Through this first week of the Florida Panthers’ summer training camp, coach Joel Quenneville has kept his forward lines pretty much intact.
Save for Wednesday when Noel Acciari took a maintenance day and did not skate, the Panthers’ forwards have worked together in the same groups.
Near what became the end of the regular season, Quenneville split up the duo of Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Although those two have enjoyed much success together as linemates, they are apart these days and apparently will be on separate lines as the Panthers move forward toward Phase 4 in Toronto.
Friday, Quenneville held a split-squad scrimmage for the second time in the past four days.
As was the case Tuesday, the lines were the same as they have been since camp opened on Monday.
Barkov continues to center Florida’s top line with Frank Vatrano and Evgenii Dadonov on his wings. Erik Haula centers the second line with Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman flanking him.
“We finished the season together and I thought we were building some chemistry,” Hoffman said Friday.
“Obviously Huby is one of the best playmakers in the league and Haula is a great two-way center who can skate, shoot and pass. I think it makes for a good combination and hopefully we can help this team win some games.”
Huberdeau and Barkov will reunite on the Panthers’ top power play unit, though, so do not worry about that.
Quenneville plans on going into the next phase with Barkov, Huberdeau, Dadonov, Hoffman and Keith Yandle running PP1 as usual.
Florida is scheduled to fly to Toronto on July 26 with an exhibition game scheduled against the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 29 at noon.
The Panthers and New York Islanders will kick off their best-of-5 qualifying series Aug. 1 at 4 p.m.
On Friday, Quenneville said he has kept his lines together through camp in an attempt to find some lasting continuity — fully knowing things can be thrown into a blender at any time depending on how productive they are.
“In the course of a game, everyone gets a chance to play with one another whether it is late in a shift or at the start of one,” Quenneville said following Friday’s workout in Coral Springs.
“We felt over the course of the regular season, everyone sees everyone so you have a pretty good idea of how that line would look. It is easy to get playing with someone you have exposed to. But we’re not going to have that luxury too long if the lines aren’t firing and we have to make some adjustments. …
“But our goal here with lines is to get some consistency, some pace, some predictability. We felt we were better later (in the season) because we were simple and predictable around the ice and it really helped our team guy.”
Although the Panthers’ top two lines remain intact from March, there have been some changes to the bottom six as center Brian Boyle has returned from an undisclosed injury that cost him most of February and all of Florida’s games in March.
With Boyle back and centering the third line, Lucas Wallmark has slid over to the left side with Brett Connolly at right wing.
Although Boyle and Wallmark have not played together (Boyle was out of the lineup when Wallmark was acquired from Carolina at the trade deadline), he has played with Connolly both in Florida and when the two were teammates with the Lightning.
“Where we are, I think we can do a number of different things,” Boyle said Friday. “We have to be responsible, check and be hard to play against. Wherever you put me, if I am doing that, I think that’s what I am supposed to be doing for the line and time.
“You have to look at what is your bread-and-butter, what do you bring? … I think we’ll bring the element of being hard to play against, something you need at this time of the year.”
The fourth line looks much like it did before the NHL put the season on hold, with Noel Acciari centering Mark Pysyk and Colton Sceviour.
IS SAARELA NEXT MAN UP?
If the Panthers take the next step with this lineup, which forwards appear closest to cracking the lineup?
Right now it appears Aleksi Saarela would be the 13th forward and the first to slide in.
The Panthers are high on Saarela and he finished the regular season playing a bottom-six role and ended with two goals and four points in nine games with Florida.
First NHL goal for Aleksi Saarela as he pounced on a long shot off the back boards and sliced it past John Gibson. Gives #FlaPanthers a 3-1 lead in Anaheim late 2nd …
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) February 20, 2020
Saarela had been called up from the minors in February and played in six games before the pause — getting all four of his points during that time including two assists in the final win at St. Louis on March 9.
“Saarela is a guy who looked like he was getting better each and every game he was here,” Quenneville said.
“He certainly gave us something to think about in that last game against St. Louis. We have some guys who are proven here but we anticipate him playing for our team at some point. He gives us a versatile look either on a line or on a power play opportunity. He has been very good, very noticeable and looks like he really wants to be in that starting lineup. It is commendable.”
Rookies Eetu Luostarinen and Owen Tippett have also been getting some decent looks from the Panthers.
On defense, Florida also appears set within its top six.
MacKenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad appear to be the Panthers’ top pairing followed by Riley Stillman with Anton Stralman. Keith Yandle and Mike Matheson make up the bottom pairing.
Josh Brown and Brady Keeper look to be players who could slide in if there are injuries to anyone within the top six.
TRAINING CAMP, DAY 5
The Panthers held another scrimmage on Friday with Quenneville saying all 30 players were on the ice. Florida has held four practices so far and have had 100 percent participation in three of them; only Acciari missed a day.
Quenneville said Friday’s workout was “OK, wasn’t great,” saying he thought “execution was a little sloppy” following Thursday’s off day.
Later, he added that he has liked the “attitude and the commitment” the Panthers have displayed through the first four practice sessions.
“I like their work ethic, think their pace has been really solid,” Quenneville said. “Getting up to speed technically is kind of an acquired taste and getting a little more exposure to playing hockey the way we want to play.
“We want to get things to where they are automatic and that means getting to the right places. It will help us play quicker. We get that added and we’ll be very pleased.”
HEADING TO THE BUBBLE
Quenneville confirmed that the Panthers would travel to Toronto on July 26 and begin their lockdown inside the Royal York Hotel.
With the qualifying round as well as the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs held in Toronto, players could be holed up in the same place for a few months making it the longest road trip of their careers if things play out.
On Friday, players and Quenneville were asked what they would bring with them that was out of the ordinary.
While Quenneville said he was simply going to bring an extra suit or two and some additional ties, Boyle said he was going to try and work on his golf game during down time in the hotel.
“I am bringing a putter with three golf balls,” Boyle said. “I’m going to try and keep that thing going if I can. There’s going to be a lot of downtime, but this what we were born to do and love to do the most. We will eat, get rest, watch hockey and then play hockey. There is going to be no distractions.”