Panthers survive brutal October schedule, hitting stride in Quenneville's system

Florida off to best start since 1996-97 season

SUNRISE, Fla. – You'd be hard-pressed to find an NHL team that was dealt a tougher hand to play during the first month of the season than the Florida Panthers. 

With a new coach teaching a new system, a new starting goaltender and several new players sprinkled throughout the roster, there were already enough obstacles to overcome.

Oh, and let us not forget the poor starts to the season that past Panthers teams have been notorious for setting themselves up with. 

Combine that with an October schedule that included just four home games, as opposed to nine on the road, with all but four of those games coming against playoff teams from last season. 

It was a gauntlet, to be sure. 

Head coach Joel Quenneville and his Panthers not only made it to November virtually unscathed, but the team managed to pick up points in all but three of those October contests, finishing the month with an impressive 6-3-4 record. 

"I think with the first month (of the season), we're still adjusting," said Florida forward JonathanHuberdeau. "There's some stuff, some gray areas, but I think we are starting to play a little better system and that's how we're going to start winning some games.

"Q is there, and he has a great system; we've just got to follow it every night."

On Saturday, the Panthers began a new month about as well as one could hope, shutting down the lowly Detroit Red Wings 4-0 in the team's best and most complete effort of the young season.

Florida allowed just 22 shots on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who registered his first shutout as a member of the Panthers. 

Bob improved his record to 6-2-3 on the year.  After the game, he was quick to point out each of the things his teammates did well. 

"All four lines got going. Smart puck management, they protected the puck, they kept the puck, and defensively, they kept (Detroit) on the outside and made my job easier," Bobrovsky said. "It's timely blocked shots, it's a great (penalty kill). So all the ingredients were there, and it's a big win for us."

The players are looking more and more comfortable during games, with assignments becoming easier to recognize, cutting down on reaction times. 

The defensive effort displayed by Quenneville's unit Saturday, which we've seen in bits and pieces as the season has progressed, was the kind of hockey that one has come to expect from a Q-coached team. 

"That was probably the fewest chances we gave up this year," Quenneville said after the game. "I thought we were pretty neat in our own end. The (defensemen) were very active and played strong."

Indeed, the effort was more than just blocking shots and clearing the area in front of Bobrovsky's crease. 

Florida was shutting down rushes and taking away odd-man opportunities with timely stick checks and smart gap awareness between the forwards and the defensemen. 

Puck possession was strong, as well, which will always lead to good things in Quenneville's system. 

"We checked well. We had the puck a lot and generated some offense," Quenneville said. "Everybody was contributing and doing the right things. Bob did a good job in net. Across the board, it's one of those nights you're pleased."

It certainly appears the team is turning a corner, and the road ahead actually looks a lot more like home. 

Florida will close out 2019 with 17 out of 25 games at the BB&T Center. 

The Panthers have the look of a team gearing up to go on a run, and the excitement seen on the bench and in the dressing room is clearly infectious.  

"It's amazing," said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov. "We love winning, and the atmosphere here in the locker room after the games are the best thing you can have in hockey. We love working for each other."

About the Author:

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.