CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The Florida Panthers returned from the break with a bang.
Well, actually, it was more of a loud crash.
Just a few minutes after taking the ice at the Panthers IceDen on Thursday afternoon for the team's first practice in almost two weeks, Evgenii Dadonov skated down into the slot before sending a powerful wrist shot a little wide of the net and shattering the glass panel behind it.
"(Dadonov) probably spent the whole Bye Week at the gym," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, flashing a smile, quipped. "It was a hard shot. He broke the glass, but it was nice to get back to practice with the guys. We're feeling good. We're happy here and we're confident."
The Panthers certainly have plenty of reasons to feel good right now.
Heading into the break on a season-high, six-game winning streak, they currently boast a 28-16-5 record, which places them third in the Atlantic Division. They are also averaging the most goals per game in the NHL (3.67), and have outscored the opposition 30-17 during their streak.
That challenge now, however, is picking up right where they left off. The team hasn't played a competitive game since a 4-3 win in Chicago on Jan. 21, and will have to re-gather itself quickly before kicking off an important three-game road swing against Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
Following their tilt versus the Canadiens, they'll make stops in Toronto and Columbus on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, with huge playoff implications hanging over each of those matchups.
"We want to make sure that we recapture the way we went into the break," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "We were playing some of our best hockey and coming off a real good start to this road trip. Let's continue on knowing that the teams we're going to be playing are ready."
Despite the long break, Quenneville added that he was impressed with how players looked in their first practice back.
"I really thought the pace was impressive," he said. "I thought that was a good sign."
In addition to the team itself coming out of the season's final elongated break on quite the roll, numerous Panthers players are also looking to extend personal runs of their own, such as Mike Hoffman, who is riding a 10-game point streak in which he's tallied five goals and eight assists.
Behind Hoffman, four other players have active point streaks of at least four games, including Barkov (6), Evgenii Dadonov (6), Frank Vatrano (5) and Aaron Ekblad (4). Dadonov, who leads the team with 23 goals, has also found the back of the net in each of his last four games played.
"This practice was good for us," Barkov said. "We tried to get a good pace out there. We did good. You can probably see a little rust in us there, but tomorrow will be fine and we'll be ready for our next game… Everybody had a good break. We're ready to continue what we started."
A second-half stud throughout his career, Sergei Bobrovsky has also been gaining momentum in net - a good sign for the Panthers as the team looks to round out its overall game. Over his last 11 starts, the 31-year-old goaltender has gone 8-3-0, including wins in his last four games.
Starting three games in four nights before the break, Bobrovsky, who missed the previous two games with an injury, posted a .917 save percentage in wins at Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago. "It's time to get back to work," Bobrovsky said. "This is an exciting time. The fun part of the season is starting. Every game matters. It's a tight race for the playoffs. We've got some interesting hockey coming up."
As the playoff race begins to heat up, Bobrovsky said the team must take it "one day a time."
"We had a good practice today," he said. "We're going to have another tomorrow. We're just going to build it as it is. We've got big games coming up. The next three are so important."
WEEGAR MAKING PROGRESS
MacKenzie Weegar is making good progress in his long road back into the lineup.
After missing the last 13 games while recovering from an upper-body injury he sustained in a 6-5 shootout win at the New York Rangers on Nov. 10, the 25-year-old defenseman partook in all of today's practice, including many of the contact drills that he only recently was cleared to do.
"Over the course of the break here, he looks good and he's feeling really good," Quenneville said of Weegar, who has notched 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 28 games this season. "It was good to see him go through a whole practice with some contact. We'll get him in there tomorrow, see how he's going to progress and then make a decision on the road trip."
HUBERDEAU RETURNING FRIDAY
Jonathan Huberdeau was absent from today's practice, but that's no cause for concern.
"He's going to be fine," Quenneville said. "He'll be there tomorrow."
Representing the Panthers at the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend during the break, the 26-year-old winger leads the team and ranks tied for sixth in the NHL with 65 points (18 goals, 47 assists).
In two games in the All-Star Game's 3-on-3 tournament, he notched two goals and one assist.
"He scored nice goals and had a nice assist," Barkov said. "He looked great out there."
THURSDAY'S PRACTICE LINES
Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Denis Malgin
Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari
Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Mike Hoffman
Jayce Hawryluk - Brian Boyle - Colton Sceviour
Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad
Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - Josh Brown
MacKenzie Weegar - Mark Pysyk