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Mix & Match: Florida Panthers experiment with new top lines



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With a few more games before the NHL playoffs, the Florida Panthers can experiment with their lines — and Andrew Brunette now has Sasha Barkov centering Claude Giroux and Jonathan Huberdeau. — Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

With a few games left before the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs start, Florida Panthers coach Andrew Brunette has the opportunity to tinker with his lineup a little bit.

See what works, see what does not.

On Tuesday night on Long Island, the biggest change came on Florida’s top two lines as Brunette left his centers alone, switching the other two forwards.

On the top line: Captain Sasha Barkov was back with longtime partner Jonathan Huberdeau. Claude Giroux, who spent his first few games in Florida with Barkov before moving to the second line, came along for the ride.

Sam Bennett continued to center the second line with Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair sliding down.

Although the Panthers had trouble scoring against the defensive-minded Islanders — as well as goalie Ilya Sorokin — the top line did its job offensively.

Barkov was the hero of the night, scoring all three goals, including the decisive one 20 seconds into overtime, as the Panthers won 3-2.

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“Yeah, it has been great. I’m not going to lie,” Barkov said. “I think anyone in the world who is watching our games right now would love to be on the same line with Huberdeau and Giroux. That’s like a dream come true. We like to play with one another, we like to make plays. The only thing is, someone has to shoot the puck.”

Huberdeau assisted on all three of Barkov’s goals; Giroux ended with one point.

”We’re trying some different things, trying to find some chemistry,” Brunette said afterward. “We don’t have a lot of time here to figure things out. We moved things around and will probably continue to do so moving forward. I liked the way they played. I think each line produced chances and did a lot of good things. They are a talented group of forwards.”

For Barkov, it does not seem like it takes him long to fit in regardless of whom plays alongside.

Regardless of his linemates, Barkov has been producing at a high level all season.

Despite missing 13 games due to injury, Barkov has already set a career-high with 37 goals and he is 11 points shy of tying what was the Florida franchise record for points in a season.

Barkov’s 96 points set in 2018-19, of course, was surpassed by Huberdeau a few weeks ago. He continues to pile up the points as his 111 points led the entire league coming into Wednesday’s games.

Playing with Huberdeau and Giroux, honestly, is not the worst assignment in the world — even if he does have trouble understanding their bench conversations at times.

“They find each other a lot and speak a lot of French so I don’t understand,” Barkov said. “i like to play with them. They know where anyone is on the ice and they make those plays. I just try to get ready, get open because if any of those plays are there, they will find you.

“But it doesn’t matter who I have played with this year, we’re all having a lot of fun. We have unreal players, everyone can make plays and everyone battles hard. That’s what makes our team so good; everyone is competing, no one is giving up on any play. That’s why we’re getting the results we want.”

As for Giroux, well, he has fit in just fine wherever the Panthers have placed him.

Since joining the Panthers last month, he has seemingly assimilated himself within the team and is producing on a nightly basis.

When Giroux left Philadelphia, he had 18 goals and 42 points in 57 games; he has two goals and 17 points in 14 contests with the Panthers.

He averaged .72 points a game with the Flyers and is averaging 1.2 per night with Florida.



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