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Panthers discuss recapturing momentum after first practice of 2020

Florida begins January in fourth place, out of playoff spot

Florida Panthers' Aleksander Barkov and Columbus Blue Jackets' Vladislav Gavrikov chase the puck Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio.
Florida Panthers' Aleksander Barkov and Columbus Blue Jackets' Vladislav Gavrikov chase the puck Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

OTTAWA, Ontario – As the calendar flips to 2020, the Florida Panthers are hoping the new year brings some old traits.

At times during the month of December, the Panthers appeared to be turning a corner, masterfully working head coach Joel Quenneville's systems while scoring goals at an elite clip.

Unable to maintain that pace of play for more than few periods here and there has become the main issue plaguing the Cats.

They’ll have to claw their way back to playing the right way while enduring their longest road trip since the end of October, which continues Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators.

Speaking about what he hopes to accomplish during the trip, Panthers center Vincent Trocheck did not hesitate when discussing what the team needs to do.

"Just get back to our game, and start playing the right way," Trocheck said following Wednesday's practice in Ottawa. "(When we) tighten a few things up, and get back to playing our systems, it'll be better."

Florida's defensive issues have been well-documented since the season began.

Whether it's been missed assignments, poor gap control, lackluster goaltending or an overall underwhelming effort level, there always seems to be something holding the team back from reaching the level Quenneville knows is necessary to succeed.

Being the positive reinforcement kind of guy that he is, Q's message to the team this week was more about focusing on the future than the past.

"Move forward," he said following Tuesday's loss in Columbus. "Let's think about (taking things) one game at a time the rest of this trip, and let's recapture some momentum."

Florida's up-and-down play has kept them right in the middle of the Atlantic Division standings.

Looking at the playoff picture, the Panthers (20-14-5) currently stand on the outside looking in, one point back of third place Tampa Bay (21-13-4) and four points behind second place Toronto (22-14-5).

Speaking to players throughout the month of December, there is a growing feeling in the locker room that the team is on the cusp of turning a corner.

“We’ve been playing good hockey, but at the same time, we’ve definitely been giving up too much defensively,” Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said Wednesday. “We have no problem generating offense, so I’m not too worried about that part.”

Indeed, nobody is denying that Florida can score. The Panthers' 136 goals are tied for fifth in the NHL with Tampa, while their goals per game average, 3.5, is tied for third in the league (with Washington and Toronto. Tampa is slightly ahead at 3.6).

Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck prepares for a face off against the Montreal Canadiens, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019.
Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck prepares for a face off against the Montreal Canadiens, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Interestingly enough, the key to Florida keeping the puck out of the net seems to lie in how well they can maintain puck possession, particularly in the offensive zone.

It's something Trocheck explained was imperative to playing successful hockey.

"Whenever we're in the o-zone, and we have close support, anytime we get a chance, getting those second chances back, getting pucks to the point, getting shots through, and having that support, is key for us right now," he said.

After leaving Ottawa, Florida’s year-opening road trip concludes with an extremely tough weekend back to back in Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Quenneville reiterated Wednesday that one of the main priorities was for the team to regain the traction it briefly enjoyed during the final home games of 2019, when they defeated Detroit and Montreal on consecutive nights.

“Let’s bring some energy,” Quenneville said Wednesday. “Let’s be respectful of (Ottawa), they play extremely well here at home. Let’s get back and try to get some momentum going. We had a nice little run, let’s recapture it.”


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