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Florida Panthers Want to Keep their Defense Together

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Florida Panthers defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Niko Mikkola defend in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in the home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs. // Photo by Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — If Mike Reilly gets into the lineup tonight, it will be the first time the Florida Panthers have changed up their defensive lineup since Opening Night.

Keeping the blueline together has been by design.

With the Panthers having a number of new defensemen, coach Paul Maurice said the team is reticent to make any changes as they hope to find some chemistry among their new pairings.

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That means the six defenseman who started in the opener in Minnesota have been the six defensemen Florida has used in all six games thus far.

“With so many new guys on the back end, I have been reluctant to pull people out,” Maurice said.

“Confidence is such a big part. It is like for a goaltender. You need to be able to have an off night and be back in the lineup the next night. If we had seven guys who had been here a long time, I would be able to pull a guy and they would understand that. We haven’t changed the pairings very much and we haven’t pulled anyone due to the confidence issue.”

With Dmitry Kulikov missing the past two days of practice due to illness, the Panthers may just have a change tonight with Reilly getting in.

Reilly has been the odd defenseman out in the first six games.

Any other year, he probably would have gotten in by now.

But this isn’t any other year.

“If Kulikov doesn’t go, Reilly has been practicing and he is ready,” Maurice said. “It is his turn. I explained it to him and would have done so a few games ago. After we lost the first two games and he didn’t go in Jersey, we would have had that conversation.’’

The Panthers have been trying to find defensive consistency since training camp what with all the new faces.

With Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour out due to offseason surgery, the Panthers went out and signed four new defensemen: Reilly, Kulikov, Niko Mikkola and Oliver Ekman-Larsson not to mention re-signing free agent Lucas Carlsson.

Just Gus Forsling and Josh Mahura return from last season’s playoff team.

Of the offseason signings, only Mikkola is a long-term addition — at least, for now — after signing a three-year contract.

“His style really fits the way we play,” Maurice said. “He can be real comfortable here. He is effective closing the gap, has a long stick, is physical and intense in front of the net. I like how he fits our game.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

SEATTLE KRAKEN @ FLORIDA PANTHERS 

  • When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • This Season: @ Florida, Saturday; @ Seattle, Dec. 12
  • Last season: Tied 1-1
  • All-time regular season series: Seattle leads 3-1-0
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Monday at Boston, 7

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