When Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau returned from injury earlier this month, everyone knew what that meant for Florida’s top line.
The Panthers hoped solidifying the top line of Barkov, Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr would trickle down through the lineup.
Boy, has it.
Florida goes into Wednesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers (7:30, FSFL) at BB&T Center riding a hot streak of five consecutive victories with wins in eight of its past nine games.
The second line of center Vincent Trocheck and wingers Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith have been a huge reason for Florida’s new-found success.
“Earlier in the year, Jokinen was hurt and we had a lot of other injuries,” said Trocheck, who played with Jokinen and Smith for much of last season but players being out forced the Panthers to scramble things up for much of this season.
“The three of us really haven’t been together very much until recently and I think now that we’re back and we’re a healthy team helps everyone. We can finally play our role and feel comfortable.
“I played with probably five, six different guys. It was just a matter of us getting back together and getting that chemistry back.”
In Florida’s five-game road run — which marks the first time the Panthers went 5-0 on a road trip in their history — the second line has simply been outstanding.
Not only did Trocheck’s goal with 4.6 second left beat the Blues in St. Louis on Monday night, but Jokinen has three goals in the past five games. Smith has five assists.
Together, the Trocheck-Jokinen-Smith troika has combined for six goals and 16 points in the past five games.
Not too shabby.
“I think our whole team is playing very well right now,” Jokinen said. “Having Barkov and Huberdeau back gives our whole team a lot of confidence. We’re scoring more goals than we were at the start of the season and every line has been doing their part.”
Said Trocheck: “This has been a lot of fun, obviously, it’s always more fun when you’re winning. But to be able to go on the road and do what we did was great.”
After all the success the second line had last year, Smith and Jokinen definitely struggled as did their team.
Jokinen says some days were tough and although he figured things would reverse course, it wasn’t always easy to keep the faith.
In December, for instance, Jokinen had just two goals and two assists and was a minus-7 as the Panthers went through some unstable times.
“Some of it was ‘puck luck’ but every player goes through some tough stretches — even guys like Sidney Crosby,” said Jokinen, who notched 18 goals with 60 points last year and has nine and 19 this one.
“What you have to do is remember to work hard in the games, in practices, in the gym and do the little things like rest off the ice. It’s a long year. You have to remember it’s going to turn around.”
▪ Coach Tom Rowe said Huberdeau took his option Wednesday in skipping the morning skate. He’s expected to play Wednesday night against the Oilers.
▪ James Reimer will be in net for the Panthers after making 26 saves in Florida’s 2-1 win at St. Louis on Monday.
Roberto Luongo is fine after cramping up in San Jose last week as he started in Florida’s win at Los Angeles on Saturday night.
FACEBOOK VIDEO: Tom Rowe speaks before Wednesday’s game via One Panther Parkway
Luongo said for some reason he had been bothered by cramps throughout that game against the Sharks but it all came to a head in the final minute when he was forced to leave the game.
As for Reimer, Florida has won four of his past five starts — not including the win at San Jose out of the bullpen.
“Reimer has been unbelievable,” Rowe said. “You can’t say enough about him and Luongo. They have both been incredible. Every night they’re in there, we have a chance to win. That’s the beauty of having elite goaltenders like we have.”
WEDNESDAY: OILERS AT PANTHERS
▪ When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
▪ TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WFTL 850, WMYM 990.
▪ Series: Edmonton leads 16-10-3.
▪ Scouting report: This is the second and final meeting this season with the Oilers winning 4-3 in overtime last month. Edmonton, which is in the midst of a six-game road trip, saw its three-game winning streak snapped at Tampa Bay on Tuesday.