Slow start, defensive miscues cost Panthers in ‘disappointing’ loss to expansion Kraken

·4 min read

For a little less than 10 minutes, the Florida Panthers looked like the best team in the NHL.

It shouldn’t necessarily be surprising — they’re tied for the league lead in points and entered Sunday with the best record in the Eastern Conference — but they have seldom played like it on the road this year, unable to string together 60 good minutes or multiple winning performances with any sort of regularity.

It was the story once again Sunday. The Panthers, led by superstar forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, stormed back to erase a two-goal lead in the second half of the second period, only to give up a goal in the first minute of the third and fall to the Seattle Kraken, 5-3, in Washington.

“It was not our best game, obviously,” Barkov said. “I don’t think we deserved to win this game.”

Florida (28-9-5) has now lost 11 of its last 15 on the road and missed out on a chance for its second three-game road winning streak of the season. It also remains tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division, although the Panthers have accumulated their 61 points in one game fewer than their in-state rival.

Still, this was a missed opportunity for Florida. The Kraken, an expansion team with the fourth-worst record in the league, is now the only team to beat Florida twice this season and has swept the season series with the league-leading Panthers. Florida, in its first ever trip to Seattle, wasted a chance to build a cushion on the Lightning by blowing a 1-0 lead and playing a mostly lifeless game in front of 17,151 at Climate Pledge Arena.

The problems, however, began even before the lead slipped away. The Panthers conceded 13 shots on goal, 16 scoring chances and seven high-danger chances, and only led because of an odd deflection goal by winger Anthony Duclair and a flawless period from Sergei Bobrovsky.

It was similar to Bobrovsky’s last start Thursday, when the star goaltender made 17 saves in the first period to keep the game scoreless and set up his teammates to eventually blow away the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton.

On Sunday, there was no mid-game turnaround.

“The start of our games,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said, “is unacceptable.”

The Kraken (12-24-2) tied the game at 1-1 with 14:58 left in the second period, then took a 3-1 lead with 9:41 left in the period after scoring two goals in 17 seconds. It was a wake-up call, Brunette said, but only temporary.

Huberdeau scored on a power play with 7:28 left in the period and Barkov tied the game 1:35 later.

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Huberdeau’s three-point game vaulted him into a tie for first place in the NHL in points. Barkov’s two-point performance gives him 1.17 points per game this year. Neither was enough to get Florida a victory because the Panthers — after outshooting Seattle, 9-3, in the last 9:30 of the second period — couldn’t build on its good nine minutes.

“I don’t think we had a full game, obviously, tonight,” defenseman Brandon Montour said. “It showed.”

In the opening minute of the third period, Florida lost track of Mason Appleton and the Kraken forward got behind the defense to score the game-winning goal with 19:34 left. Bobrovsky, just three days removed from a 40-save shutout, gave up four goals on 28 shots and Seattle could pack in its defense to try to hang on.

While they put 12 shots on goal in the third period, the Panthers went nearly nine minutes without one until they pulled their goalie for an extra attacker and finally tested Philipp Grubauer with 1:36 remaining. They fired five shots at the start goaltender in the last 96 seconds and couldn’t beat him.

From start to finish with just one nine-minute blip, the Kraken outplayed Florida on Sunday to sweep the season series with the Panthers.

“You could feel it coming from the first period on,” Brunette said. “Bob was keeping us in the game and we didn’t handle the pressure very well, and we were flat a little bit again tonight. It’s a little disappointing.”

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