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Florida Panthers penalty kill shows potential in opener against Carolina Hurricanes

Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver, who missed Saturday’s season-opening 5-1 win over Carolina because of concussion symptoms, said he feels fine — and his sense of humor might be a great sign that he’s on the mend.

Weaver is known for his stellar work on the penalty kill, but the Panthers went 6 for 6 in that department without him Saturday, shutting down potent scorers such as Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and Eric and Jordan Staal in the victory over Carolina.

Asked if the Panthers’ success on the kill was a result of new personnel or different tactics, Weaver had a quick reply.

“They didn’t have me out there, so that probably helped,” he joked.

It’s just one game, of course, but it was still an impressive performance for the Panthers, who ranked 25th in the 30-team NHL in penalty kills last season with a 79.5 percentage.

Weaver, who was injured in Wednesday’s scrimmage, said he has no concussion symptoms at the moment and hasn’t had them since soon after it happened.

He is making the team’s trip to Canada, where the Panthers will play Ottawa on Monday and Montreal on Tuesday.

“It’s just protocol,” Weaver said of why he had to sit out the Carolina game. “I’m hoping to play [Monday night].”

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said the outlook for Weaver playing Monday was “very optimistic,” although he had not yet confirmed his status with team doctors.

Kulikov’s status

Weaver might not be the only defenseman set to join the Panthers’ lineup. Dmitry Kulikov, the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2009 and already a fourth-year NHL veteran, missed Saturday’s opener because of jet lag.

He left Russia late Wednesday night and didn’t arrive in South Florida until Friday, when he signed a two-year contract and informed Dineen he was not yet ready to play.

Dineen, though, seemed irritated by Kulikov’s absence from Saturday lineup.

Asked if Kulikov will be ready on Monday now that he has had a couple of days of skating, Dineen said: “I sure hope so. He had seven months to prepare for his first game [since last season ended], so I sure hope he’s finally ready to go.

“His fitness level — he came in and tested well. He’s been playing since the beginning of the year. He had a little setback with a knee injury in Russia. But he’s come back and played from there.”

Dineen said his expectation was that Kulikov would have arrived in South Florida ready to play right away “but that was not the case.”

Dineen said he is putting assistant Gord Murphy in charge of figuring out how the impending return of Weaver and Kulikov would affect the defensive pairings. The likelihood, though, is that Michael Caruso and Tyson Strachan will exit the lineup to make room for Weaver and Kulikov.

“We will talk about it on the plane,” Dineen said of the trip to Canada. “[Their return] will affect a lot of things. You’re putting pieces in — who’s going to play the off wing? Meaning, if you are a right-hand shot, some of those guys might have to play the left side. We want to make sure we give that a lot of thought.”

Second-line punch

Last season, the Panthers, overly reliant on their top line, were 27th in scoring (2.40 goals per game). This year, the newly formed second line of Peter Mueller, 24, Alex Kovalev, 39, and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, 19, has shown potential with seven points in the opener.

“I liked the speed factor and the mix of veteran presence and youthfulness,” Dineen said when asked why he put the line together.

Dineen said Marcel Goc (ankle injury) will be out at least another week. When he returns, Dineen will reassess keeping the current second line as is or making a change.

Saturday’s sellout crowd of 19,688 was a good sign for the Panthers. Last season, the team drew an average of 16,628, which ranked 21st. They also ranked 23rd in percentage of seats sold with 86.6. More than half the league — 16 teams — had sellouts.

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