The Florida Panthers lost in more ways than one last night.
Only 11,419 fans showed up Saturday to watch the New Jersey Devils crush the home team 5-1. That’s the lowest attendance for a home opener in Panthers history, breaking the record set in 1995 when the crowd for their first home game was just 12,087, per the Miami Herald.
To provide further context, of the teams that have made their home debut this season, the next smallest crowd was the 16,170 fans that showed up for the New York Islanders’ home opener in Nassau Coliseum, according to NHL.com. As bad as that might look for the Panthers, it’s actually worse given that Nassau was filled to capacity.
The Panthers ranked 29th in attendance, behind only the Coyotes, last season, drawing an average crowd of 14,177. Arizona has played in two home games, with its first drawing a crowd of 17,125 and its second featuring an attendance of 12,859.
Roberto Luongo, who was pulled after allowing five goals on 14 shots, downplayed the impact that the small crowd had on the Panthers.
“The people here were loud and as players, that’s all we ask for,” Luongo said. “People are coming to encourage our team. We need to reward them with a better start.”
All the same, the potential lack of a true home-ice advantage could hinder Florida as it looks to bounce back from its 29-45-8 campaign. It also does nothing to counter the speculation about the team’s future, given that it has “lost tremendous amounts of money” over the last decade-plus. The new ownership group of Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu are working to change that, but nights like this make that task look all the more daunting.
If there’s any silver lining to be found it’s that the Panthers ended their practice of giving away free tickets and consequently anticipated that there would be smaller crowds.