In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, Aleksander Barkov is feeling good after last night's injury scare, and coach Joel Quenneville unveils some new-look lines during Sunday's practice.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Aleksander Barkov is doing just fine.
After exiting last night's loss to the Boston Bruins with an apparent injury, the Florida Panthers superstar captain looked no worse for wear during Sunday's practice at the Panthers IceDen.
"It's a breath of fresh air, for sure," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "Right after the game we got to exhale a little bit when we hard the diagnosis was fine. That was huge. It's hard to lose a guy like that, so for him to be OK is a big exhale."
For a moment there, however, everyone was holding their breath.
With 1:23 left in the third period, Barkov was bumped by Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy and slid legs-first into the corner boards in the offensive zone. After spending a few minutes being tended to by a trainer on the ice, he was helped to the locker room by his teammates.
McAvoy was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for interference on the play.
"I couldn't get up, but maybe a minute after that I was fine," Barkov said of the scary incident. "Everything went back to normal and I felt normal… You never want to be injured. You want to play and help the team to win. I want to do that. I felt good [in practice] today."
Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said seeing Barkov at practice gave the team a boost.
"It's always good to see him on the ice," Yandle said. "When you see a guy, any guy, but especially your captain and your best player go down like that it's scary. But to have him back out there today is very good for us."
Ranking second on the team in scoring with 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists), Barkov said he's already put the moment behind him and is looking ahead to Monday's crucial matchup with the Ottawa Senators - the penultimate game on Florida's franchise-record, nine-game homestand.
With their loss to Boston, the Panthers fell to 15-12-5 on the season, but are still currently only one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for third in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand.
After winning three of four games to kick off their homestand, Florida has dropped three straight.
"We just need to forget these last three games," Barkov said. "We didn't play the way we wanted to play. We played against good teams, but of course we wanted to win them. We couldn't get it done, but we have a new challenge tomorrow.
"Ottawa is paying really well. They're a really good team, a fast team, a young team. They're excited. We've just got to match that level of excitement on the ice and play our own game, play the way we played when we were winning games."
CHANGES UP FRONT
It looks like Barkov could have some new linemates against the Senators.
After scoring four combined goals over their last three games, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville changed up the team's lines during today's practice in an effort to create more balanced attack.
Prior to that drought, Florida was averaging the fourth-most goals per game in the league (3.52).
"Balance," Quenneville said when asked about the changes up front. "A little bit of maybe a responsible guy on all the lines. Every line should be looking to score, but without the puck there's a purpose there as well."
One of the most-interesting new trios might be the combination of Barkov, Frank Vatrano and Brett Connolly. Vatrano, who has notched seven goals this season, is one of the team's fastest skaters, while Connolly has netted a team-high 14 goals, including eight over his last 13 games.
"They're both really good goal scorers," Barkov said. "They can shoot the puck and they can make plays. Obviously we need to work hard for the scoring chances and staying on the puck in the offensive zone. Those two are really good players, so I'm really looking forward to it."
Other notable changes include Jonathan Huberdeau and Noel Acciari flanking Vincent Trocheck on the second line, while Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov play with Brian Boyle on the third.
Before entering their current three-game losing streak, Florida had looked almost unbeatable while throttling the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 and the San Jose Sharks 5-1 on back-to-back nights.
"I thought we played our two best games in a row," Quenneville said of those wins. "Then we came out with three games after that where, whether it was unpredictability or the compete level, and all of the sudden you don't have the puck. You're technically a little bit off."
Moving forward, the Panthers hope to channel their anger from recent losses into wins.
"We've got to find a way to do that," Yandle said. "We haven't been able to do that. It's got to come from in here. It's got to come with our group to be ready to pay and to take pride in playing angry and playing the right way angry. That doesn't going out and fighting and taking stupid penalties, it's just winning your shifts and doing a good job."
SUNDAY'S PRACTICE LINES
Vatrano - Barkov - Connolly
Huberdeau - Trocheck - Acciari
Hoffman - Boyle - Dadonov
Sceviour - Toninato- Malgin
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - Josh Brown / Mark Pysyk