ST. LOUIS -- Much was made of how the Panthers would replace Stephen Weiss as top-line center when Weiss left to chase the Stanley Cup in Detroit over the summer.
It turns out Weiss’ replacement might have been here all along.
With a lineup beset with injuries last year, Marcel Goc found himself in a different position as he was centering one of the top two lines. Goc has made a living as a grinding third line defensive player, although the Panthers liked the chemistry he seemed to have with Tomas Fleischmann.
When Florida kicked off Thursday in Dallas, Goc found himself a No. 1 center to start a season for the first time in his nine-year NHL career.
Goc, who still prides himself on his defensive play despite the playmakers surrounding him, scored two goals in Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Stars.
Goc’s first goal was the game-winner as he trailed the play and buried a beautiful feed from Fleischmann. His second came in the final minutes and went into an empty net.
“Last year, I moved up and down the lines because of the injuries,” said Goc, who had scored twice in a game only once before and not in his previous two seasons with the Panthers.
“I play the way I play and I try to do the same things every night. But now I have to keep up with the offensive stuff, but I still have to be responsible defensively. But no question, playing with these guys is fun.”
Fleischmann said he and Kris Versteeg appreciate the defensive prowess Goc brings to their line, one formerly centered by Weiss. Two seasons ago, the Weiss/Fleischmann/Versteeg trio was the most productive line in the league.
Last year, Weiss and Versteeg missed most of the season because of serious injuries.
“He’s a similar player to me, he sees the ice very well and that may be why we play well together,” Fleischmann said. “Last year, we finished playing together and we find each other on the ice. I kind of know where he is and he knows where his wingers are.”
DAY 2 CHANGES
Coach Kevin Dineen is expected to continue tinkering with his lines in this early going of the season. Saturday saw some minor tweaking, with Krys Barch replacing Drew Shore on the fourth line.
Barch played after sitting out Thursday in Dallas. Matt Gilroy and Joey Crabb joined Shore on the scratch line.
“It’s early in the season and we’ve been blessed with the gift of extra bodies,” Dineen said. “We’re going to take advantage of it. This continues to be a work in progress in trying to find some symmetry. We’ll go from there.”
A day off
The Panthers stayed in St. Louis after Saturday’s game and plan on having an off day in the city Sunday. The team will charter a flight to Philadelphia on Monday morning and practice at the University of Pennsylvania later that day.