Shorthanded Florida Panthers’ special teams struggle in loss to Pittsburgh Penguins

Lynne Sladky/AP

On a night when they were playing shorthanded against one of the hottest teams in the league, the Florida Panthers knew they needed a top-notch effort to come away with a win on Thursday.

The effort was there, especially considering they only had 11 forwards and were without Matthew Tkachuk, who was scratched due to an illness.

The final result they wanted was not in a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at FLA Live Arena. Florida falls to 14-13-4. The Penguins improve to 18-8-4 and have now picked up at least one point in eight consecutive games.

Look to special teams as the crux of Florida’s demise on Thursday.

Each of Pittsburgh’s three goals against Sergei Bobrovsky came on special teams. Kris Letang tied the game at 1-1 4:17 into the second period with a shorthanded goal before Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin added power-play goals to go up 3-1. Both power-play goals were redirected, with Guentzel’s goal going in after a Malkin shot bounced off his skate with 7:18 left in the second period and Malkin’s taking a Sidney Crosby slap shot off his right knee that went into the net with 11:55 left to play.

Bobrovsky went a perfect 30 for 30 when the teams were at full strength and stopped 35 of 38 shots he faced overall.

The Panthers cut their deficit to one on a Sam Reinhart one-timer from the left circle with 9:46 left in regulation but would get no closer. Guentzel sealed the game with an empty-net goal with 1:18 remaining in regulation.

Ryan Lomberg opened scoring 5:30 into the game by collecting a rebound from an Eric Staal shot attempt and pushing the puck past Tristan Jarry, who stopped 32 of 34 shots he faced. Pittsburgh then scored three consecutive goals to go ahead for good.

And the road isn’t getting easier for the Panthers. Their next three games are against division leaders. It starts with a two-game road trip against the Metropolitan Division-leading New Jersey Devils on Saturday and Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins on Monday before facing the Devils again on Wednesday at FLA Live Arena. Florida then faces the New York Islanders on the road on Dec. 23 before a five-day break.