In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, the Panthers play a little pond-style hockey, Mike Matheson is feeling good about his game, and MacKenzie Weegar is working his way back.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Joel Quenneville wanted to try something a little new this morning.
Looking to loosen up his players a little bit as they prepare for their second-half run, the Florida Panthers coach opened up Wednesday's practice at the Panthers IceDen with a unique drill that resembled something you're probably more used to seeing on a pond than a professional rink.
Splitting the team right down the middle - with even some coaches joining in on the action - the first 15 minutes of practice consisted of an epic 13 on 13 battle. And although the action was up-tempo, players looked far more excited than exhausted as they were able to let loose just a bit.
"It was something different" said Quenneville, adding that he typically likes to dust off the drill two or three times during the season. "It was the first time we did that drill. We always seem to do it at certain time of the season and guys seem to enjoy it. It was pond-hockey action."
Coming off a 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said the drill was the perfect way to help players clear their heads as they prepare to continue their homestand with a tough tilt against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday at BB&T Center.
At 22-16-5, Florida has won seven of its last 11 games and is on the cusp of a playoff spot.
"Obviously everyone came into the rink pretty frustrated today," he said. "Sometimes it's nice to kind of have some fun out there and remind ourselves of how lucky we are to play this game. Sometimes that kind of ignites a bit of energy in the group. I think that's what we needed."
As for who won the chaotic contest, Team Red ended up besting Team Blue.
"That was a lot of fun," Panthers center Dominic Toninato said. "It was something we haven't done and definitely something I haven't done in the pros. We used to do it quite a bit in college. It was a lot of fun and good way to start practice. It got the guys laughing and ready to go."
MATHESON MAKING MOVES
When asked about his recent stretch of games, Matheson said he's felt a noticeable uptick.
Since being healthy scratched back on Dec. 12, the 25-year-old defenseman has seen quite the surge in his production. And while numbers don't exactly paint the entire picture, he does lead Florida's rearguards in goals (3) and is also tied for first in points (7) over his last 12 contests.
In that same span, Florida has also outscored the opposition 13-6 with him on the ice at 5-on 5.
"I think my game's been getting better and better," Matheson said. "That's what I've been focusing on, making sure that every night I'm engaged every shift and trying to get better."
In the last two games, Matheson has been paired with Aaron Ekblad on the team's top-pairing.
"I love it," Matheson said. "I think our game's complement each other very well. I think we're great on the breakout together. We communicate well together and are both able to make plays and then obviously jump in the rush, too. That's what we want, to have our D active in the rush."
On the rush is likely where Matheson's skills are most evident.
Take, for example, his goal against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 4. Carrying the puck through the neutral zone along the left boards with speed, he not only gets the team into the offensive zone with ease, but then also catches the goalie off-guard with a long snipe into the back of the net.
Video: FLA@BUF: Matheson strikes on the rush
"That's when our team is at our best, when we're attacking as a group of five and not kind of leaving it to the forwards to take over," Matheson said. "I think that's the hardest type of team to play against. When everybody's engaged in all three zones is when we're playing at our best."
Overall, Quenneville said that he's been happy with Matheson's recent progress.
"I think we're noticing him getting more involved in skating the puck up the ice," Quenneville said. "I think he's had more entries, and possession time on the point has been there as well."
In 37 games this season, Matheson has recorded 10 points (four goals, six assists), 32 hits and 34 blocks while averaging 19:30 of ice time per game, including 1:13 per tilt on the penalty kill.
WEEGAR WEARING YELLOW
After missing the last six games while dealing with an upper-body injury, MacKenzie Weegar rejoined his teammates on the ice during today's practice sporting a yellow no-contact jersey.
"Weegs is progressing here," Quenneville said. "We'll see how he comes out of today and then get a better idea going forward. I don't want to say he's close, but it's a good sign."
Coming into his own this season, Weegar had been playing some of the best hockey of his career prior to getting bitten by the injury bug. In 28 games, the 26-year-old defenseman has registered three goals, nine assists, 46 hits and 38 blocks while averaging 19:36 of ice time.
"We miss him," Quenneville said. "I know that he's had one of those starts to the season where we were very happy about what he's been able to do. He played big minutes and gave us some responsibility on the backend."
WEDNESDAY'S PRACTICE LINES
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari
Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Mike Hoffman
Colton Sceviour/Jayce Hawryluk - Brian Boyle - Denis Malgin
Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad
Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - Mark Pysyk
MacKenzie Weegar - Josh Brown