass by Yandle to gain the offensive zone, Connolly then chased down the puck and sent it to Lammikko. Staring down a trio of Red Wings in the slot - not including Greiss - the Finnish center rifled a shot into the net to make it 1-0 just 6:09 into the first period.
Video: FLA@DET: Lammikko buries feed from Connolly in 1st
Stepping up in the absence of heart-and-soul center Noel Acciari - who did not travel with the Panthers on their road trip while he recovers from an injury - the fourth line was all over the place tonight, combining for two points (one goal, one assist), eight shots on goal and two hits.
"We saw all four lines rolling," Duclair said of the team's balanced attack against the Red Wings. "Good to see Lammy, Lomberg and Connolly chipping in. When you get that kind of offense from those guys throughout the whole lineup, it's good to see, for sure."
2. WEEGAR'S SECOND CHANCE
Weegar wasn't going to let a great scoring chance slip through his fingers again.
Unable to bury a feed from Huberdeau earlier in the game, Weegar made the most of out his second chance, taking pass from No. 11 and flinging a shot from the left circle past Greiss for his first goal of the season that increased Florida's lead to 2-0 at 7:58 of the opening period.
Video: FLA@DET: Weegar scores in 1st period
"He gave me one just before that, and I should've had that," Weegar said of the play. "Luckily, he had some faith in me and gave it back. I had to put that one in the back of the net for him."
Teaming up with Ekblad to form a potent top-defensive pairing for the Panthers this season, Weegar has already registered seven points (one goal, six assists), 36 hits and 17 blocks while averaging a career-high 23:04 of ice time through the first 15 games of the 2020-21 campaign.
3. HORNQVIST NETS ANOTHER
If you let Hornqvist get to his office, you know he's going to do some damage.
Making a beeline from the half-wall straight toward the blue paint, the hard-nosed Swede tapped in a pinpoint pass from Yandle straight over Greiss' outstretched glove and into the cage from the right side of the net to give the Panthers a commanding 3-0 lead at 12:45 of the first period.
Video: FLA@DET: Hornqvist scores tap-in goal to make it 3-0
Not done there, Hornqvist did even more damage in the third period. With the Panthers on the power play, the 34-year-old set up shop around the net once again, whacking in the rebound from Barkov's shot to make it a 6-2 game with 14:10 left in regulation.
Video: FLA@DET: Hornqvist scores PPG in 3rd for second goal
"We feel good about ourselves," Hornqvist said. "We can't just sit back now because we've been winning here lately. We've just got to keep working and doing the right things. You see what that does to our team. When we're playing the right way we're as good as anyone."
In his first season with Florida, Hornqvist leads the team in goals (8) and power-play goals (5).
4. THE CAPTAIN'S CRASH
There were four Red Wings around the puck, yet it was Barkov that ended up with it.
Crashing down into the crease after Greiss made the save on Carter Verhaeghe's initial shot, the Panthers captain slipped through a slew of defenders and poked the loose puck out of the blue paint and across the goal line to send the Cats ahead 4-1 with 4:45 left in the first period.
Video: FLA@DET: Barkov cleans up a rebound to make it 4-1
"We wanted to come out hard right from the start, not to wait like we did the last couple games against Detroit," Barkov said. "We wanted to play hard right away, and that's what we did. We got a couple goals, got a comfortable lead, and played with that the whole game."
Finishing tied with Yandle with a game-high three points tonight, Barkov currently ranks second on the Panthers in scoring with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) this season. Always bringing his A-game versus the Red Wings, he's tallied 11 goals and 19 assists in 30 games against Detroit.
5. ANOTHER EK-BLAST
When Ekblad winds up like this, you've just got to get out of the way.
Winding up for a massive slap shot in the left circle, the Windsor, Ontario native - growing up just across the Detroit River - let loose a one-timer that left Bernier in search of answers as the puck few past him and into the top corner of the net to make it 5-1 at 19:38 of the third period.
Video: FLA@DET: Ekblad fires a one-timer for 5-1 lead in 2nd
"He hit a great shot," Quenneville said. "It was a good way to go into the third period."
Starting to generate a lot of buzz around the league for his exceptional play this season as Florida's No. 1 defenseman, Ekblad has produced 10 points (five goals, five assists) while averaging a team-high 24:47 of ice time per game, usually against the opposition's top guys.
At 5-on-5 play tonight, the 25-year-old was on the ice for three goals for and zero against.
BONUS: MORE FOR HUBERDEAU
At this point, multi-point games have become commonplace for Huberdeau.
With two assists tonight, the 27-year-old winger, who led Florida in scoring in 2019-20, upped his team-high point total to 22 (seven goals, 15 assists). At the time of this writing, that number also places him in a tie with Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele for the sixth-most points in the league.
On a three-game point streak, Huberdeau has posted three goals and four assists in that span.