After skipping through life for a month without much of a care, it’s now time for the Panthers to start worrying.
Although flaws in their game were buried under a 12-game winning streak, Florida wasn’t able to hide its weaknesses in Monday night’s 4-2 loss to the visiting Oilers — its fourth consecutive defeat.
“When we had the streak we felt like we were scoring on every chance,” said Sasha Barkov, whose team scored two quick goals to open the third period to give itself hope.
“We weren’t playing great, but we were scoring when we needed. Now we’re not. You have confidence when you’re winning. Everything works. It’s not going that way right now. We’ll work harder and start playing 60-minute games.”
Last season, Florida lost six consecutive games after its long road trip to western Canada and won’t get a chance to end this slide until Friday, when the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks come to town.
Oh yeah, Chicago has an 11-game winning streak of its own right now. The Blackhawks will be followed up Saturday by Tampa Bay.
“They were the Stanley Cup finalists last year,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Hopefully, they will get us back and we’ll play well and get some points. It’s a big challenge.”
The simple act of scoring goals, especially on the power play with an additional skater, has been problematic lately and was again Monday against Cam Talbot for the first two periods.
Florida, which beat the Oilers in Edmonton 2-1 just eight days earlier, had been outscored 14-1 since grabbing a 2-0 first-period lead in Vancouver before scoring twice in the third period Monday after trailing 3-0.
In Florida’s three consecutive regulation losses, it has just three goals.
“We have to find ways to get going earlier,” Nick Bjugstad said. “I don’t know if it’s energy issues or mental lapses. Maybe it’s both. We have to figure this out.”
Matt Hendricks was back in the Edmonton lineup for the first time since being suspended for boarding — and concussing — Florida’s rising star, Aaron Ekblad.
As expected, Hendricks had to answer for his hit on Ekblad and was taken down by Erik Gudbranson’s fists 4:16 in.
The loud cheers from the home crowd turned to groans moments later as Teddy Purcell grabbed a Vincent Trocheck turnover along the boards and sprung Taylor Hall, who walked in on Al Montoya and buried his shot to make it 1-0.
Later in the period, Shawn Thornton coughed up the puck as he tried to clear it out of the Florida zone and watched Jordan Eberle score to make it 2-0 with 1:18 left before intermission.
“We gave them a couple of goals, four or five breakaways,” Gallant said. “It wasn’t a fun game to coach. They were complete giveaways, and those happen sometimes, but they’re happening more lately.”
The Panthers’ power play — which hasn’t scored since Jan. 2 — was again without tangible result as Florida (0 for 4) failed to take advantage of its advantage on 23 consecutive occasions.
After stopping Florida’s fourth power play early in the second period, Edmonton made it 3-0 when Hall snapped a shot from the high slot just 4:19 in.
The Panthers made things interesting in the third. Reilly Smith scored 2:45 in, with Quinton Howden tapping in a beautiful feed from Thornton three minutes later.
Florida came no closer though, with Purcell finishing things with an empty-netter with 1:28 left.
“We didn’t come out in the first two periods and knew we needed a good start in the third,” Howden said.
“We have to find a way to capitalize on our chances. We have to get back on track. The streak was fun, but we have to regroup. We haven’t done that.”
▪ Gudbranson left Monday’s game with 11:58 left in the second period after being run into the boards by Darnell Nurse.
Gudbranson didn’t return with what is said to be a minor back strain.
▪ The Panthers are off Tuesday and return to practice in Coral Springs on Wednesday.
▪ Florida hasn’t scored a power-play goal since Brandon Pirri scored in the Panthers’ 3-0 win over the Rangers on Jan. 2.
“I didn’t know it was that long ago,” Bjugstad said, “but it does feel that long.”
▪ Montoya had his personal five-game winning streak snapped.
He hadn’t been on the losing end of a game since giving up four goals in a 5-2 loss at San Jose on Nov. 5.
Montoya had also given up just a single goal in his previous six starts, although he did surrender two in relief of Roberto Luongo in last week’s 6-0 loss at Calgary.