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Line Dancing: Florida Panthers switch things up

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Florida panthers line
The Florida Panthers new top line is a familiar one as Anthony Duclair joined Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau on Saturday night. // Photos courtesy @FlaPanthers, Roger Lee Photography (561) 866-2000

On Saturday, in what would end up being a 3-2 overtime loss to the host Lightning, the Florida Panthers debuted three new set of lines midway through the second period.

The mixing-and-matching ultimately paid off, with two goals coming in a 36-second span shortly after the new combinations were put together.

The scoring started when Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were reunited.

Each line didn’t miss a beat from that point on.

Here are my evaluations of each of the line combinations that interim head coach Andrew Brunette put together in that second period:

Huberdeau-Barkov-Duclair

The first thought that comes to mind when looking at this line is firepower.

Two of the league’s top 20 players being flanked by Anthony Duclair, who has been on fire this season, makes for one of the more dangerous lines in the league.

And they looked like they played off of each other pretty well.

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Duclair sees the game really well and possesses a lot of speed, making him dangerous in rush situations. He has a great shot and is able to shoot it when he’s given the space, which he’ll have a lot of next to Barkov and Huberdeau, but he’s also able to make the right reads and dish it for a nice assist.

Putting his all-around skill with two players who excel at most aspects of the game makes for a great all-around first line and it showed in how they played off of each other in that game.

On Huberdeau’s goal, it was Duclair who was battling behind the net in a puck battle that freed the puck over to Huberdeau and it was Barkov who was able to pass the puck back to Huberdeau after getting hit up high to set up the goal.

But even outside of the goal – the line played very well off of each other and they all drove play really well.

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If it sticks, it could make for one of the most dangerous lines in hockey.

Verhaeghe-Bennett-Reinhart

One of the biggest concerns the Panthers had for years about playing Huberdeau and Barkov on the same line was that they wouldn’t have enough talent on the other lines.

This year, that is not the story.

Carter Verhaeghe brings exactly what he brought to that first line — speed and hockey IQ.

He gets to the right spots, and although he hasn’t scored since Oct. 21 against Colorado, he has a knack for goal scoring that could resurface at some point.

That goal scorer’s touch is now aided by Sam Bennett’s size and skill and Sam Reinhart’s playmaking ability.

Bennett is a guy who can not only be a net-front guy that collects rebounds, but also shows some playmaking and skating ability as well.

At 6-1, 195-pounds he has the mobility to be a fine skater while having the ability to read a defense and make plays.

It showed when this line was put together when Bennett was not only able to get some high-danger chances in front of the net, but also feed Reinhart and Verhaeghe with chances.

Reinhart is also a guy who can contribute in multiple different areas. At 6-2, 193-pounds, he can also use the body to make plays while also being able to drive play himself.

He can shoot the puck — as his 2020-21 production showed when he had 25 goals in 54 games — so the style of play his linemates have compliments his style of play a lot.

Even without Huberdeau on the second line, the Panthers still have three guys who can very much carry play on their own and make things happen.

Vatrano-Lundell-Tippett

One of the more intriguing combinations of the three new-look lines is that of Anton Lundell and Owen Tippett. Both of whom are young players who know the game extremely well and play off of each other seamlessly.

The combination was first tested in Pittsburgh when the Panthers experimented with Reinhart on the second line, and in limited sample size, it looked like the two fed off of each other pretty well.

With Lundell being a very sound defensive centerman who has great eyes for the passing game and Owen Tippett being a sniper who knows how to get in the right places in the right times – there are many goals in this combination’s future.

Lundell being able to start rushes from the defensive zone being flanked by Frank Vatrano, who possesses a lot of speed, also makes for an interesting combination.

Vatrano is a solid goal scorer when he’s hot, so the speed he provides off of the rush could prove to be very crucial in the success of that line.

Lomberg-Luostarinen-Hornqvist

The fourth line was the only line that remained untouched.

It didn’t give Brunette a reason to mix it up.

Eetu Luostarinen is the clear star of the line, playing a very clean two-way game with a goal-scoring touch. He can get into those dirty areas and tip pucks home if needed, but also has a sneaky shooting ability.

Ryan Lomberg, who’s been inserted into the lineup for the injured Mason Marchment, is a guy who brings a lot of physicality to the line. He can grind in those corners, get the puck out, and get it to Luostarinen.

Patric Hornqvist also gives you physicality and a net-front presence. He can be an agitator at times, as seen multiple times during Saturday’s game in particular and even enticing Lightning star Brayden Point to drop the gloves, while also using that physicality to put goals in the net from the front of the net.

This line plays very well off of Florida’s offensive approach from the blueline, allowing guys like Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour to jump up in the rush and create chances for them to clean up.

If these lines do stick together for Tuesday’s matchup with the New York Islanders, there’s a method to Brunette’s madness here.

These guys all play off of each other really well, as seen late in Saturday’s game, and it could help get the Panthers back on track as they return home.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

NEW YORK ISLANDERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • WHEN: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
  • WHERE: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TICKETS: CLICK HERE
  • TV/STREAMING: ESPN+ / Hulu
  • RADIO: WQAM 560
  • Last season: Did not play

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