In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, Vincent Trocheck's joyride highlights a return to fun for the Panthers centerman. Also injury updates on Sergei Bobrovsky and MacKenzie Weegar.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Vincent Trocheck simply couldn't pass up an opportunity this good. After being named "Third Star of the Game" following Florida's 8-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, the Panthers center happened to notice that the team's mascot, Stanley C. Panther, had left his slick miniature ATV sitting unattended smack dab in the middle of the BB&T Center rink.
"Why not?" he thought.
So, after taking a second to get the greenlight from nearby staffers to go for it, Trocheck, still in his full set of equipment, quickly booked it from the bench toward center ice and hopped on the pintsized all-terrain vehicle. It was around this time, however, that Stanley, who had been riling up the home fans after a big win, realized that his wheels were being boosted right behind him.
But by then, it was too late.
Avoiding a comical dive from the fuzzy mascot, Trocheck hit the gas and then joyfully cruised around ice, delighting the crowd with a game of cat and mouse as Stanley gave chase on foot.
"That was fun," Trocheck, arms crossed and smiling, said following Tuesday's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "It could drift pretty easily on the ice. I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it. I thought I was going to take someone out or run into the boards. It was a fun little ride."
Trocheck's joyride was just one of many things the Panthers have had to smile about lately.
After alternating wins and losses to kick off the 2020 portion of their campaign, the team has won each of its last two contests and appears to be turning a corner. Following a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, they notched a season-high eight goals against Toronto.
In that win over the Maple Leafs, seven different skaters lit the lamp and 13 registered at least one point. Jonathan Huberdeau moved past Olli Jokinen to claim the franchise's all-time scoring lead with his 420th point, and backup goaltender Chris Driedger made a career-high 43 saves.
Post-game, everyone was smiling. Fun was being had by all. But does that fun translate to the ice? Can it have an affect on the team moving forward?
"One-hundred percent," Trocheck said emphatically. "You've got to have fun out there. It's a team camaraderie thing. If you're having fun on the ice, you're going to be playing harder. It all comes together when you're having fun, and obviously winning is fun. Let's continue that."
Overall, the Panthers (24-16-5), who are within striking distance of both a top-three spot in their division and a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, have won nine of their last 13 games.
TROCHECK MAKING STRIDES
Just as the team has been improving, so has Trocheck.
After being forced to miss seven games earlier this season with a lower-body injury, the second-line pivot, who was also held out for 27 games in 2018-19 while recovering from an ankle injury, admits that he's finally starting to feel like his old self after two tough battles with the injury bug.
Producing at nearly a point-per-game clip over the past month, he's tallied 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) over his last 14 contests. Against Toronto, he matched a season-high with three points, including wiring home a wrist shot that put Florida on top 6-1 early in the second period.
Video: TOR@FLA: Trocheck snipes a wrist shot past Hutchinson
"I think I've been playing well these last 10-15 games," said Trocheck, who is on a four-game point streak. "I've finally hit my stride and am feeling like myself. I'm playing with speed. I have confidence again. Last game was good for me to finally get on the scoresheet and show some production."
Trocheck said he's also benefitted from playing alongside Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari.
He describes Acciari as somewhat of rock on the line, the type of player where "you always know where he's going to be," and is always there to bang in rebounds and tip-in long shots. Connolly, on the other hand, is a "creative player that plays with a lot of skill" and can shoot.
Over the last four games, the trio has combined for five goals and eight assists.
"They play well together," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think there's always somebody at the net. They have some puck luck and they make some good plays. They scored some rush goals the other day, which was nice as well. Their possession time has been very good and they're reliable defensively, which has been good."
Asked Trocheck specifically, Quenneville said the 26-year-old is "playing his best right now."
"He has more pace to the game, more possession with him," he said. "I think he compliments that line. I think defensively there's room for growth in all of our centermen's game, but it's a demanding a position with the way went want them to play in all zones."
BOBROVSKY, WEEGAR UPDATES
Sergei Bobrovsky remains on the shelf.
After missing Thursday's win over Toronto with an upper-body injury, the 31-year-old goaltender was absent once again during today's practice. Looking ahead, Quenneville has labeled him as "questionable" to return this week but added that he could return to practice in the coming days.
"We'll get him on the ice hopefully tomorrow or the next day, and then we'll see how he is," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky, who owns a 16-12-4 record in his first campaign with Florida.
Until Bobrovsky is able to return, Chris Driedger is expected to continue getting the nod in net. After stopping 43 of 47 shots against the Maple Leafs, the 25-year-old backup improved to 5-2-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and one shutout over eight appearances.
In other injury news, MacKenzie Weegar is showing signs of progress.
Missing the last nine games with an upper-body injury, the 26-year-old defenseman ditched his yellow no-contact jersey and was full a participant in today's practice. In 28 games prior to the injury, he had three goals, nine assists, 46 hits and 38 blocks while averaging 19:36 of ice time.
"He needs some time on the ice and then we'll sort things out with him," Quenneville said.