The Panthers (2-1-1) look to continue their success at the BankAtlantic Center when they meet the Lightning (1-2-0) on Friday night in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Florida’s 14 goals in its first two home games are a franchise record, four more than the team’s previous high set in 1995-96. The Panthers began their offensive surge with an 8-3 season-opening victory over Boston, then were outscored 8-1 in two road losses—including a 6-0 defeat to Atlanta on Saturday.
Florida returned home Wednesday and beat Stanley Cup champion Carolina 6-3, leaving the Panthers to wonder why their play has varied so greatly in the early going.
“If I knew the answer to (why), we would be scoring more on the road,” said Panthers center Stephen Weiss, who had a goal and two assists in the win. “We’re definitely playing well at home, if we can get our road game going it will be more points for us.”
The Panthers have converted five of 10 power-play opportunities on home ice and killed off 14 of their opponents’ 16 chances. Olli Jokinen, Florida’s leading scorer the last three seasons, recorded the team’s first short-handed goal Wednesday, along with an even-strength goal and two assists.
“There’s no doubt, that’s what you expect from your captain,” Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. “Your teammates see that and that is the kind of game that we needed. Now we need to get everyone on board and get ready for Tampa who is another challenge.”
Jokinen has risen to that challenge throughout his career. The big center has 15 goals in 33 games against the Lightning, his most against any team, along with 13 assists.
Those types of numbers helped Florida take the 2005-06 season series 6-2 over Tampa Bay. The Panthers have also won six of their last seven home meetings with the Lightning, outscoring them 27-16.
Tampa Bay doesn’t appear ready to break that trend Friday. The Lightning have scored five goals through their first three games, matching the lowest total in team history at this point in the season.
After winning its opener 3-2 in a shootout over Atlanta, Tampa Bay has dropped two straight, including Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Thrashers. The Lightning are 1-for-19 on the power play, including 0-for-12 over the last two contests.
Tampa Bay is outshooting opponents 91-55, however, and coach John Tortorella believes his team will eventually break through.
“We’ve got some guys struggling, putting pressure on themselves,” Tortorella said. “We’re struggling offensively. You have to believe the scoring will come.”
Ryan Craig is one of the few Tampa Bay players not struggling, with three goals on the season. The Lightning center, who had 15 goals and 13 assists last season, has recorded three goals and an assist in six games against the Panthers.
Lightning goaltender Marc Denis has been solid this season, posting a 1.99 goals-against average. He’s 1-1 with a tie and a 1.30 GAA in three starts against Florida.
The Southeast Division rivals finish out the series Saturday night at Tampa.