Florida's nine goals in wins over Pittsburgh, New Jersey and the Rangers have all been scored by the top line of Kris Versteeg (three), Stephen Weiss (two) and Tomas Fleischmann (two) or defensemen Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison.
Although the Panthers other three lines are playing well and creating lots of chances – Keaton Ellerby, Mike Santorelli, Michal Repik, Tomas Kopecky and Erik Gudbranson all had at least three shots on goal in Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Rangers – Florida sure would like to see others help out in putting some pucks in the net.
“I'm always tweaking things,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “Right now we're at the point where we're very positive on a lot of chances that they're getting. You could always say 'try harder,' but that's not the case here.
Dineen has left the top line alone, but said before Wednesday's game that he contemplated breaking them up just to spread the talent and create more scoring opportunities down the lines.
“That's tempting,'' he said with a sly grin. “We'll see about that.''
Dineen may be forced to breaking that line up anyway as Florida could be without Fleischmann on Friday. Fleischmann was taken out with an elbow to the head administered by New York's Andre Deveaux during the second period on Wednesday. Dineen said Fleischmann was a little groggy but otherwise fine.
Fleischmann returned to finish Friday's game.
Deveaux is expected to be suspended and fined by the league on Friday for the dirty hit that got him ejected.
“He looked OK today,'' Dineen said of Fleischmann. “It took him a little while to regroup but it looks like he'll be fine for the weekend.''
GARRISION GOES LONG
Garrison had a breakthrough season offensively last year, scoring five goals in his second full season after getting two as a rookie. Through Florida's first 21 games this year, Garrison has already eclipsed his season total after getting his eighth goal onWednesday.
Garrison's goals have all come from his booming slap shot from an average of 50 feet out. Brian Campbell has assisted on all eight goals, the puck-mover having no problem feeding Garrison from long range.
“I'm just shooting the puck as much as I can, find the opening,'' Garrison said. “I have to confess, sometimes I just close my eyes and hit it as hard as I can. Fortunately they're going in for me right now.''
-- Scott Clemmensen hasn't practiced with the team since last week as he recovers from what's believed to be a sore groin.
With Clemmensen out, expect to see Jacob Markstrom this weekend in one of the back-to-back games against the Lightning. Jose Theodore has given up just six goals in his past three starts.
“I like riding the same pony but I don't want to run [Theodore] into the ground,'' Dineen said.
-- The Panthers had a brief meeting Thursday before taking the rest of the day off to enjoy the holiday.
Dineen took his family to the west coast to see friends.
“It's my first trip down Alligator Alley,'' Dineen said with a hint of excitement.
-- Florida goes into Friday's game atop the Southeast Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference. Last year, seven of the eight teams which held a playoff position at Thanksgiving made it to the postseason.
Atlanta, which held the eighth seed last year, is the only team that didn't make it. The Thrashers were coached by Florida assistant Craig Ramsay.
The Panthers hold the NHL record for postseason drought by not making the playoffs since 2000.
“As coaches, you're always looking for something to keep you sharp,'' Dineen said. “I know Ramsay has very good insight on being with a team that got off to a hot start and wasn't able to sustain it. He's a real valuable guy for me in many ways, but this is another example of something he can help us with.''
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Panthers lead 55-36-10
The game: The last time the Lightning came to town, it fell behind 3-0 in the opening period only to storm back and beat the Panthers 4-3 in overtime. Florida has won two of the first three in the season series and six of nine dating to last season. The Panthers return the favor and play in Tampa on Saturday.