The NHL season is six games in, and the Florida Panthers seem to have a good pairing emerging on defense as the adjustments of a new head coach are made.
New Florida Panthers‘ head coach Joel Quenneville has tried a lot of new pairings amongst the seven defensemen on the roster. Trying to influence a new system has come with a lot of changes, and with as many problems as Florida had last season, there was always going to need to be a lot of time to work.
Of course, all Panthers fans knew that Florida needed to get off to a good start this season. The Panthers have been notorious to getting off to poor starts this season, and now they appear to be going down the same path, going 2-2-2 in their opening games, not looking convincing in most of the said games.
These problems, unfortunately, cannot be fixed in six games. It doesn’t help that defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson have really struggled to help prevent opportunities. New goalie Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t looked great on paper, but a lot of the goals he’s given up haven’t been his fault, with a lot of easy chances in the slot resulting of poor defense.
Up until recently, the Panthers have immensely struggled to use Aaron Ekblad to his best efficiency. He looked poor in offense and even worse on defense, with him and Matheson looking horrendous together.
Finally, Joel Quenneville again switched up the defensive pairings. Down 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils, Ekblad was put with MacKenzie Weegar. Weegar has gotten off to a very good start this season, with his pairing with Anton Stralman as the most reliable two defensively. Weegar had also been contributing on offense, with two points through his first five (he had 23 in 124 games prior).
Behind Weegar and Ekblad, who totalled a goal and three assists along with keeping the Devils off the board, Florida roared back in the Garden State, winning 6-4, a huge relief after dropping their last three games.
Weegar is used to being paired up with more two-way defenseman, commonly used next to Keith Yandle last season under Bob Boughner. Now, under Coach Q, the 7th round draft pick might be in line to be the next breakout player on the team.
Weegar has been very solid defensively in his first seasons in the NHL. Weegar might not have the bulkiest frame but uses his speed to his advantage, able to keep up with a lot of the forwards throughout the NHL.
Aaron Ekblad’s needed this kind of defensive partner for a long time. Initially, it looked like it would be Stralman, but he and Weegar had looked very impressive together throughout training camp and the first games of the season. Ultimately, Florida need to spread the wealth to help limit chances for Sergei Bobrovsky and Sam Montembeault, who have both looked impressive in this young season.
Not just for these two, but the entire team may benefit from this. With Anton Stralman next to Mike Matheson, the Panthers can continue to cut down on their defensive errors. The bottom pairing of Keith Yandle and Josh Brown also will grow to become more comfortable with each other.
For the Panthers, especially in this next stretch of games against powerhouses like Colorado, Nashville, and Pittsburgh, it’s good to have reliable pairings going forward. If MacKenzie Weegar can continue to play like he has early, Aaron Ekblad could seriously benefit.