SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers continued a strong run on the penalty kill Saturday, but tested the Oilers’ second-ranked power play one too many times.
Florida came into Saturday on a 10-for-11 penalty kill run and stayed on a roll to start the game.
The Panthers killed off Edmonton’s first four power plays but the Oilers struck just four seconds into their fifth opportunity and it ended up leading them to a 4-2 win at FLA Live Arena.
While Edmonton’s power play features two of the league’s top players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it was a defenseman who finally broke through.
Tyson Barrie uncorked a slap shot that Spencer Knight could only watch zoom past; it was Barrie’s second goal of the night, one which gave Edmonton a lead it would hold onto for the rest of the night.
“For the most part, we did a good job,” Sam Bennett said. ”They have one of the best power plays in the league, so it is not an easy task but we did a good job of limiting their scoring chances.”
The Panthers held the Oilers to eight shots on their five power plays but it ended up being one too many for them to handle.
Florida’s penalty kill has taken a drastic turn since the start of the season.
The Panthers started at a 70.8 percent clip — good for 29th in the NHL — but have hit their stride since their Nov. 5 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
Florida coach Paul Maurice credits that uptick to a switch on its second unit — Eric Staal and Eetu Luostarinen being paired up front.
”I’ve liked it the last three games,” he said.
”We hit the slot bar down on one, they hit the seam on us, so those two things even it out. Our penalty kill was pretty darn good.”
The Panthers found themselves down a goal to start the third period after Barrie scored his first of the game — in nearly the same fashion as his second — with 8:11 to go in the middle frame.
Bennett tied the game with a power play goal of his own 2:42 into the third.
Florida’s power play, which came into the game ranked third-worst in the league, was on its way to going 0-for-3 before Bennett jumped on the rebound of a blocked shot and fired it from the circle with four seconds left on the man advantage.
”I actually wanted to be closer to that puck,” Bennett said.
”I didn’t know if he was going to be able to get across in time. I just skated as hard as I could to the puck and then tried to put it as far left as I could.”
After starting the season at a 9.8 percent clip, the Panthers’ power play has been clicking at 25 percent efficiency since the calendar turned to November.
“I think our power play has definitely been trending in the right direction,” Bennett said.
”We are getting more chances and sometimes they don’t go in, but I think as we build our game, our power play is going to get better and better and that is the way that it has gone.”
The Oilers extended their lead to two when Leon Draisaitl stripped Sasha Barkov of the puck and found Warren Foegle in the slot with 4:53 to go.
It was a rare mistake for Barkov that ended up giving Edmonton the insurance goal it needed.
“Every elite player has the puck on their stick so much over the course of the year that they are going to have one or two get away from them that ends up in the back of the net,” Maurice said.
“It will be very difficult for them to accept and they will be very angry and sometimes that thing snaps them over the top and their game takes off.”
Bennett pulled Florida back within a goal 51 seconds later as he cut across the front of the net after receiving a cross-ice feed from Colin White. He finished it off with a backhand shot that gave him his second goal of the night.
After starting the season with just one goal through 12 games, Bennett now has four goals in his last three games.
”I don’t know for him that there is any difference,” Maurice said. ”He has had so many good chances to score. I think sometimes they just go for it and as soon as you get that belief, the puck gets off your stick quicker.”
That just so happened to be the story for the Panthers as a whole, as well.
Florida took 42 shots and had 16 high-danger opportunities but Stuart Skinner was able to stop 40 of them and hold the Panthers off.
“I think it’s more frustrating when you are not getting chances,” Bennett said.
”We are playing good hockey. It’s just a matter of sticking with it and eventually, the goals are going to go in. We can’t get frustrated even though we may be a little bit. We just gotta focus on playing our game and eventually it is going to come.”
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sealed the game with an empty-net goal with 1:26 to go.
The Panthers now sit 8-6-1 through their first 15 games and are currently in a three-way tie with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Florida is back Tuesday when it meets the Washington Capitals in a rematch of the first-round playoff series from last spring.
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Tyson Barrie, Edmonton (two goals)
2. Sam Bennett, Florida (two goals)
3. Stuart Skinner (40 saves, win)
PANTHERS ON DECK
WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Panthers won 2-1 (d. Capitals 4-2 in first round)
- All-time regular season series: Washington leads 67-43-12, 9 ties