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5 Takeaways: Quenneville Sees A Lot During Doubleheader with Preds

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

9/16/19 Post Game Interviews

9/16/19 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Joel Quenneville, forwards Brett Connolly, Noel Accari, Henrik Borgstrom and goaltenders Sam Montembeault and Chris Driedger

  • 01:35 •

The Florida Panthers opened up their eight-game preseason with a split-squad doubleheader against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Monday night, dropping both games but using the entire day's action as an opportunity to evaluate 40 players vying for roster spots.

For new head coach Joel Quenneville, it also marked his first games behind Florida's bench.

"We have some guys here at camp that we're here to see what they can do. It gives them an opportunity to play," said Quenneville, who was hired in April. "Organizationally, we got a feel for that as well. We're going to look to get down to some numbers here before Montreal. And then when we come back from Montreal as well we're going to be shorter and lighten it up as well."

In Game 1, the Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead on first-period goals from newcomer Brett Connolly and Colton Sceviour. In the second period, Nick Bonino, who was named the game's first star, scored on a top-shelf snipe at 1:09 to make it 2-1. Less than a minute later, Jayce Hawryluk converted on a one-timer in the low slot to put Florida right back on top 3-1 at 2:05.

Thirteen seconds after Hawryluk's score, Tanner Jeannot re-directed a long shot from Steve Santini to cut Nashville's deficit down to 3-2 at 2:18. With 19 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Auston Watson collected a cross-ice pass from Bonino and tied the game 3-3 at 19:41.

All knotted up entering the third period, Philip Tomasino and Rem Pitlick each found the back of the net to put the Predators up 5-3 less than six minutes into the final frame. At 17:22, Bonino scored on an empty net to lock in the 6-3 victory for Nashville with his second goal of the game.

"I thought the game we started, the first game, we had a pretty good spot to be in here," Quenneville said. "We had a nice lead. "The first half of the game we had a pretty good position there, and then we gave up consecutive goals there in not a lot of times. We put ourselves in a bad spot."

Florida's penalty kill was stellar throughout the game, going a perfect 4-for-4 while allowing just four shots on goal. Denis Malgin led the club's forwards with 3:37 of shorthanded ice time, while Sceviour skated 2:39. On defense, Riley Stillman and Ethan Prow each were out there for 3:13.

Sharing time in net for the Cats, Philippe Desrosiers stopped 8 of 11 shots in 28:13 of ice time, while Chris Driedger, who started the game, turned away 15 of 17 shots in the 31:27 he played.

"I felt good," said Driedger, who led all qualified AHL goaltenders with a .924 save percentage last season, his first with Florida's AHL affiliate in Springfield, Mass. "A little bit of nerves to start off, which is always good…. It's good to be back in the rink again after a long summer. It felt good to get out there and work out the kinks a little bit and just get a feel for the game again."

While the opening game featured a lot of offense, the nightcap belonged to the goalies.

In Game 2, the Predators jumped out to an early lead on goal from Laurent Dauphin. Initially, the puck entered and exited the net so fast the goal was waived off and play continued. After a minute or so, however, it was confirmed, putting Florida in a 1-0 hole at 3:14 of the first period.

That would be the lone goal for either team.

For the rest of the game, the two clubs turned to their men between the pipes. For the Panthers, Sam Montembeault (18-for-19 saves) and Ryan Bednard (8-for-8) combined to turn away 26 of 27 shots. For the Predators, Juuse Saros (14-for-14) and Ethan Haider (10-for-10) combined for a shutout.

"Excellent all day," Quenneville said of his goalies. "Excellent all camp. Definitely the most positive area."

Florida will continue its four-game road trip on Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens, with the clubs competing in Bathurst, New Brunswick as part of the 2019 Kraft Hockeyville festivities.

"Everyone's still getting used to each other," said Panthers center Noel Acciari, who joined the organization this summer as a free agent. "Lines are going to change, things are going to get mixed up, and you've got to adjust. These were the first two preseason games, the first for a lot of guys. It's just kind of getting the nerves out, getting back into that game-mentality now."

Here are five takeaways from Monday's double dip in Nashville…

1. BRETT ON THE BOARD

The first goal of the preseason belonged to Connolly.

