SUNRISE, Fla. — Pitchers and catchers report to this part of the country soon for spring training, which made Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant’s baseball analogy all the more appropriate.
Right now, the Knights are like a hard-throwing hurler who mows down the opposing lineup only to get beat by one bad pitch.
“You can’t give up the big home run plays,” Gallant said, “and that’s what happened.”
The Knights allowed a goal 12 seconds in and saw Mike Hoffman score the go-ahead goal on a breakaway in the third period of their 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday at BB&T Center.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Knights, the longest regular-season losing skid in franchise history. They lost four straight to Washington in the Stanley Cup Final.
Things only get tougher on this four-game road trip with a visit to league-leading Tampa Bay on Tuesday before wrapping up in Detroit.
“When we’re allowing the chance, we’re allowing the big chance right now,” left wing Max Pacioretty said. “Obviously against teams with firepower like them, they’re going to make you pay. We had opportunities, though, to go up and tie it as well, and we just weren’t able to do so.”
Pacioretty notched his 16th goal in the first period for the Knights, who have posted two goals or fewer in five of the past six games.
Gallant switched his forward lines, swapping right wings Reilly Smith and Valentin Zykov. But the move couldn’t spark the Knights’ stagnant offense.
Panthers goaltender James Reimer made 27 of his 34 saves in the final two periods, and he turned away Pacioretty and Paul Stastny on a handful of opportunities in the third.
“Things were coming easy for us, and there were games maybe we shouldn’t have won that we won, and we were just kind of rolling,” said Stastny, who extended his point streak to seven games with an assist. “And now, we’re finding ways to lose games. We’re kind of shooting ourselves a little bit and not burying the chances that we have.”
Hoffman put the Panthers ahead 2-1 at 6:13 of the third when he chipped the puck past William Karlsson in the neutral zone and moved in alone on Marc-Andre Fleury.
Hoffman went to his forehand and tucked the puck between Fleury’s legs for his team-leading 24th goal with defenseman Deryk Engelland and Karlsson in hot pursuit.
Frank Vatrano added an empty-net goal for the Panthers with 1:16 remaining.
“We’re making mistakes, and it’s costing us,” Gallants aid. “We played real good hockey for probably 55 minutes, and we just seem to give up those big plays that hurt us.”
Fleury finished with 22 saves and turned away two other breakaways. He also had a little help from the crossbar to deny Evgenii Dadonov on a penalty shot late in the first period.
“Personally, I always feel like I should stop them,” Fleury said. “Obviously it’s good scoring chances for the other team, but it’s my job to stop them. I wish I could have made that save and keep it at 1-1.”
The Knights got off to a rocky start, as Stastny and defenseman Shea Theodore collided in the neutral zone shortly after the opening faceoff.
Aleksander Barkov took advantage of the open ice and wired a shot into the top corner for a 1-0 advantage after 12 seconds.
Pacioretty evened the score at 8:07 of the first when he made a move around a sliding Mike Matheson and put away his fourth goal in the past five games.
“I think every team goes through some ups and downs in the season,” Fleury said. “We’ve got to find a way to get out of this slump and get back on the winning side by working hard, by doing little things, simple things, and playing our game a fast way.”
1. Quick strike. Aleksander Barkov’s goal 12 seconds into the first period for Florida was the fastest goal scored against the Golden Knights, according to the team’s communications staff. The previous record was 16 seconds into the game by Columbus’ Artemi Panarin on March 6.
2. One-on-one. Evgenii Dadonov’s penalty shot in the first period was the second allowed by the Knights in franchise history. Patrick Sharp of Chicago was stopped by Marc-Andre Fleury on Feb. 13. Fleury has stopped 17 of the 23 penalty shots he’s faced in his career.
3. Killing time. The Knights killed off the only power play for Florida, which was tied for third in the NHL and was converting on 26.4 percent of its chances entering Saturday. The Knights have killed off 12 consecutive opposing power plays in the past six games.