Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov didn’t mince words after Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning to open the regular season.
Yes, it’s only one loss in an 82-game schedule.
But the Panthers’ propensity for slow starts amid high expectations in recent years is hard to avoid. They have lost their season opener each of the past three seasons and have not had a winning record through 10 games since the 2011-2012 season.
Something needs to change. Barkov wants that message heard loud and clear.
“This is not a good feeling,” Barkov said. “We had the game in our hands. We played really well. ... We need to learn how to win.”
The one bit of respite to come out of this: They don’t have to wait too long for a shot at redemption.
The Panthers (0-1-0) host the Lightning (1-0-0) Saturday at the BB&T Center to begin their home schedule. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.
“That’s the good thing about this league,” said center Vincent Trocheck, who scored a game-tying goal in the third period Thursday before the Lightning closed the game with three unanswered scores. “If you lose a game, the next night, you’re going back at it. We’re excited to get at them again.”
The Panthers have had success in their home openers as of late, winning seven of their nine season debuts in the BB&T Center.
But as they saw Thursday, their opponent is no slouch.
“I thought we played aggressive,” Trocheck said. “We played a tough matchup game. They’re obviously a great team. We played it tough and close. The score was more lopsided than the game actually was … I think if we continue on the track we’re on, we’ll be fine.”
The main talk of the Panthers offense is going to come from its top line.
It’s a fair assessment, considering the trio of Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov combined for 93 goals and 165 assists a year ago.
“If you talk about best lines in the league, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, “you have to throw them in there as one of the top ones. ... Those are three special players.”
But watch out for the group immediately behind them.
The Panthers’ new second line, centered by Trocheck with Mike Hoffman and Brett Connolly on the wings, has the ingredients to be something special, too.
“We all compliment each other really well,” Trocheck said.
Hoffman, who led the Panthers with 36 goals last season, scored Florida’s first goal of the year in the second period Thursday when he tapped in a pass from Trocheck who skated behind the net and centered the puck into the slot for Hoffman charging in.
Connolly, signed in the offseason after spending the last three years with the Washington Capitals, earned the secondary assist on the play.
“I like our play ever since the first shift,” Hoffman said in a mid-game interview on Fox Sports Florida. “We had opportunities, a couple in that period. I like the way everyone’s playing. If we keep going that way, we’ll get a few more.”