The Panthers top line hasn't played together for a long time.
It just looks that way.
The trio of center Stephen Weiss with wingers Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg didn't play together much in the preseason, with Florida's season opener against the Islanders being the first time they lined up together in game action.
Through the opening two games, the trio have contributed two of Florida's four goals. While that isn't earth shattering by any means, it is a start.
“Yeah, it's only two games in so we're just trying to keep it simple,'' said Weiss, who scored Florida's first goal of the season and assisted on Fleischmann's goal in Tuesday's loss in Pittsburgh. “It's not real difficult playing with guys like that. They are very smart, can skate and they see the ice very well. They do everything right. We're trying to get better at filling the net.''
Fleischmann and Versteeg are new to the Panthers, both coming to South Florida during Florida's shopping spree on July 1. Both are being asked to put up offensive numbers, something they are used to doing. Like Weiss, both Fleischmann and Versteeg are former 20 goal scorers.
Aside from the 'Sunrise Express' days when Weiss played alongside David Booth and Nathan Horton, the Panthers haven't had a top line with as much potential as this one.
“They are great players and it's real easy playing with them out there,'' said Fleischmann, who has scored 23 points in his past 24 games. “We know we always have a chance to score out there. We played a good team game in the opener, then we got off the rails a little bit in the second. We know what we have to do. We know what it takes to win these games.''
Coach Kevin Dineen penciled these three playing together almost from the start, figuring their talents complement one another. The three – along with defenseman Brian Campbell – are all tied for the team lead with two points apiece.
“You get a line with a lot of skill like that, you need production. They haven't disappointed,'' Dineen said. “They have to be hard to play against on a consistent basis. I like to go skill-vs.-skill sometimes, so not only do they need to score, but they need to be strong defensively. They are off to a good start for us.''
Winger Evgeny Dadonov may have been Florida's lone representative at last year's All-Star weekend, but a mediocre training camp led to his demotion to the American Hockey League on Thursday.
Dadonov, who scored eight goals with nine assists in 36 games for the Panthers last season, was a healthy scratch for Florida's first two games this season.
“I look at Dads as a very effective player, he can play a lot of different roles in the lineup,'' Dineen said.
“He hasn't been in the lineup lately. He just needs to play and I didn't foresee him getting a chance to play this weekend and felt he will get to San Antonio and play some games. He didn't have a great training camp but we respect his talent and his skill. He'll help us as the season progresses.''
-- Center Mike Santorelli says his injured shoulder is healing and that he is feeling good. Santorelli hasn't been cleared to practice yet, but he says he's practicing on his own. Dineen said when Santorelli was hurt that he could be back before Halloween.
-- The Panthers will play their home opener on Saturday night with Dineen saying he doesn't expect to change up the lineup he's used for the first two games of the season. Backup goalie Jacob Markstrom could find himself making his first NHL start either Monday in Tampa or Tuesday against the host Capitals.
-- The Panthers will wear their new red home jerseys for the first time on Saturday and those jerseys will be available for purchase at BankAtlantic Center for the first time as well.
SATURDAY: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS
Where, When: BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise; 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
Series: Panthers lead 53-35-10
The game: The Lightning, which lost four of six to the Panthers last season, are in the final game of a five game road trip to start the season. Tampa Bay has won one of its opening four games and are coming off a 5-1 loss to the Islanders on Thursday. Mathieu Garon is expected to be in net for the Lightning; Jose Theodore will start Florida's home opener in goal.