The Florida Panthers did not let Spencer Knight ease his way into the 2022-23 NHL season.
The star goaltender faced 20 shots in less than 30 minutes in his first appearance of the preseason Monday. Knight saved 19 of those shots, nearly doing enough for the Panthers to sweep a doubleheader with the Nashville Predators on their first day of the preseason.
Instead, one bad defensive-zone giveaway by defenseman Marc Staal set up star left wing Filip Forsberg to beat Knight in the first period and Florida dropped Game 2, 4-0, at Bridgestone Arena.
The Panthers won Game 1 in overtime on a last-second goal by star center Aleksander Barkov.
Panthers’ Tkachuk makes quiet debut
The second game marked the Florida debut for Matthew Tkachuk, who partnered up with centers Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart on the Panthers’ top line.
Florida, of course, landed Tkachuk in July as part of a blockbuster deal with the Calgary Flames. The Panthers shipped All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau and star defenseman MacKenzie Weegar up to Canada to bring the All-Star right wing to Florida, hoping the 24-year-old Canadian would bring some of the intensity the Panthers felt they missed during their second-round exit from the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
His debut was mostly a quiet one, though. Tkachuk didn’t put a shot on goal, but his line was easily Florida’s best in the second game. When the first line was on the ice, the Panthers outshot the Predators, 6-1, and Tkachuk was active whenever he was out there, getting in the middle of scrums and generating Florida’s best scoring chance in the second period when he set up defenseman Brandon Montour with a no-look pass. He also played on the Panthers’ top power-play and penalty-kill units, and finished with a hit, a takeaway and a blocked shot.
Florida got outshot 38-25, but it was mostly because of the play of its bottom two lines, which featured six players almost certain not to make the NHL team.
Knight gets plenty of work
The Panthers still have four more preseason games to get Knight some work before the regular season begins next month, but the 21-year-old American might have gotten enough Monday alone.
Knight only played 29:56 in Nashville and still he faced 20 shots, including 18 in the first period.
The goalie was the clear star for Florida in Game 2, mostly surviving the Predators’ first-period flurry and making one spectacular stop in the second when he stretched out his right leg to cover up nearly the entire goal after a giveaway behind his own net.
The only goal Knight gave up also came off a bad giveaway in the defensive zone. A Staal pass from behind the net went straight to Forsberg, who ripped a shot through traffic for the game-winning goal with 5:37 left in the first.
Nashville scored thrice more in the third period against backup goaltender Alex Lyon.