Defenseman Tom Gilbert lightens load for Florida Panthers

01/30/2014 12:01 AM

03/14/2014 2:45 PM

When asked what he thought about seeing his name at the top of his team’s list of scorers, defenseman Tom Gilbert laughed.

He sure isn’t used to seeing that.

Yet, 53 games into the season, one of the Panthers’ leading scorers is a defenseman who is having his best offensive season in years.

“The pucks are going in and there are a lot of factors that go into it,’’ said Gilbert, who has 24 points along with rookie Aleksander Barkov and veteran winger Brad Boyes.

“To be honest, I’m just making simple plays and getting the puck to the net. That helps open things up for guys.”

That total is the lowest among all NHL teams for a leading scorer with Buffalo ( Matt Moulsen’s 32) ranking 29th.

For Gilbert, 22 of his 24 points have come off assists and it’s the most points he’s recorded since getting 26 with Edmonton in 2010-11.

When Gilbert broke into the league with the Oilers, he put up good numbers. In 2008-09, he had 40 assists.

On Tuesday, he played his 500th NHL game. In those, he has 38 goals and 162 assists.

“He’s done a good job in making some heads up plays,’’ coach Peter Horachek said. “Some guys have banner years, just go off. He definitely has the ability and the experience. Hopefully he keeps it going.’’

This season, Gilbert came to the Panthers on a try-out basis after things didn’t work out once the Oilers traded him to Minnesota.

Paired with Brian Campbell, Gilbert has been one Florida’s top secondary scorers.

“He makes a lot of good plays and has always had some offense to his game,’’ said Campbell, who helped Jason Garrison set career highs in goals and assists two seasons ago.

“I don’t know how much I’ve helped, but we move the puck well together. Hopefully we’re moving it out of our end and that helps us add some offense to our game. We have a good chemistry.’’

Gilbert’s hot streak of scoring came to a close in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss in Boston. Coming into that game, he had two assists in three consecutive games.

SUSPENSION?

Horachek said he hadn’t heard anything from the league regarding a possible suspension for Tim Thomas after he whacked Boston’s Carl Soderberg with his stick in the waning moments of Tuesday’s loss.

Thomas was assessed a two-minute minor for high sticking with four seconds remaining. Thomas said he took Soderberg’s “stick in the throat” while the Bruins held a four-goal lead.

“I took exception to that,’’ Thomas said.

POWERED UP

The Panthers came dangerously close to a pair of NHL records they didn’t want before Dmitry Kulikov scored a power play goal in the third period Tuesday.

Florida had gone 43 straight power play opportunities without a goal — eight shy of tying Toronto (1997-98) for the modern league record.

The Panthers, had they not scored Tuesday, would have tied the record for most consecutive games without a power play goal. Toronto (14 games) holds that as well.

• Horachek said Barkov (knee) will meet the team in Columbus on Friday and should practice with the team that day. “We’ll see where he is then,’’ Horachek said.

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