"I thought the guys did all right," Panthers Head Coach Joel Quenneville said in his post-practice Zoom teleconference. "They worked hard. Technically there are some areas you can see where we talked about it, but I liked their approach. I liked their enthusiasm. It was an effective day."
Playing on a line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Frank Vatrano, Evgenii Dadonov opened up the scrimmage by sending a rebound past goaltender Chris Driedger to put Team Red on top 1-0 just a few minutes into the first of two continuous 15-minute halves that the teams would play.
In the regular season, Vatrano, Dadonov and Barkov found quite a bit of success during their limited time together heading into the pause. Over the 28:52 they shared the ice at 5-on-5, the electric trio owned a big 23-13 advantage in shots on goal, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
"They're all capable guys," Quenneville said of the team's new-look top line. "They're dangerous off the rush. They have a speed element to their game. They can make some plays. They've got some quickness. They can shoot the puck. Defensively, they're reliable."
Preparing to embark on their postseason run with Game 1 of their best-of-five series against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Aug. 1, Quenneville said his goal is to have a strong balance between defense and offense among players on the team's four forward lines.
"We want to have a comfort level that offensively they can all score and make plays and handle the puck, and defensively they're able to play well in their own end as a group," Quenneville said. "[It's] taking as much pride in keeping the puck out of our own net as scoring goals."
Shortly after Dadonov's tally, Erik Haula, who was reunited with Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman on what's being called the "Triple H" line, evened things up for Team White when he blasted a one-timer past goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to make it 1-1 going into the second half.
Haula said one of the biggest benefits of the scrimmage was getting back to full-contact action.
"We obviously haven't had that in a while," Haula said. "It's important that we get that right away, get the body acclimated to it and the pace of the play, just getting your brain back into it. Obviously, things are moving fast. The quicker we can get to that game-speed inside of your head, the easier the game will get. Take it one day at a time and try to do better every day."
In the second half, Team White took the lead when defenseman-turned-forward Mark Pysyk chased down a loose puck, dug it out from along the end boards and sent it to Colton Sceviour, who then set up Noel Acciari for a goal right in front of Driedger to put Team Red in a 2-1 hole. Later, Owen Tippett iced the game with an empty-net goal to secure a 3-1 win for Team White.
"It's definitely great to be back," said Bobrovsky, who picked up the win for Team White. "Guys are excited. Everybody works hard, [there was a] quick pace and we had a good scrimmage."
In his first season with the Panthers after joining the team on a seven-year contract this past summer, Bobrovsky, a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender, said the entire team has been given a clean slate following a four-month COVID-19 lockdown.
Disregarding both highs and lows, there's no more looking back -- only forward.
"It's a long time, four months," Bobrovsky said. "It is a fresh start and we have to build all the chemistry and all the feelings and atmosphere inside of the locker room from the beginning."
Following the upbeat scrimmage, some players stayed out on the ice for a bit to practice some shootout moves against goaltender Philippe Desrosiers. And while there were plenty of highlight-reel goals to go around, rookie defenseman Chase Priskie might've had the best move of the bunch.
Don't believe me? Watch the video below and you'll agree.
Acquired by the Panthers as part of the trade that sent Vincent Trocheck to Carolina at the trade deadline in February, Priskie is one of several rookies that have made a good first impression.
"I thought he did a nice job," Quenneville said of Priskie, a native of Pembroke Pines who grew up competing for the Jr. Panthers. "I like how he looks like a hockey player. He looks like he sees and reads plays well. He likes the puck, wants the puck, and is pretty handy with it."
HAULA SETTLES IN
For Haula, training camp is almost like the first day of school all over again.
Coming over from Carolina in the aforementioned trade that also brought Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Luostarinen and Priskie to the Panthers, Haula barely had his suitcase unpacked by the time the NHL paused its regular season back on March 12 as the COVID-19 pandemic picked up steam.
"I'm still getting to know the guys," Haula said. "Especially the younger guys, I've never met them before. It's a little different. I'm taking it one day at a time and just having fun with it."
Still, despite only suiting up in seven games with his new team, Haula projects to be a player that Florida will rely heavily on in the postseason. Currently centering the second line, the 29-year-old has plenty of experience, producing nine goals and 13 assists in 44 playoff games.
Upon his arrival to the Panthers, Haula pointed out that he'd never been on a non-playoff team during each of his first six seasons in the NHL and that he didn't plan to change that just yet.
"Getting in the playoffs is a goal of this team and always has been," Haula said.
While he's certainly had a nice individual start to training camp -- you'll have to take my word on just how nice his one-timer was in today's scrimmage - Haula said the entire team is pushing in the same direction and has shown great execution and excitement after just a few days of work.
"I think the intensity, the pace and the execution has been really good," Haula said. "We've had a great two days of work, and we still have a lot of days to prepare. … We've had a great start."
KITCHEN OPTS OUT
Panthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen has opted out of the NHL's Return to Play Program.
"It was a difficult decision to say the least," said Kitchen, who joined Quenneville's staff this past summer following a long stint together in Chicago. "But the right decision for me and my family."
When asked about Kitchen's decision, Quenneville said "we wish him the best of health as we go through this, " and added that his longtime friend and colleague will still play an integral in the day-to-day decisions of the coaching staff, especially when it comes to the team's defensemen.
To help fill the void left by Kitchen, the Panthers have enlisted the help of Geordie Kinnear, who has served as Florida's head coach down in the AHL each of the last four seasons. In addition to helping with practices, Kinnear will serve as the staff's eye in the sky during the postseason.
As for the rest of coaching staff, Quenneville said that assistants Derek MacKenzie and Andrew Brunette will both take on added responsibilities in upcoming games. MacKenzie will be more involved with the team's penalty kill, while Brunette will be in charge of changing up the defense.
"We're going to be sharing a lot of responsibilities as we go along," Quenneville said.
TUESDAY'S SCRIMMAGE LINES
Frank Vatrano - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Lucas Wallmark - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly
Aleksi Saarela - Dominic Toninato - Dryden Hunt
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman
Jonathan Huberdeau - Erik Haula - Mike Hoffman
Colton Sceviour - Noel Acciari - Mark Pysyk
Chase Priskie - Eetu Luostarinen - Owen Tippett
Keith Yandle - Mike Matheson
Brady Keeper - Josh Brown
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