SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers took the ice for a game Monday for the first time after a grueling four-day training camp and dominated.
Coach Paul Maurice had said the first game of the preseason would be a test to see how his players can handle game situations when they were most tired — and it appears they passed.
“I think camp was just as hard this year, but we were a little more prepared and I think we handled ourselves better in this game,” Sam Bennett said.
“Last year, the doubleheader game was tough on the guys with the travel, so I thought we did a good job this year.”
The afternoon group looked terrific, holding onto possession and consistently attacking the Predators despite the wear and tear from camp.
It was the second group which looked like it took the brunt of Maurice’s rough camp, slowing down in the second and third periods and allowing multiple high-danger chances due to lapses clearly caused by tired legs.
“Historically, I think they’ve got it right coming out [of camp,]” Maurice said.
“I thought especially in the second game, there was an energy drop after the first period and it was a bit of a grind for them, but I had hoped that it would be that way.”
Here are a few observations from the Panthers’ preseason-opening double-header.
- Oliver Ekman-Larsson looked a lot closer to his usual self in his first preseason game in Sunrise. He picked up three assists while running the tentative top power play unit and made multiple defensive stops on plays he typically let slip past him during his Vancouver Canucks tenure.
- Steven Lorentz manned the top penalty kill unit alongside Eetu Luostarinen in Game 1 and played a solid defensive game overall. His combination of speed and size at 6-foot-4 shined through as he used his long reach to poke the puck away while helping the Panthers to a 5-for-5 penalty kill showing.
- Mackie Samoskevich shined in his NHL preseason debut, scoring two goals and an assist. He was not afraid to get physical in the corners while also showcasing his incredible playmaking ability and zippy wrist shot. He looked NHL ready.
- Will Lockwood played a solid game overall, scoring a goal and an assist while playing the net-front role on the power play. For a 5-foot-11, 172-pound player, he is not afraid to throw his body around and open up space around the net. Maurice said postgame that he could be a player who can compete for an NHL spot.
- Spencer Knight looked a lot like himself in his first game in seven months. He stopped all 13 shots he faced, and a lot of those shots were not easy ones either.
- That Sergei Bobrovsky fella isn’t bad either. He stopped 15 of 16 shots with a lot of them off breakaways behind a tired second group.
- John Ludvig played a lot of important minutes on the penalty kill and he did well. Despite missing most of the last two years with injuries, he was not afraid to throw his body around, picking up three hits and three blocked shots along the way.
- Kevin Stenlund picked up a goal and an assist while bringing a physical net-front presence. The battle for the fourth-line center spot should be tough between him and Lorentz, Lockwood and Alex True, as Maurice has mentioned.
- Dmitry Kulikov and Niko Mikkola both stood out in their Panthers preseason debuts (or returns, in Kulikov’s case). They combined for three goals, with Kulikov getting two of them, and played solid defensively after going through Maurice’s notoriously rough camp for the first time.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
PRESEASON AT CAROLINA HURRICANES
- When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: PNC Bank Arena, Raleigh
- TV/Radio: None
- Streaming: FloridaPanthers.com
LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE PANTHERS
- Friday: Preseason vs. Carolina, 6 p.m.
- Sunday: Preseason vs. Ottawa at Sydney, Nova Scotia; 4 p.m.
- Oct. 3: Preseason vs. Tampa Bay at Orlando Arena, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 5: Preseason at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 7: Preseason vs. Tampa Bay, 6 p.m.
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild (BSF)
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (BSF)