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Florida Panthers ready for early starts against Islanders



Florida Panthers Islanders

The Florida Panthers found out what time their first three games against the New York Islanders will start on Tuesday.

It sounds like they are all-in on playing afternoon hockey.

When asked about the early start time of their series games — Game 1 is scheduled for Aug. 1 at 4 p.m. with Games 2 and 3 set for noon — Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar each cited the advantage of playing on fresh ice each day.

With so many games going on at Toronto’s arena, the Panthers and Islanders should have at least one advantage during their series.

“Obviously, with that first game being at noon, the ice is probably going to be a little better,” Huberdeau said. “When you get to the games at night, the games may be a little harder since the ice has been skated on all day.

“A noon game doesn’t mean anything. We have experienced it. You get up and go to the rink. I like it, 4 o’clock as well. When you win, you can get a nice dinner afterward.”

Added Weegar: “A few of us were talking and we’re looking forward to it. We’re going to have fresh ice for the back-to-back [Games 2 and 3]. We will wake up and play hockey right away. Sometimes when you play at 7, you think about it all day long. I think it’s going to work out in our favor.”

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Both the Panthers and Islanders have been holding practices in the late morning so getting geared up for a noon game should not be a problem.

Florida’s lone exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 29 is also set for a noon start, so the Panthers should be able to get used to yet another new normal as far as their game-day prep goes.

With the four games the Panthers have scheduled (times are not set for Games 4 and 5 will not be set until deemed necessary) being in the early afternoon, coach Joel Quenneville will forgo any morning skates.

Playing that early, Quenneville said, has one definite advantage.

“I don’t mind playing afternoon games. At least those early games at 12 o’clock, we know they’re going to start on time,” he said.

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“Everything is not going to be the perfect setting, there is going to be some flexibility on proceeding with practice time and game times.

“We’ll deal with it, we’ll roll with it. The guys have been great with everything so far. It is a new world around us. When we get to the hub city, we’re going to do everything we have to do to play.”

Although it is still a few weeks away, Quenneville said he would probably look at the exhibition against the Lightning as if it was a real game.

The Panthers, after all, will not have faced an NHL opponent in almost five months by the time that game comes around.

Two days after the preseason game against the Lightning comes Game 1 of the best-of-5 qualifier against the Islanders where it is win or go home.

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“The mindset will be ‘lets play it like a game’,” Quenneville said. “I don’t think anyone wants to get out there and get hurt, but you want to play hard and get some exposure to another team … make some adjustments to your own game.

“It should put the guys at a higher pace and that’s why you want to play it like a real game. In the latter stages of training camp, teams usually play the roster they’re going to go in with.”


After holding a full-team scrimmage on Tuesday, Quenneville went back to a two-session practice at the IceDen on Wednesday.

The regular roster players made up the first session with newcomer Eetu Luostarinen getting an extended look with Noel Acciari not on the ice.

Acciari did not participate in practice on Wednesday but Quenneville said he was simply taking a maintenance day. Acciari, Quenneville added, was in the training complex, he just did not skate.

With Acciari out, Luostarinen got time in both sessions and gave his new coaching staff a chance to check out what he can do after he came over from Carolina in the deadline day deal with the Hurricanes.

After the trade, Luostarinen and Chase Priskie were assigned to AHL Springfield while Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark met the Panthers in Arizona.

Luostarinen played in eight games with Carolina this season before being traded to the Panthers. He turns 22 in September.

“It has been a short time, a couple days, in getting to watch him,” Quenneville said.

“He’s going to be a hockey player. He’s only [like] 20-years-old and there are a lot of things we appreciate about him. Lot of upside, he’s in a good place. He has a good feel, wants the puck and puts it in good areas.

“You can see progression in his game. We’re going to find a place for him to play.”

— Huberdeau on playing the Lightning for the eighth time this season in an exhibition game: “That is going to be good, Tampa is obviously a very good team.

“I feel we’re used to playing exhibition games against them so what is one more? But really, it doesn’t matter who you play, you’re just trying to get out there to play a real game. It’ll be good before we play the Islanders.”

— Weegar said both he and defensive partner Aaron Ekblad stayed in touch throughout the pause and that the two have found a real chemistry both on-and-off the ice as Florida’s top pairing.

“I think our success starts outside the rink because we get along great,” Weegar said. “When we are out there, it is just like two buddies playing hockey together.

“We’re veery comfortable with each other and aren’t afraid to get into the other’s ear about something. It is good to be back with him and hope we can keep up our success.”

Quenneville said the chemistry between the two players has been evident both before the season was paused and once things got restarted.

“I think they have a lot of rapport, seem like they enjoy playing together,” he said of Ekblad and Weegar.

“They are both active in the attack, there is movement in their own zone where they read off each other and they are active offensively when they are exiting the zone. They give a little physicality in their own zone and are comparable in the way they play.”


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