Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers unveil a new line against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Florida’s Seth Griffith attempts to poke check Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar last Saturday night.
Florida’s Seth Griffith attempts to poke check Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar last Saturday night. AP

Shawn Thornton played in his second game of the season last Saturday, going into the lineup as the Panthers played at Ottawa.

He was surprised to find out that the following day, he was back in against the Rangers.

After being a healthy scratch Tuesday against Philadelphia, Thornton will be in the lineup for the third time in four games Saturday night when the Panthers play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets at BB&T Center (7 p.m., FSFL).

With Florida sending Greg McKegg to its minor league team, Thornton may see his playing time increase in what all figure is his final NHL season.

Despite not playing much in Florida's first 17 games, Thornton said he has been happy coming in “working my butt off every day” to prepare himself for when the team tells him he’s back in.

“I got a couple games in last week, we played pretty well and I felt good being out there,” Thornton said.

“We’ll see what happens moving forward. I’ll probably still be out more than I’m in, but I’ll be ready when needed. I’ll give them everything I’ve got. I knew this would be my role coming in, so it hasn’t been tough on me.

“I enjoy working out, it’s not a job to me. I would be up and in the gym at 5:30 in the morning whether I was being paid or not so this is a great job for me. I haven’t been frustrated at all. I’ve been in a great mood all year.”

When the season started, Florida's fourth line consisted of captain Derek MacKenzie centering Shane Harper and McKegg.

That trio played together for the first 14 games before Harper was sent to the AHL on Nov. 11.

Now, the Panthers have changed things up with Seth Griffith, Thornton and Kyle Rau playing with MacKenzie.

“We’re a young team going through some learning curves with the fourth line,” MacKenzie said. “We know what’s expected; we need energy, play well on both sides of the ice. If we can do that, we’re helping out.”

For Griffith, playing on the fourth line is a change to his game. A talented and skilled forward, Griffith must now adjust his game to new defensive responsibilities.

With Florida's top three lines pretty much set, if Griffith wants to play, right now it will have to be here.

“I’m used to playing on the top two lines, but at the same time, when you’re starting out with a new organization, you have to establish yourself,” said Griffith, whom the Panthers claimed off waivers from Toronto after dropping Harper.

“I’m just looking to bring some energy to the fourth line, create some chances out there. I think this will only make me a better player; playing on the fourth line forces you to make sure you’re playing d-zone first. A big part of playing on the fourth line is making sure you don’t get scored on.”

▪ With Jaromir Jagr and Sasha Barkov struggling to score — they had two goals apiece in the first 20 games —the Panthers moved Jussi Jokinen onto the top line to try and get them going offensively.

Jokinen says he doesn't feel any pressure in trying to be the guy to facilitate that.

“Every player feels pressure to produce,” said Jokinen, who took over for Jonathan Marchessault as Jonathan Huberdeau's replacement on the top line.

“Coming onto that line is a challenge because [Jagr and Barkov] are such different players than Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck. I have to play a different style now. I hope I can help out, but there’s no extra pressure to do that. I would like a better start and there’s pressure there. I just want my line to produce, help on the power play. But every player feels that. We have all had struggles. You can’t let it get to you.”

READ MORE: Jaromir Jagr, Sasha Barkov keep faith as they search for goals

On Saturday, coach Gerard Gallant said Huberdeau's Achilles' tendon injury is a “four-to-six month injury” and that Huberdeau now moving around in a walking boot instead of a push-scooter doesn't mean he'll be back anytime soon.

“He’s getting better but it takes time,” Gallant said. “He’s getting better, but it’s slowly. There’s nothing there. It will be awhile. He’s riding the bike, doing more therapy, things like that. But he’s not close to getting back on the ice.”

Sunday: Panthers at Hurricanes

When/where: 6 p.m.; PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.

TV/radio: FSFL; WZAB 880, WMEN 640.

Series: Carolina leads 54-47-11.

Scouting report: Although the Hurricanes/Whalers have led the all-time series, Florida has won its past six against Carolina including all three meetings last year. This kicks off a six-game road trip for the Panthers with stops in Raleigh, Chicago, Detroit, Ottawa, Boston and Philadelphia.

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