TAMPA – After having the worst power play in franchise history last year, there was little doubt the Panthers would be better with a man advantage going into this season.
Did anyone see this coming though?
The Panthers tied a franchise record with five power play goals and added a much-needed one while short handed as Florida spoiled Tampa Bay's home opener with a 7-4 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday night.
Last year, Florida scored just 35 power play goals – fewest in a full season. The Panthers have scored eight power play goals in their first four games this season including seven in the past two games against the Lightning. Tampa Bay came into Saturday's game against the Panthers in Sunrise without surrendering a power play goal in its previous four games.
Compare and contrast: It took the Panthers 23 games to get eight power play goals last season; it took them just 13 periods to do it in 2011-12. Florida got its seventh power play goal on Dec. 1 at Anaheim in 2010. In 2011, Kris Versteeg did it 25 seconds into the third period of the fourth game.
Florida, now 3-1-0, has scored five power play goals in a single game three times, the last coming in 1998 against Ottawa – 963 games ago. Florida's other five power play goal game came against the Rangers in 1996.
“We moved it around really well, were crisp and shot the puck when we had the chance. And they went in,'' said center Stephen Weiss, whose power play goal in the first period Monday tied the game at 2.
When asked about the night-and-day power play from last year, Weiss just grinned.
“I don't think I have to say much about that,'' he said. “It's obviously a lot of different personnel.''
Florida, which has won six of the past eight against its cross-state divisional rival, took a 1-0 lead when Tomas Kopecky's shot skipped off goalie Dwayne Roloson and hit the back of the net. The Lightning came right back, however, getting a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead with six minutes left in the period. Weiss' goal from the right circle tied things up and gave the Panthers a little momentum.
The Panthers owned the second period, with Versteeg getting his first of the night 2:35 in when he one-timed a shot from the left side on Florida's 13th shot of the night. About 10 minutes later, Dmitry Kulikov went to the penalty box for holding, but the all the Lightning power play did was cough up the puck and allow Sean Bergenheim to get loose and beat Roloson on a breakaway.
Bergenheim was promptly booed by the Tampa Bay faithful who watched him score nine postseason goals for the Lightning last season. He wasn't alone however. By the end of the game, the Tampa fans were sarcastically cheering Roloson for making a routine save.
“We just worked on it. It took us a couple of games to figure out where everyone was, what are mistakes were,'' said Brian Campbell, who had four assists and leads the team in points based on seven helpers. “We have two units that can go and can do some damage.''
Vinny Lecavalier scored late in the second period, but with former Panthers center Dominic Moore in the box, Versteeg opened the third with Florida's fourth power play goal of the game. Steven Stamkos' goal midway through the third made things interesting, but Weiss got his second of the night with 4:32 left when he whipped a shot from Versteeg into the top corner.
“We've been slowly picking away and tonight it exploded,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We'd like to take credit for all our schemes, but there was a lot of high-end talent taking shots. They weren't pretty plays, but we were getting the puck at the net.''