When the 2010-2011 regular season ended, the Florida Panthers found themselves outside of a playoff spot for the 11th straight season - a NHL record 11th straight season might I add. This offseason, Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon matched this number as he added 11 new faces to the team in hopes of sending a message to the rest of the National Hockey League that this year; the Panthers would be a different team. On Saturday night Tallon lead his team to New York to take on the Islanders as they were looking to make a statement and his new look team did just that with a convincing 2-0 shutout victory.
Both teams entered the game with high expectations on the season as they both wanted to get off to running start, but despite the Islanders playing in front of a sold out home crowd, it was the visiting Panthers who broke out of the gate with an extra pep in their step as they dominated the first period of play. The Panthers had chance after chance to bury the puck, but they just could not seem to capitalize on their chances.
Finally, with just under four-minutes remaining in the first, the Panthers finally got to Islanders goaltender Al Montoya with a pretty goal by none other than Stephen Weiss. Tomas Fleischman made a pass to defenseman Brian Campbell, who wired a shot towards Montoya. Montoya failed to squeeze his pads together as the puck squired through his legs, and was eventually fired home by Weiss who was fighting off a Mark Streit check.
“I was just going to the net. (Campbell) took the shot and it squeezed by the goalie. It was just sitting there in the crease. It doesn’t get much easier than that,” said Weiss when asked about scoring the first goal of the Panthers season.
Shortly after Weiss’ goal, Islanders Mike Mottau received a penalty for holding, followed by a 2 minute roughing penalty by Travis Hamonic who was given the extra deuce in his scrum with Scottie Upshall which resulted in Florida having a 5 on 3 with a minute remaining in the period.
With just 15 seconds remaining in the first, the Panthers once again drew blood as Jason Garrison fired home his first of the season with a beautiful slap shot which found its way past Montoya as David Booth did a great job screening the Islanders goaltender.
From that point on, the confidence continued to build for Florida, while the Islanders appeared as though they still hadn’t realized the season had begun. At one point in the second period Florida was outshooting the Islanders 22-9. But, after that point, the Islanders woke up and managed to outshoot the Panthers 10-4 in the dying minutes of the period, but they could not beat Jose Theodore.
After their late second period surge, the Islanders once again come out of the dressing room guns blazing, as they dominated play, but the Panthers defense made sure that Theodore saw every puck which come his way.
The Islanders best chance in the game, come just after the half way mark in the third period as forward Kyle Okposo rang the post with a shot from just inside the slot.
“They (Islanders) come at us in the third period with both barrels loaded and we reacted to it,” Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen said.
Unfortunately, the clock expired on the Islanders great third period play, and even with the goaltender pulled in the dying seconds, they could not beat Jose Theodore, as he secured both his first win, and first shutout in his first Florida Panthers regular season game.
“Everybody came through tonight,” Theodore said. “They were clearing the rebounds (and) I was seeing the puck. We really worked well as a unit. They were letting me see the puck. We were all on the same page.”
The Panthers now travel to Pittsburgh where they will face the Penguins on Tuesday evening before flying home to Sunrise where they will wait as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in their season opener on Saturday night.
Notes: Al Montoya started the game for the Islanders which was a surprise to many (definitely including myself) as New York chose him to start over Evgeny Nabokov and Rick DiPietro. Dineen got the victory behind the bench for the Panthers in his first NHL head coach position, he spend the previous six years as the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates. Brian Campbell had two assists in his Florida Panthers debut. Scottie Upshall was handed a game misconduct at 19:24 of the first period in his fight with Mike Mottau. 11 new players started the game for the Panthers, who were not a part of the organization last season.