On Jan. 28, Brett Connolly played in his 500th game when the Florida Panthers were in Columbus.
He has only played once in the five games since.
Connolly has been a healthy scratch in four of the past five games and, based on Monday’s practice at BB&T Center, it appears he won’t be in the lineup Tuesday either against the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
The Panthers started Connolly on their fourth line when the season began, briefly moved him up, but since the game in Columbus, he has mostly been out.
Monday, he was not with the main group at practice.
The Panthers have been shuffling players in and out of the lineup — Mason Marchment was the latest to get a shot on the fourth line only to be relegated back to the taxi squad on Monday — and it looks like Connolly is going to have to fight to get back in.
“Last year, at the end, and the start of this year I just think we are looking for more out of him,” coach Joel Quenneville said on Monday.
“He got in the competition of being, playing in the last group and all of a sudden you lose that chance of moving up in the lineup. The chance is always there for everyone. We’re putting different guys in to get a look. A lot of that is evaluation and we’ll see how that works out.
“There’s a lot of guys, you don’t want to say bottom six, but there’s a lot of compition … for the last spots. We have a lot of decisions we have to make each game.”
A very special one tonight. 🙌
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 29, 2021
The Panthers have kept their top three lines basically intact with the exception of Owen Tippett coming off the right side on occasion.
The fourth line has seen numerous changes since the season started with Ryan Lomberg playing the opener and not getting in since.
With Marchment going back to the taxi squad, Lomberg could go in Tuesday if the Panthers go with 12 forwards.
Quenneville said Monday they were thinking about rolling seven defensemen as they did Jan. 28 in Columbus.
Lately, the Panthers fourth line has been made up of Noel Acciari with Juho Lammikko sticking around since making his season debut Jan. 30 — the first game Connolly was scratched.
Lomberg, Vinnie Hinostroza, Aleksi Heponiemi and Marchment have also found time on the fourth line.
“I think it has been healthy around here,” Quenneville said of the competition for playing time.
“Guys knowing that you’re part of the taxi squad, but you’re not that far from being in the lineup. … Those guys work hard, want to make sure they’re sharp so when they do get in, they can stay in.
“We’re trying to fair early in trying to get everyone a look-see. As we get a little more familiar with our team, their game, their habits, the decisions will be clearer. Right now, there is still some sorting to do.”
As for Connolly, he scored 19 goals for the Panthers last season after signing a four-year deal with the team during its July 1st spending spree which saw Sergei Bobrovsky, Anton Stralman, Acciari and Connolly join the team.
Connolly got a contract worth $3.5 million per season, but he saw his playing time fluctuate throughout the 2019-20 season.
When he was scoring early in the season — 12 of his 19 goals came in the first two months — Connolly was getting a lot more playing time than he did in the final two months of the year.
Even so, the 14:30 he ended up averaging with the Panthers was a career-high after he spent the previous three seasons with the Capitals.
This year, he has averaged 11:58 of ice time in his five games.
His past two games has seen Connolly average more than 13 minutes for the only times this season.
Connolly has no points in those five games and has only two shots on goal. Both of those shots came in the opening night win over Chicago.
Last week, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet wrote that Connolly is a “name to watch on the trade market.’’
Writes Friedman: “He was a valuable piece on Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup champion team. I could see a contender going there.’’
“I think everything is fresh, think the new guys have come in and have done a good job their production and they have fit in right away,” Connolly said before the game in Columbus in which he played in No. 500.
“I think the new guys have really pushed the guys from last year to be at their best. We have a couple of young guys here pushing as well. There’s a little more internal competition within our lineup. …
“Guys aren’t happy with the way last year went and now we’re focused on wins and wins only. That’s the only thing that matters.’’