Had the Panthers won six of their past seven games, it’s doubtful interim coach Tom Rowe would do any tinkering with his lineup.
Only that’s not the case, so Rowe has taken a sledgehammer to his forward lines.
Florida, which has lost six of seven, goes into Friday night’s home game against the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild with a new look — one that includes the perceived untouchable top line.
Jonathan Huberdeau has been replaced by Reilly Smith on the Jaromir Jagr-Sasha Barkov trio.
Huberdeau slides down to a new second line, with all four forward lines changing up.
“We’re not scoring, so we want to change things up a bit,” Rowe said. “With Smith going with Barkov, that gives us a little more speed. Huberdeau with [Vincent] Trocheck gives us a real dynamic line with plenty of finish.”
Although former coach Gerard Gallant would occasionally — although rarely — break up Jagr, Huberdeau and Barkov, it mostly came during games when he was looking for a scoring spark after lackluster play
To see Huberdeau in anything but a red practice jersey (the second-team guys wear white) was odd, indeed.
“It’s part of it; we’re not scoring goals, so there’s change,” said Huberdeau, who has five goals and 12 points in 14 games since returning from preseason Achilles tendon surgery.
“We’re trying to get some new chemistry, need to be better five-on-five. It’s not like I didn’t like playing with those two guys, but the coach wants to see if we can find something right now.
“Of course, it’s going to be different, but it’s hockey. You don’t get to play with the same guys all the time. Sometimes changing things up helps.”
Said Jagr: “Last year, it happened to us a few games, but we always came back to it. But you never know.”
Barkov said although it’s strange to see Huberdeau on the ice but not on the same line, with the Panthers struggling to score he understands the reason for the switch.
The Panthers’ top line has four goals and nine points — and was held off the scoresheet Tuesday — as Florida has averaged less than two goals per game during its recent slide.
Florida is 1-5-1 since winning all five games on a historic road trip.
The Panthers return to the road on Saturday against Tampa Bay.
“Hopefully, this will work,” Barkov said. “I think a big change can be a wakeup call for a team. We have a great team here, great players, great teammates. It doesn’t matter the lines, we have a great team.”
▪ Rowe said goalie Roberto Luongo could be out “a week, possibly two” after he didn’t feel “too great” following a 20-minute on-ice workout on Wednesday afternoon.
Luongo apparently aggravated an injury he’s been fighting through and had to leave last Thursday’s game in Philadelphia after one period.
“I’m not real sure exactly where it is,” Rowe said. “That’s why we have the three goaltenders we have; we don’t have to rush him back.”
Reto Berra, Florida’s new backup, replaced James Reimer in the second period on Tuesday and didn’t give up a goal on eight shots faced.
“I’m 30, so that’s not the first time I’ve come into a game like that,” Berra said. “When you’re out there, you always have to be prepared. When I got in, the guys played really good in front of me as I only faced eight shots.”
Friday: Wild at Panthers
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.
Series: Minnesota leads 14-5-1.
Scouting report: The Wild leads the Western Conference under new coach Bruce Boudreau yet went into Thursday’s game at Tampa with losses in two of its past three. … Minnesota came into Thursday second in the league in goals scored and fourth in goals against.