Positioned just outside the blue paint near the top of the crease, the veteran winger re-directed a quick pass from defenseman Tommy Cross past Predators goaltender Troy Grosenick to put the Panthers ahead 1-0 at 6:20 of the opening frame in the first game of today's doubleheader.

Malgin, who led the team's forwards with 20:48 of ice time, had the secondary assist.

"I felt pretty good," Connolly said after the game. "It was good to play with Malgin. I thought we had a little chemistry. I thought we moved the puck pretty well. It was nice to play with [Joel] Lowry as well. It was good to play in my first game, put that jersey on the first time and get that one out of the way."

A member of Florida's highly-touted free agent class this summer, Connolly inked a four-year deal with the Panthers on July 1 after spending the previous three seasons with the Washington Capitals. In 2018-19, he set new career-highs in goals (22), points (46) and games played (81).

"It was nice to see one go in the net and get that first game under my belt under Q [Quenneville] and see what he's all about," said Connolly, a Stanley Cup-winner in 2018. "Obviously tough to lose, but I thought there was some good things that we did tonight, for sure. There was some good play by a lot of guys. Good to get the first one out of the way."

Connolly, 27, finished the game with a goal and an assist in 17:16 of ice time.

2. THE NEW BOSS

Quenneville is making his presence felt in training camp and the preseason.

Preparing for his first season with the Panthers after leading the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015, Quenneville is known for being upfront with his players, making it very clear what he expects to see from them each and every day as the season starts to unfold.

As the team prepares for the upcoming season, Connolly said that approach is already working.

"He's in everybody's ear," Connolly said. "It doesn't matter who you are. He's preaching habits and speed and quickness. He's going to have us ready to go for the start of the season, and that's exciting. We've got a lot of good players here, a lot of good young players that are pushing us older guys to be better. All-around, it's a really good situation for a lot of guys."

3. FAMILIAR FACES

In addition to Connolly, two members of last season's squad also lit the lamp in Game 1.

Already leading 1-0, Sceviour doubled the lead when he took a pass from Connolly and sent a wrist shot from the high slot on net. The puck navigated its way through traffic and slipped right through Grosenick's gaping five-hole to make it 2-0 with 2:44 left on the clock in the first period.

Prow, a defenseman entering his first season with the organization, had the other assist.

Heading into his fourth season in Sunrise, Sceviour, 30, had 15 points in 59 games in 2018-19.

After Bonino got the Predators at 1:09 of the second period, it was Hawryluk, a running mate of Sceviour's at times on Florida's fourth line last season, that answered less than a minute later.

Skating into the low slot, the former second-round pick received a slick pass from Blaine Byron before dropping to his knee and burying a blistering one-timer that made the score 3-1 at 2:05.

Hawryluk, 23, tallied seven goals, five assists and 101 hits in 42 games as a rookie last season.

4. I MAKE MONTY MOVES

Montembeault was really seeing the puck well tonight.

Starting the second game of the doubleheader, the 22-year-old stopped 18 of 19 shots (.947 percent) before being relieved by Bednard midway through the second period. Of those stops, 14 came in the opening 20 minutes, as he surrendered just one goal during a wild first period.

"I felt pretty good," Montembeault said. "I got a lot of shots straight up at the beginning of the game. It helped me get into the swing. They had a lot of power-play attempts in the first, so I saw a lot action. It was good to get that first [game]."

Entering his third season in the pros, Montembeault, a third-round pick in 2015, is currently in a competition for the backup goalie job with the Panthers after making his NHL debut and playing in 11 games a rookie in 2018-19. During that short stint, he posted a 4-3-2 record - including a four-game winning streak -- with a 3.05 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.

"I'm feeling comfortable," said Montembeault, an AHL All-Star last season. "It was good that during training camp we had a lot of scrimmages, a lot of game-like action. I'm feeling well."

5. RESTING UP

The top-eight scorers from last season's Panthers team did not take the ice in Nashville.

Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Hoffman, Keith Yandle, Frank Vatrano and Aaron Ekblad all took the night off in favor of giving the team a better look at players on the bubble. Those eight regulars combined for 500 points in 2018-19.

Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year deal with the Panthers after winning two Vezina Trophies during a seven-season stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets, also sat this one out.

When will they make their preseason debuts? Stay tuned to find out.

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