In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, the Panthers are staying humble heading into the 2021-22 season, the Opening Night roster begins to take shape, practice lines and much more!
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Making the most of their last on-ice session before they embark on a brand-new season, the Panthers held a spirited practice at the Panthers IceDen on Wednesday.
Going back and forth between two different sheets of ice in order to maximize their time, players rarely stopped moving as they ran through various up-tempo drills for over an hour while making their last few preparations before welcoming the Penguins to FLA Live Arena on Thursday night.
A little more than three weeks after they convened for training camp, it's time to play for keeps.
"There's going to be moments where we're going to have our ups and downs, I'm sure," Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said when asked about the team's mindset. "We're going to stay even keeled, ride that roller coaster and enjoy it at the same time. We've got a confident group out here. We know what we can do. We're excited to show it tomorrow."
Weegar isn't the only one who's confident in the Panthers this season.
After finishing with the fourth-best record in the league and also providing the toughest test the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning saw during the postseason in 2020-21, the Cats have been a popular pick among pundits to contend for a championship of their own this year.
In the locker room, players have heard all of these predictions. Without avoiding television or the internet entirely, there's really no way they can avoid them. Even while watching Pittsburgh take on Tampa Bay during ESPN's Opening Night game on Tuesday, it felt like the broadcast team spent as much time talking about the Panthers as the two teams that were actually on the ice.
Of course, this is somewhat uncharted territory for the Panthers. At the start of last season, they were a team with a chip on their shoulder, a young group of hungry players determined to prove everyone wrong. But this time around, they want to prove everyone right, and feel like they can.
But no one wins a championship on the first game of the season, nor the second or the third.
Only by taking a game-by-game approach can the Panthers realize their potential. In speaking with players, that definitely seems to be the sentiment. Pick up two points, move on to the next game and pick up two more. That's what they did last season, and it certainly worked back then as they never lost more than three games in a row during an impressively slump-free schedule.
For although the rest of the hockey world is only just beginning to take notice of the Panthers, players are heading into this season with the exact same expectations they had last season.
They're full of belief, but also not getting ahead of themselves.
"Confidence is high, but I think the one thing about that is just staying humble, not getting too high," Weegar said. "Once you get a little too confident, you've just got to come down a little bit. The group's very confident. It's huge. But at the same time, we're all staying humble in here."
See you at the rink tomorrow!
THE ROSTER IS SET
The Panthers announced their 23-man roster on Tuesday.
Spoiler alert: it looks just as deep as you'd imagine.
Opening up the season with 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies, the team looks incredibly dangerous on paper, and the group's collective talent should jump right off the page.
Providing a glimpse of what we could see on Opening Night during Wednesday's practice, Aleksander Barkov was flanked by Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart on the top line, while Sam Bennett was in the middle of Jonathan Huberdeau and Owen Tippett below that on the second.
On the third line, rookie Anton Lundell, who was praised by Coach Q following the preseason finale, was centering Frank Vatrano and Patric Hornqvist, while Anthony Duclair and Future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton were seen saddled up on either side of Eetu Luostarinen on the fourth.
As for additional forwards, Ryan Lomberg and Maxim Mamin, who had been held out of recent practices while nursing an injury, were skating as extras. Noel Acciari, meanwhile, is set to start out on the IR after undergoing surgery to repair an injury that he sustained in the preseason.
"I am excited," Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. "I like our roster."
On the blue line, the dynamic duo of Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar, which could be one of the top pairings in the league this season, was back together, while the strength-and-skill pair of Radko Gudas and Gustav Forsling was also reunited behind them. Finding chemistry toward the end of last season, Brandon Montour and Markus Nutivaara then closed things out as the bottom-pairing.
Olli Juolevi, who was acquired in a trade with Vancouver on Sunday, has yet to join practice.
"I think that all of us can get up there in the rush," Weegar said of the team's dangerous defensive corps. "We're all mobile back there. We're a fast team. The D-core and the forwards, we're moving fast at 5-on-5. I think we can truly dominate at 5-on-5 when we push the pace."
BOBROVSKY TO START
Between the pipes, it'll be Sergei Bobrovsky getting the nod on Opening Night.
A two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Bobrovsky, who is entering his third season in South Florida, will be backed up against the Penguins by rookie Spencer Knight. A strong one-two punch in net, Quenneville said that the team also plans to get Knight into a game early on in the season.
"He's been in a pretty cool place here the last week or two," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky, who welcomed his first child last week. "I think he's just looking forward to getting back, being himself like he's been in the past, and recapturing what it's like to be one of the top goalies in the game."
Last season, Bobrovsky went 19-8-2 with a .906 save percentage.
"Every season brings new the new energy, new excitement and new opportunity for everybody," said Bobrovsky, who owns an all-time record of 297-180-45. "Everybody starts from zero. I think all the guys in the locker room are excited to play. We're looking forward to tomorrow's game."
Off the ice, Bobrovsky was called off the bench on Saturday to stay up all night with his newborn daughter while his wife, Olga, finally got a well-deserved rest after a memorable couple of days.
"It's been fun," Bobrovsky smiled when asked about his newfound fatherly duties. "It's the new energy. It's a different level of responsibility, for sure. It's a special day for us. We're happy."
Helping set the stage for a new season, Bill Zito joined this week's episode of Territory Talk.
Listen to the episode below to see what the Panthers general manager had to say.
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Sam Reinhart
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Owen Tippett
Frank Vatrano - Anton Lundell - Patric Hornqvist
Joe Thornton - Eetu Luostarinen - Anthony Duclair
Maxim Mamin - Ryan Lomberg
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling - Radko Gudas
Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour