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5 Takeaways: Panthers Look to 'Tighten Up' After Loss to Sabres

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

11/24/19 Post Game Interviews

11/24/19 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and forwards Aleksander Barkov and Brett Connolly.

  • 01:00 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers knew they'd endure a few games like this eventually.

In a playoff spot after finding a way to earn points in 17 of their first 24 games, the Panthers have hit a small bump in the road after a 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at BB&T Center on Sunday night gave the team two consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season.

"Every team's going to go through it," Panthers winger Brett Connolly said. "It's just a matter of how we respond. It's been a good start to the year. For whatever reason, the last couple games we didn't have our legs. We're making our plays. We'll watch some tape and get better."

The Panthers began tonight's game as the clear aggressors on offense, but it was the Sabres that carried a lead into the first intermission. After Jeff Skinner scored to put Buffalo on top 1-0 at 16:24, Zemgus Girgensons doubled that number to 2-0 less than two minutes later at 18:23.

In the second period, Jack Eichel rifled a shot past Sam Montembeault to up Buffalo's lead to 3-0 at 3:42. Later, Noel Acciari got one back for Florida when he lifted a shot over Linus Ullmark to trim the deficit down to 3-1. But at 14:41, Victor Olofsson scored to put the Sabres back up 4-1.

Montembeault finished with 21 saves, while Ullmark stopped 43 of 45 shots.

"We had our chances, but not good enough," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "We've got to play better. They didn't get that many shots, but they got a lot of good chances to score."

Just a few minutes after the puck dropped in the third period, Connolly got the Panthers back within two goals when he scored on the the power play to cut the deficit to 4-2 at 3:08. But at 13:25, Girgensons netted his second goal of the game to put the Sabres ahead 5-2 at 13:25.

Despite the loss, the Panthers (12-7-5) have won seven of their last 12 games.

"We've had stretches where we've captured momentum in games, but we haven't had this," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "Between [losing] back-to-back games, and then suddenly you've had a tough weekend. We've got a big game coming up Wednesday… Let's get back to the drawing board here, tighten things up and look at doing things the right way."

Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss in Sunrise…

1. ACCIARI FROM THE SLOT

Acciari certainly has a nose for loose pucks.

With the Panthers trailing 3-1 near the midway point of the second period, the rubber changed hands a few times in the offensive zone before eventually landing on the stick of Acciari, who lifted a shot just over Ullmark's blocker and into the net to cut the deficit down to 3-1 at 9:29.

Video: BUF@FLA: Acciari fires home loose puck in the slot

Providing the team with an offensive punch down on the fourth line, the 27-year-old center has now tallied five goals and one assist to go along with 32 hits and 34 blocked shots in 21 games.

Tonight, against the Sabres, Acciari also let loose a season-high five shots on goal.

2. CONNOLY CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Connolly has been scoring like clockwork recently.

With the Panthers trailing and in need of a big goal on the power play, the 27-year-old skated toward the top of the left circle before taking a pass from Aaron Ekblad and quickly firing a one-timer into the back of the net to trim Buffalo's lead down to 4-2 just 3:08 into the third period.

Video: BUF@FLA: Connolly one-times Ekblad's feed for PPG

"It's nice to see pucks go in," Connolly said. "Obviously tonight I would've scratched it for a win."

Carrying a hot stick, Connolly has now lit the lamp five times over his last five games to claim sole possession of the team-lead with 11 goals. Tonight's goal, however, was his first on the man advantage. The other 10 have come at even-strength - tied for sixth-most in the league.

"Confidence is a big part of my game," Connolly said. "The coaching staff and my teammates have done a good job of helping me come in and making it an easy transition. I'm playing with a lot of confidence, playing loose, having some fun and working hard. It's been going good so far."

In his first season with Florida, Connolly has posted 18 points (11 goals, seven assists).

3. THE NUMBERS GAME

The end result didn't match the numbers the Panthers put up on offense tonight.

In addition to besting the Sabres 45-26 in shots on goal, they also finished with big advantages in both shot attempts (69-43) and scoring chances (31-17), according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Entering the matchup, Florida boasted the second-ranked offense in the league.

"We've been scoring a lot of goals, so I think it was only a matter of time before we hit a little bit of a rut in the season," Connolly said. "It's not going to be perfect every night. We've been getting tested a little bit the last couple of games, but it's a solid group in here."

Barkov also gave some credit to Ullmark, who stopped all six high-danger shots he faced.

"He made a lot of good saves," Barkov said. "We had a lot of shots, a lot of rebounds, a lot of nice plays in front of the net, but we just couldn't get more than two today. We battled hard, we tried hard, but it wasn't today."

That being said, Quenneville noted that some numbers can also be deceiving. "I think it was one of those games where you think you might be playing OK -- whether you're outshooting them, out-chancing them, out-possessing them -- but you're still behind for reasons," he said.

4. IRON YANDS

Even a few missing teeth couldn't derail Keith Yandle's incredible iron man streak.

Less than 24 hours after getting hit in the face with a puck on Saturday at Carolina, the 33-year-old defenseman played in his 821st consecutive game tonight. The league's active iron man, his streak stands as the fifth-longest in NHL history -- nine behind Andrew Cogliano (830) for fourth.

"Give him credit, he did a lot of good things," Quenneville said of Yandle, who leads Florida's blueliners with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) this season. "The fact that he's out there under those circumstances and still trying to generate something offensively for us, give him credit."

Just as he did when he returned in the third period against the Hurricanes last night, Yandle was sporting a full cage against the Sabres, but still managed to take the ice for a team-high 23:38.

5. REGROUPING

After wrapping up a back-to-back tonight, the Panthers will now take a quick breather.

With Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday, the team will only play two games next week. Next up, they'll visit the Washington Capitals on Wednesday before heading back to South Florida to kick off a franchise-record nine-game homestand against the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Coming off a stretch of three games in four nights, Connolly said the rest should be beneficial.

"We've got a couple days to recharge and get ready for Washington on Wednesday," he said.

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