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Panthers hold off Coyotes to become only 25th team in NHL history to start season 6-0

·5 min read

It doesn’t matter who’s in goal, who’s missing from the lineup or who the opponent is. The Florida Panthers keep rolling.

They spent the first two weeks of the season mostly beating up Stanley Cup contenders and postseason staples. They won with Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight in goal, and while shuffling around pieces on their bottom lines. On Monday, they continued the best season-opening winning streak in franchise history by surviving a late scare and beating the league-worst Arizona Coyotes, 5-3, in Sunrise.

“We’re feeling good. We’re confident. We know how good of a team we have,” winger Frank Vatrano said. “We just need to keep going game by game and keep putting these wins up early.”

Panthers chasing early-season history

The Panthers (6-0-0) are only the 25th team in NHL history to win six in a row to start the season and they’re now four wins away from matching the league record of 10, shared by the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres. Florida’s previous season-opening record was four straight wins, set last season and surpassed Saturday when it beat the Philadelphia Flyers.

Of the other 24 teams to start the season on a six-game winning streak or better, all but three eventually made the Stanley Cup playoffs, 11 won their division or finished first in the league, 10 reached at least the semifinals and four won the Cup, including coach Joel Quenneville’s Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

The Panthers’ record-setting win against in Philadelphia capped a confidence-affirming five-game run to open the year. Their first four wins all came against teams with top-10 Cup odds, according to DraftKings, and the Flyers are another playoff contender. They outscored those five 22-9.

Florida Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas (7) high-fives defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) after an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Michael Reaves)
Florida Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas (7) high-fives defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) after an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Michael Reaves)

Panthers dominate on stat sheet

Florida’s sixth game had the makings of a trap. The Coyotes (0-5-1) entered Monday as one of only two winless teams and drew a sparse crowd — generously announced at 13,943 — to FLA Live Arena. The Panthers follow the game with a meeting against the Boston Bruins, another Cup contender, on Wednesday. The Coyotes even scored first, beating Knight on their first shot on goal on a breakaway with 2:17 left in the first period, before Florida did what it’s supposed to do against perhaps the worst team in hockey — for the most part.

The Panthers tied the game at 1-1 before the end of the first period and outshot Arizona, 11-1, in the opening period. In the second, they scored twice more to pull away and added another in the third. Their final edge in shots on goal was 40-20, their edge in scoring chances was 25-15 and they led 13-2 in high-danger chances. Knight only faced only 17 shots in 5-on-5 action and finished with 17 saves in his second appearance of the season. Florida even used a chance to go against the Coyotes’ league-worst penalty kill as a chance to get its lackluster power play right for at least one day. It let the the team survive when Arizona mounted an unlikely comeback effort in the third period.

Joe Thornton scored his first goal as a Panther on a power play in the first period, tapping home a rebound with 18.8 seconds left to tie the game 1-1. Vatrano scored the go-ahead goal off another rebound with 14 minutes left in the second period, and Florida added another power-play goal with 9:41 left in the period when star defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s slap shot bounced off Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun and into the net for a 3-1 lead.

The Panthers were just 3 of 22 on the power play in their first five games. They finished 2 of 3 on Saturday against the Arizona, which has now given up nine power-play goals in 14 chances.

Panthers survive a trap game

After two near-flawless periods, Florida nearly unraveled in the third. The Coyotes actually outshot the Panthers in the period and scored twice in 34 seconds to cut Florida’s lead to 4-3 with 7:29 remaining.

“Going in, it was kind of a dangerous opponent and I think that being respectful from start to finish was part of it,” Quenneville said. “Sometimes you get ahead and you get a little careless, and I thought we had a couple of situations that we misplayed and both ended up in the net.”

All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, however, scored his third goal in two games with 13:06 left in the game to put the Panthers up 4-1 and Florida needed it to survive Arizona’s late onslaught.

It was the first real sign of weakness for the Panthers this year and it nearly cost them their winning streak. Instead, they sit all alone at the top of the league standings.

“We’re a confident group right now and things are going well, so it’s a lot of fun out there,” said forward Sam Bennett, who assisted on Huberdeau’s decisive goal. “We did make it a little too close there. I think we got a little too comfortable in that game. We’ve just got to do a better job of staying with it and doing the right things for 60 minutes, but 6-0. We’re feeling good right now.”

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