BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
How do you break in a young goaltender to get his career started on the right foot?
Tuesday Night at the BB&T Center, the first place Florida Panthers (30-12-5, 65 points) did it very nicely in their 5-1 victory over the last place Columbus Blue Jackets (15-24-9, 39 points).
Despite the absence of Sergei Bobrovsky, Carter Verhaeghe, Eetu Luostarinen, MacKenzie Weegar, Noel Acciari, Noah Juulsen, Patric Hornqvist and Lucas Wallmark, the Panthers had plenty of good players. These absences were mainly due to rest and maintenance purposes.
Let’s talk about the debut of Spencer Knight.
1. The Panthers gave Knight a 2-0 lead by the 12:54 mark in the first period as Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett lit the lamp.
2. Holding a 2-1 lead, the Panthers successfully challenged an offsides call with 57 seconds left in the first period and led by that margin at the intermission.
3. On Monday Night, Bennett nearly got a Gordie Howe Hat Trick with a fight and a goal missing an assist. Tuesday night, Bennett scored two goals and stayed out of the penalty box.
4. Ryan Lomberg took a page out of Bennett’s book as he scored a goal and pummeled Blue Jackets right wing Kole Sherwood in the second period and rode a smile all the way to the penalty box. Lomberg’s goal was a thing of beauty as Frank Vatrano took a shot on the net and Lomberg deflected it passed Joonas Korpisalo. The Panthers led 4-1 at this point. Lomberg’s fight was his third of the season.
5. Jonathan Huberdeau scored his 16th goal of the campaign at the 16:38 mark of the second period as Anthony Duclair and Radco Gudas got assists. The Panthers out scored Columbus 3-0 in the middle frame and led 5-1 at the end of the second period.
6. Anthony Duclair produced three assists, tying his career high for most assists in a game. He has recorded at least a point in each of his past seven games played, amassing 10 points (3-7-10) in that span. Duclair’s assist on Bennett’s second goal was the 100th of his NHL career.
7. Ten different Panthers recorded at least one point.
8. The Panthers were in cruise control in the third period and went on to coast to an easy win.
Knight did his part by stopping 33 of the 34 shots he faced. In my eyes, the kid didn’t look overly spectacular as his team supported him well with a comfortable lead against a team that simply can’t compete against the elite Panthers.
Knight became the first Panthers goaltender to record a win in their NHL debut. He is also the youngest goalie to earn a victory for the team in franchise history besting Roberto Luongo’s win on November 25, 2000 (21 years, 265 days). Knight turned 20 a couple days ago and isn’t even old enough to drink.
The Panthers simply dominated Columbus all season finishing with a 7-0-1 mark against the Blue Jackets.
The Panthers have extended their home winning streak to seven games, their longest since winning eight games in a row at BB&T Center Feb 22-March 10, 2018.
Since the Panthers signed Knight to his entry level contract earlier this month, Coach Joel Quenneville has said he would find a way to get the youngster some playing time and gave him a perfect landing spot vs the lowly Blue Jackets. This is a team that has traded its top three players at the trade deadline.
Quenneville’s was quite pleased that this was the night to give Knight his debut.
“He (goaltender Spencer Knight) looked very cool and calm in the net. The way he came out and handled pucks and assessed all his options, you could see his understanding of where everybody is around the game. He tracks the puck extremely well. It was a great start for his career.”
Knight described his first night.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. The guys did a good job of just keeping it light, just telling me to go out and play hockey. That’s what I tried to do and at the end of the day, it’s just hockey.”
Huberdeau added, “He (goaltender Spencer Knight) was solid, he’s a great goalie. We picked him up in the first round so we knew he was going to be great. (He) might have been nervous but it didn’t show out there.”
What Knight is, is 1-0 and he got off to a solid start. It will be interesting to see where his career is headed.
But don’t expect his next appearance to be against the Carolina Panthers, who are tied with the Panthers for first place in the Central Division with 65 points. The Panthers still have two games in hand as they’ve played 45 and Florida has skated in 47.
They’ll meet at 7 pm Thursday Night at the BB&T Center.
Quenneville is looking forward to the challenge of facing a team that’s given the Panthers fits all year.
“They (Carolina Hurricanes) are a good hockey team. It’s going to be very meaningful for us to know that one game at a time, Thursday is going to be our biggest game of the year. It’s our crack at them because they seem to be on quite a roll right now.”
The Hurricanes record stands at 30-10-5 and this is a team that Florida knows it has to have momentum against as they could indeed meet in the playoffs.
But on Tuesday Night, at least the Panthers got a glimpse of the future with Knight and Luongo, whose No.1 is retired looked on from a suite.
Nice first act, Spencer.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth and subscribe to his The South Florida Tribune Channel for free.