In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, the Panthers shake up their lines a bit at practice, Joe Thornton continues to work his way back from injury, and a big homestand is coming up.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Off to stellar start but looking to break out of a small slump, the Panthers eagerly hit the ice for practice to work out a few kinks in their game on Monday.
Preparing for a four-game homestand as they look to bounce back from a 0-2-2 road trip, the Panthers, who still occupy first place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 10-2-3, did a bit of everything during the hour-plus practice, including fine-tuning their execution on special teams.
"I just think we really tried to touch-up on a few things, a little bit of defensive-zone coverage," Panthers Interim Head Coach Andrew Brunette said of the up-tempo session. "I really wanted the pace up. You come off a day off and a road trip, you just want to get going and get skating."
In addition to the high pace of practice, new-look lines were also noticeable.
Sticking with some changes that were made toward the end of Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss at Tampa Bay, Jonathan Huberdeau was back on the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Maxim Mamin, who was filling in for Anthony Duclair while the speedy forward took a maintenance day.
On the second line, Sam Bennett centered Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart, while Anton Lundell was in the middle of Frank Vatrano and Owen Tippett on the third. Rounding things out on the fourth line, Eetu Luostarinen was being flanked by Ryan Lomberg and Patric Hornqvist.
"Sometimes a little change brings excitement," Brunette said of the moves. "Throughout my career, I've moved around. It changes it up a little bit. Some guys that that aren't going, it's gets them going. And for some guys that are going, it gets other guys going. It can be contagious."
For longtime fans of the Panthers, it's always exciting when Barkov and Huberdeau join forces.
The top-two scorers in franchise history, that superstar duo spent 1,541:01 of ice time together at 5-on-5 from 2018-2021, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. When they were deployed in that stretch, the Panthers owned advantages in both shot attempts (1,494-1,365) and goals (92-73).
Up to their old tricks in the early goings of this season, Barkov currently leads the team in goals (9) and points (16), while Huberdeau sits second in points (14) and tied for first in assists (10).
"Obviously they're our two best players offensively," Brunette said. "It's a long year. You've got to change lines up. I think guys get tired of playing with each other, so you move them around. It's something fresh and brings that excitement level and then carries it throughout the lineup."
As for the new third line, Tippett said he's looking forward to playing more with Lundell.
"He's been great," Tippett said of the 20-year-old rookie. "In all situations, he's handled it really well. I think it goes to show the skill he has and the way he plays the game. He's got a [bright] future. We all can be big on the forecheck and get in there. We're all fast and have that speed."
Hoping to get a spark from these intriguing new lines, the Panthers will kick off a four-game homestand with an important matchup against the Islanders on Tuesday at FLA Live Arena.
Following this morning's practice, Brunette announced that Sergei Bobrovsky will man the net for the Panthers against New York. Backstopping the Cats to points in all of his starts so far this season, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner boasts a 6-0-2 record with a. 940 save percentage.
Fueled by loud and passionate fans, the Panthers have gone 7-0-0 at home this season.
"We love playing in front of our fans ever since last year when we were able to get a few fans in," Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas said excitedly. "Building on that, I think it's huge for us to have the home-ice advantage and push through the season to get it in the playoffs."
The Panthers aren't going to rush Joe Thornton back into the lineup.
Even though the future Hall of Famer was a full participant during this morning's practice, Brunette said the team wants to be absolutely certain he's ready before bringing him back.
"We want him on top of his game when we need him most down the stretch here," he said.
Limited to six games this season due to his injury, Thornton, who inked a one-year deal with Florida during the offseason, has scored one goal. When he does return to action, he'll need just two more points to pass Paul Coffey (1,531) for 13th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.
As for the other injured Cats, Brunette said that there are still no clear timetables for either Mason Marchment (out since Nov. 8) and Markus Nutivaara (out since Oct. 29) right now.
"It's wait and see," he said. Olli Juolevi, meanwhile, was loaned to AHL Charlotte for a conditioning stint on Saturday.
GET YOUR TICKETS
Fans have four chances to catch the Panthers on their current homestand.
After kicking things off against the Islanders on Tuesday, they'll then welcome the Devils (Thursday, Nov. 18), Wild (Saturday, Nov. 20) and Flyers (Wednesday, Nov. 24) to Sunrise.
Dating back to 2020-21, Florida has won 11 straight regular-season games at home.
To purchase tickets to an upcoming game, visit FloridaPanthers.com/Tickets.