With Sasha Barkov and Erik Gudbranson set to return to the lineup Thursday, things are getting back to normal for the Panthers.
Yet as is the case with most NHL teams at this time of year, no one is 100 percent. That certainly applies to the Panthers.
When Florida plays host to Arizona to close out its six-game homestand, it will have Barkov and Gudbranson back after those two missed a few weeks with concussion-like symptoms, although it will be without first-line winger Jonathan Huberdeau.
Forward Brandon Pirri and Quinton Howden and defenseman Willie Mitchell remain out, as well.
“Every team goes through this during a season, but I think us being able to continue earning points really shows the depth we have,” goalie Roberto Luongo said. “Today, you need the depth because injuries happen. You need to be able to survive it, keep getting points, or you’re in trouble.”
With Huberdeau out but Barkov returning, coach Gerard Gallant continues to mix and match his forward lines.
“It’s always good to get some of your healthy players back,” Gallant said. “That’s big for our club. It’s coming. There are still a lot of guys out. … It’s good when you see guys come through the door to help us out. And they’re important guys.”
Vincent Trocheck had been centering Jaromir Jagr and Huberdeau, but Jussi Jokinen slid in after Huberdeau went hard into the boards Saturday and hit his head on the ice.
Barkov is back with Jagr and also reunited with Jokinen, whom he played with at the World Championships last spring for their native Finland.
“It’s always nice to be back, I hate missing games,” Barkov said. “I want to play all 82 games, then go to the playoffs and play more. Sometimes things happen. The guys did pretty well, won some games played the same way. We’re still in first.”
Although Jagr will be reunited with the center he has played with most of the time since joining the Panthers almost a year ago, that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy his time with Trocheck.
Jagr, who turned 44 last week, has three goals in his past two games. Trocheck was his center for all of them — with Jokinen getting assists on the two goals that Jagr tied with and passed Brett Hull for third on the NHL’s all-time list.
“We have to see what kind of shape he’s in because I’m not skating for him, I’m telling you that right now,” Jagr said with a smile, raising his voice so Barkov could hear him from across the room.
“He has big shoes to fill. I got three goals in two games with Trocheck, that’s all I have to say.”
▪ Florida’s “Spacey In Space” sweatshirt went national Wednesday as it made an appearance on NBC’s Today show.
Actor Kevin Spacey stopped by the Today show set in Manhattan as part of his press tour for the upcoming fourth season of his Netflix hit House of Cards.
Today show host Willie Geist handed a replica of the sweatshirt to Spacey.
“You’re nobody,” Geist said, “until you have a good-luck hoodie. … The Florida Panthers are in first place in their division, and they owe it all to you.”
While explaining the concept of the sweatshirt to the viewing audience, photos of players wearing it in the locker room — including Jagr, whom Spacey referred to as “one of the players there” — were shown on the screen.
“I’ve become their sort-of good luck charm, and I’m pleased they’ve been doing incredibly well,” Spacey said. “I am a Spacey in space, and I’m very excited for them, I’m glad they’re doing very well.”
Word got around to the Panthers as some happened to be watching NBC at the time; others saw clips shared through social media.
Jagr currently holds the sweatshirt after scoring twice Saturday. He didn’t seem too impressed with his unlikely national television appearance.
“The Today show?” Jagr asked. “What is that?”
▪ One of Florida’s forward combinations going into Thursday’s game tjat may have some pretty good chemistry is the so-called “Gopher Line” with former University of Minnesota standouts Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau.
The two were not only teammates at Minnesota, but roommates, as well.
Bjugstad said last week that one year, he and Rau were two of five sharing a cramped apartment.
“We played two years together at the university, and that was fun. And Logan [Shaw] and I played together at Portland a bit,” Rau said. “It’s nice to be with guys you know.”
Although Shaw — the third member of the trio — is from Nova Scotia and not Minnesota, he was drafted by the Panthers in the third round at the Wild’s Xcel Center in St. Paul in 2011.
“We can fit him in there,” Rau said. “We’ll make it work.”
Thursday: Coyotes at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM (560), WMEN (640), WNMA (1210).
Series: Arizona leads 15-10-3.
Scouting report: This is the first of two meetings between the two in the next 10 days as Florida visits Glendale on March 5. The Coyotes are in the middle of a five-game trip and have dropped their past three.