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The Florida Panthers Are Good at Playing Ugly

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Florida’s Kevin Stenlund battles with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews during the second period on Thursday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

SUNRISE — When Kevin Stenlund, one of the Florida Panthers new acquisitions, retrieved an errant pass and fired a wrist shot past Toronto goalie Ilya Samsonov Thursday, there were sighs of relief all around.

For Stenlund, who was brought in primarily for his penalty killing prowess, it marked his first goal with the Panthers.

For Florida, it represented the first (and, thus far, only) point registered by its bottom-6 forwards this year.

The season is only four games old and in coach Paul Maurice’s opinion, the team played well in three of those games (the Winnipeg blowout was a bummer) so it is not yet time to sound the alarm.

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Yet any playoff-caliber team needs balanced scoring.

The Panthers will be no exception.

Right now, Florida’s bottom two lines are still getting to know each other.

Newcomers Stenlund and Steven Lorentz are working with Ryan Lomberg on the fourth line while rookies Justin Sourdif and Mackie Samoskevich have shuttled onto the third alongside Anton Lundell and Nick Cousins.

Will Lockwood may also become part of that mix.

On the bright side, when Sam Bennett returns to the lineup, someone — likely Eetu Luostarinen who scored 17 goals last year — will drop down.

Luostarinen has had several tours as a top four center when injuries sidelined Bennett and Sasha Barkov.

Maurice hinted but was non-specific about a possible lineup change for tonight. Only Lockwood and defenseman Mike Reilly — aside from backup goalie Anthony Stolarz — have yet to see action this season.

Last season, Florida’s success was enhanced by lower six production from the likes of Eric Staal, Lundell and Lomberg.

Staal has departed while Lundell and Lomberg have yet to register a point in this young season.

Maurice says he is pleased with the work at the bottom. He made it a point to praise Stenlund and Lomberg for their defensive abilities in preserving the one-goal victory over Toronto.

“We started the season with four playoff teams. We liked three of the four games. The last two (Toronto and New Jersey) are elite offensive teams,” Maurice explained.

He went on to say the team “scratched and clawed” and wasn’t perfect but winning ugly is very acceptable.

“We have no interest in playing a pretty game. We’ve kind of gotten good at ugly.”

Ugly means blocking shots (Florida is ranked 11th in the NHL) and being aggressive in the dirty areas.

These were the magic ingredients last year.

Expect more of the same this season.

Follow Alan Greenberg on Twitter @thegovman

PANTHERS ON DECK

VANCOUVER CANUCKS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS 

  • When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Florida won 2-0
  • This Season: @ Florida, Saturday; @ Vancouver, Dec. 14.
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Vancouver leads 18-13-4, 6 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday vs. San Jose, 7:45 p.m.

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