The Florida Panthers have not been a team that draws attention in a positive way for much of the past 20 years, but times have changed.
The Panthers came into the weekend with the best record in the entire National Hockey League and are looked it — both internally and externally — as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Their coach would like them to start acting like it a little bit when they go on the road.
“We were flat again and it was a disappointing start,’’ coach Andrew Brunette said following Florida’s 5-3 loss at the hands of the expansion Seattle Kraken on Sunday night.
“It’s the price of being a good team in this league; teams are going to be ready for you, they’re going to come at you hard. We haven’t really, in each of our road games so far, figured that out yet.”
It’s a learning process, going from the hunter to the hunted and the Panthers are going to have to get used to the fact that for teams like the Kraken, beating a team like Florida is a big deal.
It did not used to be this way, obviously.
It is now.
”It wasn’t our best game, obviously, and we didn’t play the way we wanted to,” said Sasha Barkov, who scored and had an assist in the loss.
“It was still a close game until the end, we had chances to tie the score. It didn’t go our way the whole game. We didn’t deserve to win this game, but we had a lot of good chances to tie it at least.”
The Panthers did not come out completely flat on Sunday as they took a 1-0 lead into the second period courtesy of a goal from Anthony Duclair five minutes in.
But it was not the score. Seattle was outworking and outhustling the Panthers in the opening period. Per NaturalStatTrick.com, Florida was outshot 13-8 with Seattle getting 16 scoring chances to the Panthers’ eight.
The Kraken also went in front of the net a lot more, getting seven high-danger chances to Florida’s three.
That hard work paid off in the second as Seattle scored three unanswered goals before — as Brunette said — they got a little mad.
“This was more about us,” Brandon Montour said. “There were areas when we were a little sleepy and they obviously capitalized. That happened the last time we played them. But give them credit, they played hard. They are a fast team and had some good chances there tonight.”
Down 3-1 in the second after a couple of odd plays, the Panthers got back into it on a great shot from Jonathan Huberdeau (goal, two assists) which turned Philipp Grubauer into a statue despite the shot coming from 40 feet out.
Barkov then got his goal and the Panthers were off to the races. Grubauer did everything in his power to keep Florida off the board.
He did a pretty good job.
Barkov had a great scoring chance off the opening faceoff in the third, but it was Seattle’s Mason Appleton who took advantage of a defensive lapse and walked in on Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Kraken the lead back.
After that, the Panthers struggled to penetrate Seattle’s defense and mount an attack although in the second half of the third, Florida did start to control possession a little better.
Still, even with Bobrovsky out of the net, the Panthers could not tie the game and attempt at another comeback.
Seattle got an empty net goal securing its second win over the Panthers this season.
The Kraken won the first meeting between the two on Nov. 22 in Sunrise.
Florida would have set an NHL record for most home wins to start a season had it beaten Chris Driedger and the Kraken that night. Instead, the Panthers remain tied with the 1960 Chicago Black Hawks.
“The price of being a good team is being ready to go,” said Brunette, who himself played on a pair of expansion teams — first the Nashville Predators in 1999 and then the Atlanta Thrashers the following season.
“This was a huge game for them. Obviously they lost Friday night at home and they are proud. They want to prove to the league that they are for real and that they are better than their record. We weren’t prepared for the storm that was coming.”
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Philipp Grubauer, Seattle
2. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida
3. Mason Appleton, Seattle
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT WINNIPEG JETS
- When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.
- Where: Canada Life Center; Winnipeg, MB
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Winnipeg/Atlanta Thrashers lead 50-29-8, 5 ties