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Florida Panthers Pregame: Keeping the Band Together

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Sasha Barkov, top left, celebrates his goal in the third period against the San Jose Sharks with linemates Carter Verhaeghe and Jonathan Huberdeau. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

COLUMBUS — Following a rousing comeback on Saturday night against San Jose, Florida Panthers coach Andrew Brunette talked about why he likes to keep Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau on separate lines.

In years past, of course, the Panthers all but needed those two to share a line to generate any offense.

These days, Florida is spreading the wealth to all of its four lines.

Yet after seeing Barkov and Huberdeau do what they did to the Sharks, Brunette decided there was no way to break them up right now.

With the Panthers playing the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight and the New York Rangers on Tuesday before going on a two-week winter break, may as well keep the team’s two most dynamic players together a little while longer.

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When Florida plays the Blue Jackets, Barkov and Huberdeau will indeed be together on the top line along with Carter Verhaeghe.

Why not?

”After the last game, it was kind of hard to seperate them,” Brunette said following Florida’s morning skate at Nationwide Arena.

“You know, it’s kind of a day-to-day thing but let them play together today. I didn’t want to tinker after we dominated the second half of that game. I want to keep the momentum going into today.”

Barkov and Huberdeau are the two longest tenured Panthers so it only makes sense they have played together more than they have been apart.

The two know each other extremely well — on and off the ice.

“You can probably see how much we like playing together,” Barkov said Monday morning. “We have been together a long time, lots of practices and lots of games. We know each other really well. I know him the best and he knows me the best out of anyone else.

“To play with him is a pleasure. The things he does with the puck is amazing. I just try to be there, get open for him because he’s always going to find me.”

Both are dynamic playmakers and have been the driving forces behind the Panthers the past couple of years.

Coming into tonight’s game, Huberdeau is the NHL’s leading scorer with 62 points and Barkov is second on the team — despite missing 13 games — with 20 goals. 

“It is cool to be on top, but I think I have a few more games (played) than the other guys,” the always humble Huberdeau said.

“I would never think in my career I would be up with these guys, McDavid and Draisaitl … It’s cool because we’re winning games but the individual stuff is fun but it’s more about the team. I am glad we’re doing well as a team.”

KNIGHT IS BACK

Spencer Knight returned from a short trip to AHL Charlotte and was on the ice Monday morning.

It appears Knight will backup Sergei Bobrovsky tonight and could be the starter Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

With Patric Hornqvist and Olli Juolevi still on IR — and expected to remain there through tomorrow — Florida has the roster space to carry three goalies at the current time.

Brunette said Knight going to Charlotte and coming right back was always the plan.

“It was the schedule for him and was the plan all along,” Brunette said. “We did not want to deviate from it.”

As for Tuesday night?

“We’re just trying to get through tonight,” he said. “We’ll see where we are at tomorrow. These are big points tonight, everyone else is winning and we have to keep pace. We’ll make the decision after tonight.”

MORNING SKATE NOTES

  • Joe Thornton remains in the Panthers lineup on the fourth line with Eetu Luostarinen and Ryan Lomberg while Frank Vatrano will be a healthy scratch for the fifth time in the past seven games.
  • With Huberdeau up on the top line, Florida’s new second line is Sam Bennett with Anthony Duclair and Owen Tippett.
  • Columbus did not skate after beating host Montreal 6-3 on Sunday night. The Jackets are expected to start Elvis Merzlikins in net tonight after Joonas Korpisalo got the win against the Canadiens.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

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