Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ Colby Robak back in normal defenseman slot


For the first time this season, Colby Robak will in the Panthers lineup Tuesday as a defenseman.

Robak, filling in for the injured Dmitry Kulikov, has played in two games this season — both times as a left winger.

“They had to start working with me on skating backward again,” Robak joked after Monday’s practice.

“I feel a little bit more comfortable [on defense] because those two games took a little bit of getting used to. I’m back to defense-first and focusing on helping [Roberto Luongo] first and going from there.”

The Panthers had to mix up their defensive pairings for the first time this season when Kulikov left Saturday’s 6-4 loss to Calgary in the second period when he was hit in the knee.

Coach Gerard Gallant said Kulikov is scheduled for a second MRI, but the team doesn’t think the injury is serious.

Kulikov watched Monday’s practice without crutches, but Gallant said he wouldn’t play the next two games at minimum.

“He won’t play the next two games and hopefully we know more by the West Coast road trip,” Gallant said. “We should know more later in the week.”

With Kulikov out, Robak has been paired with Brian Campbell. Aaron Ekblad has been playing with Campbell but is back with preseason partner Willie Mitchell.

“I hope he does as good as he did in his forward debut,” Gallant said of Robak. “He’s champing at the bit to get back in there. When you have injuries, you need guys to step right in there, and Colby’s a good kid, had a good preseason. We’re excited to give him a chance. We’ll see how it goes.”

Florida’s defensive pairings aren’t the only changes heading into Tuesday’s game against visiting San Jose.

Tomas Kopecky has been moved up to Florida’s top line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Scottie Upshall.

“He’s been real good all year, has been working real hard,” Gallant said of Kopecky. “We want to see him up with Barkov, get a guy going to the net with a little more drive. We want guys going to the net more. We’re playing on the perimeter a bit too much.’’

Tomas Fleischmann, benched on Saturday, is on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Shawn Thornton.

Fleischmann said Saturday’s benching got him “thinking a little bit,” and he hopes his scoring touch returns. Fleischmann led Florida in scoring his first two seasons but the past two seasons have been tough.

“I have to step up a little more,” said Fleischmann, who has no goals and one assist in 11 games this season.

“Some decisions I’ve made on the ice could be better as far as shooting goes. That’s the reason I haven’t scored. I expect more from myself.’’

▪ The Panthers could be getting a few more of their injured forwards back in the lineup soon.

Although Sean Bergenheim and Dave Bolland didn’t practice with the team on Monday, both skated and Gallant said both should return in the coming days.

Bergenheim has missed four consecutive games and could be back Friday against the Islanders. Gallant said Bolland, who has missed the past eight games with a groin injury, should return on the West Coast trip.

Brandon Pirri, out the past four games with a concussion, didn’t skate Monday.

▪ Rocco Grimaldi was told he was headed back to the minors shortly after Saturday’s game and the rookie winger made it back to San Antonio in time to play for the Rampage on Sunday night.

Grimaldi, as was the case Saturday with the Panthers, started on San Antonio’s top line. Grimaldi was paired with Drew Shore and Mark Mancari in the Rampage’s 3-1 win over Oklahoma City.

“He had energy, played hard, was quick,” Gallant said of Grimaldi’s play in his four games with the Panthers. “He’s a real good prospect for us. I thought he played four good games for us.”

Tuesday: Sharks at Panthers

▪ When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

▪ TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 560.

▪ The series: San Jose leads 10-9-7.

▪ Of note: The Panthers celebrate Veterans Day with Military Appreciation Night. Not only will the Panthers wear special camouflage jerseys in warmups, but retired Army Brigadier General Pete Dawkins, the 1958 Heisman Trophy winner, will drop the ceremonial first puck. ... Florida has won five of six against the Sharks.

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