The Panthers gave goalie Jacob Markstrom a little breathing room Friday night by scoring goals, something they hadn’t done much of during their season-opening road trip.
Florida seized upon its opportunity in its home opener as Pittsburgh doesn’t have many weaknesses, but starting a goalie making his NHL debut might have been one.
By scoring the first goal, Florida grabbed the first lead of a game for only the second time in its five games. When Jonathan Huberdeau broke a 2-2 tie in the second period, the Panthers didn’t trail again.
“Leads are nice to work with,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “All through training camp and early on, we’ve been scratching and clawing to come back. [Friday] wasn’t emotional highs and lows. There was consistency in our game. Our special teams were good, the effort was there.”
Markstrom, by the way, held the high-scoring Penguins off the scoreboard in the third period.
Florida’s defense tied up stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, with Malkin scoring one of the Pens’ three goals but Crosby was held without a goal for the second consecutive game.
“They have a lot of firepower but we did a great job keeping a lot of the shots coming from the blueline,” Markstrom said. “I could see them. It was a great job defensively. I’m really happy the whole team played a great game.”
The Panthers will be in a different type of game Sunday as Los Angeles visits the BB&T Center for the first time since 2012. The Kings are a good defensive team with strong goaltending from Jonathan Quick.
Los Angeles is allowing 2.8 goals per game. The Panthers are scoring an average of 2.6 goals through the first five games.
Florida has gotten an offensive boost from Brad Boyes, a right winger who was invited to try out during training camp before being signed to a one-year deal.
Boyes scored two of Florida’s six goals Friday night and has four of the team’s 13. Boyes scored 10 goals with the Islanders last year and has 172 goals over 611 NHL games.
“Opportunities are great and you have to capitalize on them when you get them,” Boyes said. “When things are going well, pucks find you, you get the bounces.”
Said Dineen: “He’s off to a good start. He’s an opportunistic player. He had a chance to go back to Long Island but he saw something within this organization.”
As Boyes has gotten off to a strong start, the Panthers got their first goals on Friday from Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann.
“Good to see Versteeg get one, he’s been working hard,” Dineen said. “There’s no secret we need our top players playing well. If we can get those guys leading with effort and overall play, it’s easier on all of us.”
• Defenseman Matt Gilroy signed a free agent deal with the Panthers over the summer but didn’t play much during the preseason because of a leg injury. Gilroy was kept out of the lineup during the road trip, but Dineen put him in Friday.
Gilroy played 16:19 on 23 shifts and was complimented on his play by GM Dale Tallon.
“Being ready is just part of the game,” said Gilroy, who had played in 209 NHL games over four seasons with the Rangers, Ottawa and Tampa Bay before coming to Florida. “It’s tough not playing, but at the same time, you’re in the NHL. I have nothing to complain about. Life’s not that bad.”