CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – As far as Sergei Bobrovsky is concerned, he's coming back from a nice vacation.
That's the mindset of the Florida Panthers $70 million goaltender, who said he approached the three months away from the rink due to the coronavirus pandemic just like he would have for a normal offseason summer.
Taking a step back and hitting the reset button could be just the thing to salvage Bobrovsky's maiden voyage with the Panthers.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner struggled with consistency and minor injuries as the season progressed, resulting in his worst statistical campaign since he was an NHL sophomore nearly a decade ago.
Now Bobrovsky is feeling healthy, rejuvenated and ready to tackle the Qualifying Round.
"It was a good time for me," he said of the NHL's pause. "I was able to work on my body, to kind of work behind the scenes and build some strength. I was able to recover from the tough season."
Bobrovsky spent most of the time off at his waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Olga. Bob said they took advantage of the stoppage by relaxing and organizing their new home while adjusting to "the rhythm of Florida."
Tuesday marked the first time Bobrovsky faced live shots in a game situation since March, giving up a single goal over two 15-minute periods of an intrasquad scrimmage at the Ice Den in Coral Springs.
It's a ways away from shutting down the New York Islanders when Florida opens their postseason in less than three weeks, but through two days of camp, Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville has said he and his coaching staff are very pleased with the netminders so far.
"The goaltending has been solid," Quenneville said Tuesday. "Both goalies looked extremely patient in the net. Bob's had a good start."
Said Bobrovsky: "It's a unique situation for everybody, but there is a Stanley Cup on the line and that's what most hockey players, including me, dream about."
LOTS O’ CENTERS
Florida’s training camp roster features several forwards who have more than a little experience in the faceoff circle.
It's a major advantage for the Panthers to have so many centermen sprinkled throughout the lineup, with Quenneville pointing out the importance of putting the right players on the ice for defensive zone draws, and not having to compromise those matchups thanks to having so many options to choose from when he looks down Florida's bench.
"I think it's important that we have that flexibility," Quenneville said. "We feel like almost every line will have two guys on the ice that can take faceoffs."
The Panthers added some major depth down the middle when they acquired Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Loustarinen, all centermen, and defenseman Chase Priskie from the Carolina Hurricanes at the NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for Vincent Trocheck.
Haula and Wallmark each played seven games with Florida prior to the coronavirus stoppage, but Loustarinen spent that time with the AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds.
“We were pleased with what we saw in that stretch down in Springfield,” Quenneville said of Loustarinen. “Getting him here and seeing him in a scrimmage with our guys for the first time, I was happy with him.”
Of the 17 forwards on Florida's roster, nearly half of them are more than capable of taking faceoffs at any given time.
The list: Aleksander Barkov, Brian Boyle, Noel Acciari, Dominic Toninato, Aleksi Saarala, Haula, Wallmark and Loustarinen.
KITCHEN OPTS OUT
On Monday, the Panthers announced that assistant coach Mike Kitchen had opted out of the 2020 postseason.
"It was a difficult decision to say the least, but the right decision for me and my family," Kitchen said in a release sent out by the Panthers.
The team also said it fully supports Kitchen's decision.
"We wish him the best of health as we go through this," Quenneville said. "Obviously, we'll be in touch."
Kitchen, who is 64 years old, will remain involved coaching the team, with Quenneville saying that he will be “influential in decisions we make and how we change the D and how we run the PK.”
Former Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie, who has been on the coaching staff since retiring last season, will take Kitchen's spot next to Quenneville on the bench.
MacKenzie had shifted from the pressbox to ice level during Florida’s final few games prior to the pause, so it’s not a completely new experience for D-Mac. Q said that MacKenzie will also handle some of the penalty killing responsibilities, keeping in touch with Kitchen to converse about what tweaks might need to be made.
Assistant coach Andrew Brunette will remain on the bench but slide to the opposite side and take over managing the defensive pairings.
"(Brunette) is going to move down (the bench)," Quenneville said with a smile. "He's proud of his one game where he ran the D (earlier this season) and got a win, so he doesn't want to relinquish that opportunity."
Geordie Kinnear, the head coach of Florida's AHL affiliate who has also been helping out during training camp at the Ice Den, will join the coaching staff and take over the 'eye in the sky' duties that MacKenzie handled during much of the season.
CATS ON A SHORT LEASH
With the Qualifying Round against the Islanders being best-of-five, as opposed to the normal best-of-seven format utilized during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the margin for error against the Isles will be much, much smaller.
That means if a certain player does something to get in one of the coaches' doghouse, a quick hook can be expected.
"We'll make roster decisions knowing that you don't have a lot of time if you get behind (in the series)," Quenneville said.
Situations where a coach might give a struggling player an extra game, or even a few extra shifts, to try and work out of his funk will not be treated the same way during a five-game series.
Quenneville also noted that if there are two or three players being considered for one spot, a rough game is all it could take for an adjustment to be made.
“Their performance could have a lot to do with who’s going to be coming in the next game,” he said. “Outcomes usually dictate that as well.
“We’re not going to wait too long to make decisions if we feel we have to make a change.”
Make no mistake, more than a few eyebrows were raised on Monday when Florida released its training camp roster and one noticeable name was left off it.
2016 first round pick Henrik Borgstrom was not one of the 30 names on the Panthers postseason roster.
It begs the question of why one of the most important pieces in Florida's prospect pool won't be diving into the playoffs, and ignites rumors from over the summer that the 22-year-old was looking to sign with the KHL's Jokerit Helsinki club in his native Finland.
Borgstrom was battling an injury when the NHL and AHL paused their respective seasons, and last week Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon told Florida Hockey Now’s George Richards that Borgy may not be healthy enough to play.
Quenneville was asked about Borgstrom's absence on Tuesday and simply stated that, "He's just not fit to play."
"He was injured late in the year and that's where he is today," said Q. "You've got to deal with certain guys that aren't able to play, and I think that's all part of hockey."
Late Tuesday, the NHL released the initial schedule for the Qualifying Round games being played next month in Toronto.
Game 1 between the Panthers and Islanders will take place on Aug. 1 at 4 p.m.
Games 2 and 3 will be played on consecutive days, Aug. 4 and Aug. 5, with both contests kicking off the league’s daily coverage, dropping the puck at noon.
No time has been set for Game 4 on Aug. 7 or Game 5 on Aug. 9, with none likely coming until the 'if necessary' label is removed.
Additionally, the Panthers will face cross-state rival Tampa Bay in an exhibition game on July 29. That game will begin at noon as well.