The Panthers got back to action Thursday night in a wildly entertaining battle against the Washington Capitals. While the outcome wasn’t what the Panthers or head coach Peter Horachek wanted, there were a number of positive developments for Florida.
Brad Boyes led the Panthers with two goals against Washington, extending his team-leading total to 17 on the season. This wasn’t anything unexpected from Boyes, who continues to display a knack for being at the right place at the right time in the offensive zone.
Boyes and linemate Sean Bergenheim had a new center on Thursday, with Nick Bjugstad taking the place of injured rookie Alexsander Barkov. It’s clearly disappointing that Barkov is having to miss some action because of the injury he sustained in the Winter Olympics, but the so-called “Killer Bee Line” remained productive with Bjugstad in the middle.
Taking Bjugstad’s spot on the line between Jonathan Huberdeau and Scottie Upshall was Drew Shore, who was called up from San Antonio on Monday for a third stint with the Panthers this season. Shore played some good hockey for the Panthers before the Olympic break and continued his strong work when he was sent to San Antonio to stay active during the break.
Shore drew some raves from Horachek in the days leading up to the Washington game and then had himself another effective outing against the Capitals. Shore’s recent progress clearly is good news for a Panthers organization loaded with talented young prospects.
Shore’s goal, his fifth in 18 games for the Panthers this season, came on the power play when he one-timed a pass from Brian Campbell. The shot got through Washington goalie Braden Holtby with Jimmy Hayes parked right in front of the net.
The goal was an immediate reward for Horachek’s decision to put Hayes on the power play. The idea was to get the 6-foot-6 Hayes to become a presence in front of the net and make it difficult for goalies to see the puck. Horachek explained after the morning skate that he doesn’t want his players near or around the goalie on the power play, but rather right on top of them. And that’s exactly what Hayes did.
It also was good to see Tomas Fleischmann end his goal drought with a one-timer off a great feed from Jesse Winchester. It was a long time coming for Fleischmann, and the Panthers can only hope he can get on a roll now.
As for Winchester, he continues to quietly put together a very impressive season. His signing last summer kind of went under the radar, but he has been effective more often than not.
The game against Washington began a hectic post-Olympic break schedule for the Panthers, who will finish the season with 24 games in 45 days. Next up are back-to-back afternoon weekend games against the Blue Jackets and Islanders.
The offensive output against the Capitals was a good way to start the post-Olympic schedule. The Washington game marked the first time all season the Panthers had lost while scoring at least four goals. If they can keep up that kind of offensive production the rest of the way, the Panthers obviously will win more games than they’ll lose.