GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joel Quenneville tried to be reasonable about it, but the look on his face said it all. He couldn’t remember a player ever oversleeping and missing the team bus to a practice or morning skate before, and the fact that it happened to Richard Panik, who had been with the team for all of 10 days and had hardly earned the benefit of the doubt, made it all the more maddening.
“It’s something that can’t happen,” Quenneville said through gritted teeth on Jan. 22.
Quenneville’s doghouse tends to be sparsely populated, but can be difficult to escape — just ask the guy Panik was traded for, Jeremy Morin. But Panik did the only thing he could do to get back in Quenneville’s good graces: He played well. Surprisingly well, in fact.
Just four games removed from his benching in Tampa on Jan. 21, Panik is earning rave reviews — and some top-line minutes — from his coach. In Tuesday’s win at Colorado, he scored a goal by going hard to the net, fired three shots on goal, and played well defensively. He entered Thursday’s game at Arizona with three goals in his last six games.
“He’s done a good job for us,” Quenneville said. “There’s some offense to his game. He’s getting more comfortable in the overall game we’re playing. He has some skill, and the consistency is something we’re looking to see.”
Consistency always has been the issue for Panik, who couldn’t even crack Mike Babcock’s lineup in Toronto this season despite scoring 11 goals in 76 games with the Maple Leafs last year. Even fellow Slovak Marian Hossa, who only knew Panik a little bit from the Olympics in 2014, mentioned “consistency” as the well-known knock on Panik when he was first acquired.
Still, with 151 NHL games under his belt with the Lightning and Leafs, Panik knew he could play at the highest level. He just needed a chance. And, apparently, a change of scenery.
“The season didn’t start like I expected,” Panik said. “Obviously, I wanted to make the team in Toronto, but it didn’t work out. So I tried to play my hardest in the AHL, and the trade came down, and I was really happy and excited. Now things are working for me.”
When Panik first was acquired, Quenneville suggested he could get a shot at the troublesome top-line left-wing spot alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. But while Panik waited for a visa to come to the United States, Andrew Shaw took that job and ran with it, helping spark the Hawks’ 12-game win streak.
But as well as Shaw has played on the top line, the Hawks are still looking for a top-line winger to take over so Shaw can provide the depth and defensive play that made him so valuable during last season’s Stanley Cup run. It might come through another trade. Or it still could end up being Panik, who split time between the first and third lines during the Avalanche game.
It was Panik’s first experience with Quenneville’s well-worn line blender.
“I was supposed to play with [Phil Danault and Andrew Desjardins], and Coach changed it,” Panik said. “My first feeling was, ‘What’s going on?’ I was excited. We got some good chances and I scored, so it was good.”
The trick is to do it night in and night out. And to stay on Quenneville’s good side, of course.
“Yeah, that’s the hardest part — not have just one good game, [but] be consistent,” Panik said. “Do it over and over again. That’s my main focus now.”