With the return of the NHL season right around the corner, the Florida Panthers jumped back into action Wednesday night with their first intra-squad scrimmage at the team practice facility in Coral Springs.
The Cats are in the midst of a rigorous six-day training camp, prior to Saturday's opener at the BB&T Center against the Carolina Hurricanes. January 19 will kick off a grueling 48-game season for Florida, which begins with five games in eight days, and six back-to-backs.
Head Coach Kevin Dineen has a lot to shuffle between now and Saturday. Trimming down the roster, aligning ice shifts, improving player conditioning, and establishing chemistry in such a short period of time is difficult, but required in building a foundation during an unpredictable 98-day NHL season.
The emphasis is simple: start strong, and regain a sleeping fan base that may have been turned off by the NHL lockout. The 2011-12 Panthers team finished first in the Southeast Division, but only by a small, two-point margin over the Washington Capitals. In a shortened season, every point is going to be meaningful.
Another point of emphasis for the Panthers this week is a need to improve offensive efforts on the power play and shootout. Florida was 6-and-11 in shootouts last season, second worst in the league behind only the Montreal Canadiens (12).
In the offseason, Panthers GM Dale Tallon and his staff zeroed in on highly skilled players with success in shootouts for this very reason, expecting right wingers Alex Kovalev, Peter Mueller, and 2011 third overall draft selection Jonathan Huberdeau to make an immediate impact.