It all started so promising for the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.
Charlie Coyle chipped in a backhander from behind the net off Florida Panthers forward Owen Tippett and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for the game's first goal, part of an opening onslaught in which the B's outshot the home team, 13-3, over the first 13 minutes of regulation.
Boston never capitalized any further on its momentum, however, suffering through a particularly frustrating second period in a 4-1 setback to the still-unbeaten Panthers.
Four different skaters scored for Florida (7-0-0, NHL-leading 14 points), which won despite being outshot by the Bruins, 30-27. Here are our key takeaways from the game:
Defense lets down Linus Ullmark
The Panthers' fourth goal was an empty-netter, but breakdowns on each of the team's first three goals were completely preventable.
Mason Marchment tied the game at 14:16 of the first period on a feed from Sam Reinhart, who was the lone Panther in the offensive zone prior to Marchment's entry on a line change.
It was the first goal of the season and just the third of the 26-year-old Marchment's career.
Eetu Luostarinen scored his first goal of the season 2:06 into the period on another dish from Reinhart, moving into space left vacant by Connor Clifton in front of the net.
Ullmark came up with two big saves to keep it a one-goal deficit for the Bruins in the middle period, a frame in which Florida outshot Boston 15-4.
With the Bruins on the power play with 14:44 to go in the second, Ullmark made a stop on Jonathan Huberdeau on a 2-on-0 breakaway for the Panthers following an errant pass from David Pastrnak to the point. Moments later, Ullmark slammed the door on Reinhart following a Matt Grzelcyk giveaway in the defensive zone.
Florida's third goal, scored by Anthony Duclair at 12:40 of the third, came as he skated past Coyle up the right wing, continued into the offensive zone past Charlie McAvoy and beat Ullmark in front as Grzelcyk rushed in from behind too little, too late.
Grzelcyk and Clifton each finished as a minus-2 for the night and Forbort, McAvoy and Mike Reilly were minus-1.
Ullmark has now allowed three goals in back-to-back games after giving up just one in his team debut. Jeremy Swayman will get the start against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday, head coach Bruce Cassidy said earlier Wednesday.
Jack Studnicka makes early contribution on second line
Studnicka, elevated to second line center between Taylor Hall and Coyle, had the primary assist on Boston's lone goal of the game, when his forecheck led to Coyle's negative-angle goal.
Studnicka played only 10:17 in the game, taking two shots and winning five of seven faceoffs.
It was the first point of the season for Studnicka, who was drafted by the Bruins in the second round in 2017.
Minor role for Jumbo Joe
The 42-year-old Thornton, in his first season with Florida, has carved out a role as the fourth line center for the Panthers.
He played 11:33 Wednesday, serving a minor penalty for cross checking that led to Boston's second and final power play of the game and finished as a minus-1.
Thornton was originally drafted No. 1 overall in 1997 by the Bruins, where he remained until a trade to the San Jose Sharks in November 2005. He's the second-oldest player in the NHL this season, behind only another former Boston captain in 44-year-old Zdeno Chara.
Plenty of room on Panthers bandwagon
Nobody had more points (12) than the 6-0-0 Panthers entering play Wednesday, but once again, fans are failing to take notice of an exciting young team. Through four home games, Florida (68.1) is one of four NHL teams filling their rink to less than 70% capacity in 2021-22, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators (57.2), Buffalo Sabres (40.9) and New York Islanders, who have yet to play a home game while construction on their new arena on Long Island wraps up.
This is no new trend, either. The Panthers have finished no higher than 26th in attendance since the 2013-14 season and have finished in the top 20 just once since the 2004-05 lockout.
Perhaps Florida fans are waiting for the team to go on a postseason run before buying in. Since making it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1995-96 – just their third season in the league – the Panthers have made the postseason only six times and have failed to win a single series.