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Special Teams Dog Florida Panthers (again) in Loss to Coyotes

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Arizona Coyotes center Jack McBain battles with Florida center Anton Lundell during the first period of Arizona’s eventual 3-1 win on Tuesday night in Tempe. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Whether intentional or not, the Arizona Coyotes celebrated their 3-1 win over the Panthers by playing Florida’s former goal song throughout Mullett Arena.

The Panthers certainly will not recall this first trip to Tempe with any sort of fondness — or ‘Sweetness’ as the case may be.

There is no getting around that Florida’s failure to score on the power play — or keep Arizona from scoring when it had the chance — cost the Panthers against an inferior team.

Arizona, which came into the night tied for the fewest points in the entire league, scored a pair of power play goals and held the what should be a powerful Florida power play without one.

It was the first win for the Coyotes in their new home on the Arizona State campus after losing their first two games.

“It’s frustrating when you can’t score, but we’re still playing good hockey,” Sam Bennett said. “Our power play has struggled this year and we’re still grinding away. It’s important to get that power play rolling. I’m sure we’re going to figure it out and when we do, it’ll make our team that much more dangerous.”

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Florida has been plagued by poor special teams play so far this season and its shortcomings both with the man advantage and down a skater was amplified on Tuesday.

Of course, stats can be misleading at times.

Despite its crummy record, Arizona came into the night with the No. 3 power play in the league and its penalty kill was ranked tenth.

Florida has been winning despite having the 29th-ranked power play and 27th-ranked kill.

The Panthers could not overcome their shortcomings when it came to special teams this time around.

The Coyotes won this one because Florida went 0-for-3 on the power play while going 2-for-4 on it themselves.

Simple as that, really.

After two consecutive games of having 50-plus shots on goal, the Panthers did not throw as many pucks at goalie Karel Vejmelka but he was up to the task, stopping 41 shots to pick up his second win in six starts this season.

Spencer Knight was sharp throughout the game despite not facing anything for long stretches of time, the two goals allowed coming off a deflection from former Panthers’ first-round pick Lawson Crouse and then a sharp shot from Nick Ritchie.

Knight dropped his first game in his fourth start of the season, ending the night with 18 saves.

The game started slow, with both teams seemingly feeling each other out — and, perhaps, the Panthers trying to get their legs after the long flight west.

After a scoreless first in which the two teams combined for just 15 shots on goal, the Panthers broke the ice when Colin White deflected a Josh Mahura shot at 8:24 of the second.

One goal against the Coyotes was not what the Panthers had in mind when they embarked on this roadtrip but that’s exactly what they got.

White’s goal was it for Florida.

Not long after White scored, Crouse knocked one past Knight.

Arizona got the go-ahead goal at 8:55 on Ritchie’s goal.

Florida pulled Knight with 2:28 remaining and a 34-20 shot advantage and went on a tear, throwing six shots at Vejmelka but unable to get anything past.

With 1:07 left, Clayton Keller found the empty net and that was that for the Panthers.

The Panthers now move on to California and will play three games in four nights in the Golden State starting with San Jose on Thursday.

Florida visits Los Angeles on Saturday and wraps up the trip in Anaheim on Sunday.

GR‘S THREE STARS OF THE GAME

1. Karel Vejmelka, Arizona (41 saves)

2. Clayton Keller, Arizona (goal, assist)

 3. Lawson Crouse, Arizona (goal)

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT SAN JOSE SHARKS

  • When: Thursday, 10:30 p.m.
  • Where: SAP Center, San Jose
  • Streaming ONLY: ESPN+, Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 2-0
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 19-13-1, 7 ties

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