When the heads of the Panthers finally hit the pillows on the beds of their Edmonton hotel rooms in the wee hours Friday morning, the East Coast was on the cusp of starting the final day of the work week.
The Panthers had Friday off, and it was well-deserved following their 11th consecutive victory Thursday night in Ottawa, some 1,800 miles and two time zones from where they awoke Friday.
“It’s a long flight. We’ll have an extra two days to rest, a day off [Friday] and we have to make sure we play better against Edmonton,” said Panthers forward and ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, 43, speaking about Sunday’s game against the unpredictable yet potent Oilers.
“They’re a very explosive team with a lot of scoring power, so we have to make sure we don’t give them much.”
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Too much is what they gave the Senators on Thursday night, but it didn’t seem to matter as Reilly Smith, Vincent Trocheck and Sasha Barkov all scored while Roberto Luongo turned aside 30 of 32 shots in a 3-2 victory. They only had 16 shots of their own but scored on their first two of the game.
“It was probably one of our worst in the last 11, but for some reason or another right now we seem to get wins, so it’s nice, we’ll take them,” Luongo said. “We’re not always going to be playing 100 percent. Sometimes we’ll be off a bit, but if we keep finding ways to win it’s a bonus.
“You have that confidence that no matter what’s going on in a game that you’ll find a way to win. Right now we’re feeding off that.”
At 36, Luongo might be playing the best hockey of his career having won a personal-best nine consecutive starts
“I think so, but that’s also due to the fact that the guys in front of me are playing so well defensively,” he said. “It goes hand-in-hand also, and when they play well in front of me it makes my job easier and makes me play better. Maybe they feed off of that, and that’s what a team is all about.”
The Panthers as a whole are setting benchmarks. They continue to build on the franchise-record winning streak that stood at seven before this run. They tied a franchise mark with their fifth consecutive road win, and although they fell one second short of the club mark for fastest two goals when they scored eight seconds apart Thursday, they did set a Senators standard for fastest two goals allowed.
“You get individual streaks where guys score goals or goalies get on a run, and it just snowballs and starts to feel good,” veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell said. “On a team you need a lot of things for that to happen, and first and foremost is good goaltending. Both of our goalies [Al Montoya is Luongo’s backup] have played tremendous for us. That and timely goal scoring and staying healthy.”
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant is no stranger to the success his team is currently enjoying. During his three years as bench boss of the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he collected three regular-season titles, two league championships and one Memorial Cup title in two appearances at the national championship tournament.
They also won 22 consecutive games at one point, but he makes no comparisons between then and now.
“This is the NHL, and there’s no bad teams,” he said. “With the parity in this league, you take any team lightly and you’re going to lose.
“In junior we had such a good team that most nights there wasn’t much competition for us. To win 11 games in a row in the National Hockey League, your team has to be doing something right, so we’re really happy with the way we’re playing.”
He’s also happy with the way his veterans are playing and leading the way, starting with Luongo and Jagr, who is five weeks shy of his 44th birthday.
“They’re huge for our dressing room, along with our leaders Willie Mitchell, Brian Campbell, Derek MacKenzie and Shawn Thornton,” Gallant said. “Those guys get the kids ready to play, and they follow them and work hard every day at practice. The veteran guys are really carrying our team and leading our team and showing our kids the right things to do.”
Seems to be working.