With the Panthers struggling to score goals, Kevin Dineen’s latest fix was to merge two parts of his highest-producing line with his hottest player.
On Thursday, center Shawn Matthias joined forces with wingers Peter Mueller and Jonathan Huberdeau. The results were pretty good.
Matthias continued his strong play by scoring his career-best 11th goal in the opening period — then added to that by scoring again in the third.
Huberdeau scored his team-high 13th goal in the third in Florida’s eventual 5-4 shootout win against Buffalo. Mueller had two assists in the win.
“I think it’s a pretty good mix,’’ said Matthias, who set a career high in goals in just 35 games. “You look at all the plays Huberdeau makes on the wall, his composure, it’s crazy how good he is at that age. We all work well together. They are fun to play with. I hope it lasts. I really want this to work out.’’
Said Mueller: “We scored a few goals but gave up a few, as well. But for our first game together, I think you can take away some positives. It was nice to break the slump and get some goals. We can build off that for the future.’’
Both Mueller and Matthias are putting up good numbers in this abbreviated season — and it should be noted both are in a contract year.
Dineen doesn’t think money is playing a role in the way both Matthias and Mueller have played this season as both have taken on a bigger role with the injury-decimated Panthers than expected.
“They really popped [Thursday], got some points and were, for the most part, responsible on defense,’’ Dineen said. “They are a line that is recognized by opponents so they’ll see the top [deefnsive] pairings. But they’re off to a good start. It was a good showing.’’
Both players say they haven’t heard whether their agents have spoken to the Panthers about a new deal or not.
The two are restricted free agents, meaning the Panthers own their rights for next season.
The Panthers are expected to offer both players new deals, although with the trade deadline fast approaching, their names are popping up around those rumor mills.
The trade deadline is Wednesday at 3 p.m.
“We’ll wait and see what happens,’’ said Matthias, who came to the Panthers as a junior player during a trade deadline deal for Todd Bertuzzi in 2007.
“With social media and Twitter, you see what people are saying and writing to you. Personally, I want to stay here. I’ve been here a long time and things are starting to get better. I want to get better here, be a better player here. I think it’s cool when a player gets to play his whole career in one place. Hopefully they want me and I can stay a Florida Panther.’’
• George Parros (upper body strain) and Mike Caruso (wrist) have both been medically cleared to begin play.
Parros will likely be in the lineup against the Devils; Caruso — along with fellow defenseman Colby Robak — was sent back to the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
"It has been a great experience for me,’’ said Caruso, who injured his wrist in just his second NHL game back in January.
“Making this team out of camp was a dream come true for me. Playing in a game and a half was a great experience, although I wish it would have gone longer to see how long I could have gone with it. But injuries happen.’’
• Eric Selleck and Jack Skille, who suffered concussions during last week’s road trip, have yet to resume skating. Selleck was concussed during a fight as he was called up from the minors to replace Parros.