In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, a franchise-record homestand, Chris Driedger is set to make his first start with the Panthers and MacKenzie Weegar looks like he's ready to go.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Joel Quenneville can't recall having this much time on home ice.
Despite spending over four decades in professional hockey, the Florida Panthers bench boss doesn't believe he's ever been involved in something quite like the franchise-record, nine-game homestand the team will open up against the Nashville Predators on Saturday at BB&T Center.
"I don't know if it was six or seven [games], that was probably as long as I've got," Quenneville said when asked about the long homestand after Friday's practice at the Panthers IceDen "It's a great opportunity for us to take advantage of it. It's going to be one game at a time, but let's play right. We've been pretty good at home. Let's be consistent and let's get off to a great start."
Despite entering Thanksgiving sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division behind a 12-8-5 record, the Panthers are heading into their homestand looking of to snap out of a three-game losing streak following a very hard-fought 4-3 loss at the Washington Capitals on Wednesday.
Florida has gone 6-3-2 at home this season, including wins in three out of its last four.
"It's fun to play in front of our fans," Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman said. "It'll be a good chance to really get our game going. The schedule is not too crazy, so we'll get a good amount of practice time to work on things, which we need. I'm very much looking forward it."
When asked about some of the things the team needs to work on, Stralman pointed straight to the defensive side of the puck, where the team is currently surrendering the second-most goals in the league per game (3.60), including giving up at least four in each of the last four games.
But given the favorable practice schedule the homestand will afford them (they only have one back-to-back during that stretch), the veteran blueliner is confident that having that added time to work on the X's and O's will help the Panthers get to where they want to be defensively.
"You can work on the small details in practice and hopefully by the time you get to the game it's all instinct and it's all kind of burned in the memory," he said. "I think it's very important. I think everybody's seen how we're lacking defensively. That's obviously something we're working on."
If they can make a few adjustments in their own zone, players know they'll be in a good spot.
Led by the top-line duo of Jonathan Huberdeau (31 points) and Aleksander Barkov (30 points), Florida is off to one of its best offensive starts in franchise history. In addition to scoring the fifth-most goals per game (3.52), they also own the league's sixth-ranked power play (23.7 percent).
At home, they've scored at least three goals in 10 of 11 games this season.
"We're going into it with a good frame of mind," Quenneville said of the team's mindset heading into the homestand. "Obviously we're disappointed with our last game and the outcome in our last three games. Let's find a way to think about getting in the winning column. Being angry and taking the positives out of our last game is the approach we want going into tomorrow's game."
Presented with a good opportunity to start pocketing some points, six of the nine teams that the Panthers will host during their homestand currently reside outside of the league's playoff picture.
That being said, the team isn't overlooking any opponent and will take each game as it comes.
"It's nice being at home," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "It's more comfortable. With a three-game losing streak, it's nice to know we have nine in a row at home to get back on track."
To catch the team at home in the coming weeks, visit FloridaPanthers.com/TicketCentral.
DRIEDGER TO START
Chris Driedger is expected to make his Panthers debut against the Predators on Saturday.
Leading the AHL with a .938 save percentage prior to being recalled by Florida on Monday, the 25-year-old goaltender impressed the organization during this summer's training camp and has put up exceptional numbers while manning the crease for AHL Springfield the past two seasons.
Last season, Driedger, who inked a two-year, two-way contract with the Panthers back in April, posted an 18-10-2 record, 2.45 goals against average and an AHL-best .924 save percentage.
"When we looked at our homestand schedule here, we wanted to get him a game," Quenneville said when asked about the decision to start Driedger. "It's merit-based by how he played in training camp and how he's played down there last year and this year. Let's see how he handles it. It's a great opportunity for him, and [Sergei Bobrovsky] will certainly get back in here soon."
Originally a third-round pick (76th overall) by Ottawa in the 2012 NHL Draft, Driedger, who stands 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, appeared in three career NHL games during his tenure with the Senators, recording a 0-0-1 record, 2.53 goals against average and .889 save percentage.
Driedger's last NHL game came on Oct. 28, 2016.
"I love his competitiveness," Quenneville said. "He's patient. He takes up a lot of net. Everybody's been happy with him organizationally. We really like what we saw in training camp. He gets an opportunity… A long time between [starts] here. Let's see how he handles it."
For more information, check out the latest episode of the Territory Talk podcast to hear what Driedger had to say about his long road back to the NHL and opportunity with the Panthers.
WEEGAR READY TO GO
The Panthers appear to be getting a big piece of their blue line back.
After missing the previous eight games while recovering from an upper-body injury suffered in a 6-5 shootout win at the New York Rangers on Nov. 10, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar is expected to make his long-awaited return to the lineup against the Predators on Saturday.
"He's ready to go," Quenneville said confidently. "He's had some good skates and some practices as well. We really liked what he was bringing us prior to the injury."
Prior to the injury, the 25-year-old had been playing alongside Aaron Ekblad on Florida's top-defensive pairing. In the 17 games, he accumulated 10 points (three goals, seven assists).