It’s two games into the 2021-2022 season, and the Florida Panthers have already begun to showcase just how many weapons they have on the offensive side of the ice.
It was winger Carter Verhaeghe and defenseman Aaron Ekblad with multi-goal outings in the season-opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, an overtime win.
On Saturday night, second-line center Sam Bennett led the scoring charge.
Bennett scored three goals and Sergei Bobrovsky was dominant in net as the Panthers defeated the New York Islanders 5-1 Saturday at FLA Live Arena to sweep their two-game homestand to open the 2021-2022 season.
The Panthers are 2-0-0. The Islanders are 0-2-0.
For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers have four players with multiple goals through their first two games — Anthony Duclair also recorded a goal in each of the first two contests — and that list doesn’t even include Jonathan Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov among a slew of others.
“No matter what line we put on the ice,” coach Joel Quenneville said, “the objective is to play offense, keep the puck, play in their end and generate. Any line can score at any given time.”
It was the second line — and Bennett in particular — who did that on Saturday.
It was Bennett’s second career hat trick as he begins his seventh full NHL season.
The other? A four-goal outing on Jan. 13, 2016, while with the Calgary Flames.
The opponent that night? The Panthers.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Bennett said. “I’ve had a lot of fun here in Florida, and every game I have more and more fun. We’ve got a great team.”
Bennett opened scoring Saturday with 10:50 left in the first period when he collected a rebound from a Radko Gudas shot in front of the net and flicked it past Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who was out of position. His second goal of the night, barely four minutes into the second period, came when he took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau, wrapped around the net, and poked the puck past Sorokin.
He completed the hat trick with 10:21 left in regulation, scoring on a snap shot from the slot on a feed from defenseman Matt Kiersted.
Duclair and Barkov also scored goals to extend Florida’s edge. Duclair’s goal, a backhander that came after corralling a long pass from MacKenzie Weegar while streaking past the Islanders’ two defensemen, came when he was on a line with Barkov and Anton Lundell late in the second period.
Sam Reinhart, who has been the primary right wing on the top line with Barkov at center and Carter Verhaeghe at left wing, did not see the ice for the final 5:08 of the second period. He finished the game primarily on the fourth line with Ryan Lomberg and Joe Thornton while Duclair served as the right wing on the top line — a spot he held regularly last season.
Barkov’s wrist shot with 7:38 left in regulation — with him falling backward after the puck went into the back of the net — closed scoring. It was Barkov’s first goal of the season.
Bobrovsky, meanwhile, stopped 28 of 29 shots, including each of the first 22 that came his way, to improve to 2-0-0 on the season.
The lone goal he gave up was an Oliver Wahlstron wrist shot in front of the net on the power play with 16:30 left in regulation. Three of the five goals Bobrovsky has allowed so far this season have come on the penalty kill.
With the primary assist on Bennett’s second goal Saturday, Huberdeau became the first player in Panthers history to record 500 career points. He has 332 assists and 168 goals.
He very likely won’t be the only Florida player to hit that milestone this season. Barkov is at 468 points (182 goals, 286 assists) and needs just 32 more points to hit the 500 marks.