The Florida Panthers began their eight-game preseason schedule on Monday with a doubleheader sweep against the Nashville Predators, winning the first game 5-0 and following up with a 5-2 win in Game 2 at Amerant Bank Arena.
Here are seven standouts from the two games.
Samoskevich, the No. 24 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, entered his first Panthers’ training camp with thepotential of cracking the Opening Night roster.
His performance on Monday should certainly help his case.
Playing on a line with Eetu Luostarinen and Anton Lundell, the 20-year-old winger scored two third-period goals and added a secondary assist for a three-point outing in his first game in a Panthers sweater.
The assist and his second goal came on the power play, with the Panthers having nine opportunities on the man advantage in the first game of their doubleheader against the Predators.
Samoskevich was one of six Panthers players in the doubleheader opener to have at least three shots on goal and was the only one to score a goal at even strength. That goal came 2:53 into the third period, when he camped out in front of the net and deflected a shot from defenseman Gustav Forsling past Nashville goaltender Troy Grosenick.
Bennett has been arguably the most noticeable skater on the ice during the four days of practice leading up to Monday’s preseason opener. His physicality and savvy with the puck were on full display during the workouts at the IceDen in Coral Springs.
That success smoothly transitioned into game action.
Centering a line with Matthew Tkachuk and Nick Cousins on the wings, Bennett tallied three points in the nightcap against the Predators, scoring a goal and tacking on two primary assists all in the span of about nine minutes in the first period.
The line of Bennett, Tkachuk and Cousins really began to take shape during the playoffs last season and has the potential to be a solid grouping. The trio had nearly 187 minutes of ice time together over Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, out-shooting opponents 93-67 in that span.
The last time Spencer Knight took the net in a live setting before Monday was Feb. 18, coincidentally enough against Nashville. Less than a week after that, Knight entered the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program due to a growing issue with obsessive compulsive disorder, a diagnosis he revealed earlier this month in an interview with The Hockey News.
Knight returned to the Panthers and participated in the team’s development camp in July and has been full-go throughout training camp.
On Monday, he showed little rust as he returned to game action. Knight stopped all 13 shots on goal he faced against the Predators in about 30 minutes of game action before being subbed out for Ludovic Waeber for the second half of the game. This included four high danger shots, according to the advanced hockey statistics website Natural Stat Trick. As he departed from the ice, the crowd at Amerant Bank Arena gave him a hearty round of applause.
Like Knight in the first game, Bobrovsky was dominant in net, stopping 14 of 15 shots he faced.
The highlight came about five-and-a-half minutes into the second period, when Bobrovsky stopped a short-handed breakaway from Nashville’s Yakov Trenin that came after defenseman Luke Coughlin slipped at the blue line midway through a power play.
The crowd immediately began chanting “Bob-by. Bob-by” after the play.
Nashville scored its first goal of the doubleheader 8:35 into the second period of Game 2, with Jake Livingstone poking the puck past Bobrovsky from just in front of the net.
Mack Guzda followed Bobrovsky in net and played the final 27-plus minutes of the nightcap, stopping 13 of 14 shots faced.
Over the past two years, Luostarinen has evolved from a bottom-six forward to a player capable of playing top minutes in key situations. Panthers players have expressed how much they missed his presence in the Stanley Cup Final, which he missed due to a fractured tibia.
Luostarinen is fully healthy now and showed off his ability to finish at the net on Monday. The do-it-all forward scored two goals, both on the power play, in the doubleheader opener.
The first came seven minutes into the first period when he charged toward the net after getting a slick pass from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and sniped a shot from up close past Kevin Larkinen. The second came with less than a minute left in the second period with Florida having a 5-on-3 advantage. Luostarinen collected a rebound from an Aleksander Barkov shot on goal and put it into the back of the net to give Florida a 3-0 lead.
Ekman-Larsson dished out three assists, saw significant time on the power play and looked steady at 5-on-5 while paired with Forsling in the doubleheader opener.
The Panthers signed Ekman-Larsson to a one-year, $2.25 million deal this offseason as they revamp their defenseman group. The team will be without both Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour until at least December and need a few newcomers to step up along with Forsling and Josh Mahura.
Ekman-Larsson, entering his 13th NHL season, has the makings of being a defenseman coach Paul Maurice can rely on for extended minutes if needed.
Another defenseman who stood out: Dmitry Kulikov, who had two goals and an assist in the nightcap while playing about 20 minutes.
He capped scoring in Florida’s four-goal first period when a wraparound shot bounced off a Nashville player’s skate and into the net. Kulikov also had an assist on Niko Mikkola’s first-period goal about four minutes earlier.
Kulikov then added an empty-net goal late in the third period.