In the aftermath of a disappointing loss at Columbus, Ohio, the Panthers tweaked their top line by putting struggling veteran Tomas Fleischmann with center Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
In the four games since, that trio has been Florida’s most productive unit, combining for five goals and eight assists.
For Fleischmann, being bumped up to the top line has done wonders for his confidence.
In his first 21 games this season, Fleischmann had a goal and two assists. In four games with his new linemates, Fleischmann has a goal and three helpers.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“It felt real good to be promoted to a line that’s getting that much ice time,’’ said Fleischmann, who had been benched twice this season, including Nov.24 against Minnesota.
“I want to prove that I should be there on this line. That’s what I’m trying to do right now. We have a lot of players coming back [from injury], and I want to stay where I’m at. I have to play my best right now.’’
Although Bjugstad and Huberdeau have spent a lot of time together this season, the addition of Fleischmann has given them a new dynamic.
A veteran winger who led the Panthers in scoring in each of his first two years in Florida, Fleischmann had a rough season offensively last year. This year, his confidence seemed at an all-time low.
The new line worked from the start with the three playing very well together in Florida’s 4-3 win in Detroit on Dec.2. In a 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus the following game, each of the three registered two points with Bjugstad scoring the final two goals of the night.
“Huberdeau and I really know each other well, know each other’s game,’’ said Bjugstad, who leads the Panthers with 12 goals and 18 points.
“And I’ve always liked playing with Fleischmann. I got to play with him last year, and he’s a big-time playmaker. There’s nothing not to like about playing with him. Both guys are looking to pass, be creative. I just try to get open and shoot the puck.’’
Said Huberdeau, who has a goal and eight assists in his past 12 games: “We could be better defensively but offensively, we’ve found something that has clicked. We’re supporting each other off the breakouts. It’s been awesome.’’
Even though Fleischmann scored eight goals with 27 assists on Florida’s power play in his first two seasons, he found his time there decreasing last year.
This season, Fleischmann found power-play time even harder to get. That has changed of late as he has been on with Bjugstad and Huberdeau.
Although he is just averaging 1:05 of power-play time this season, he logged almost four minutes against Columbus and 2:25 in St. Louis on Monday night.
“I get a lot of confidence playing on the power play because you get to see the puck so much, get a chance to make plays,’’ said Fleischmann, who averaged 3:25 of power-play time in 2011-12.
“When you get confidence, everything seems to come easier. Life is better.’’
Scottie Upshall and Aleksander Barkov participated in Thursday’s full practice at Joe Louis Arena.
Upshall, who injured an ankle on Nov.24, appears to be closest to game-ready and could be in the lineup Friday, although coach Gerard Gallant said it wasn’t likely.
“After being out a couple weeks it’s nice to be back in the mix. I’m feeling good,’’ Upshall said. “I think everyone is happy with my progression. I just need a couple of skates to get the wind under me again and get the legs going.’’
Barkov hurt his hand blocking a shot in Columbus on Dec.1 and won’t play this weekend.
Although most of the swelling has gone down, Barkov said it’s still bothersome and he probably won’t play until next week.
▪ Shawn Thornton (groin) and Aaron Ekblad (soreness) missed Thursday’s practice. Although Ekblad is expected to play against the Red Wings, the team he grew up following, veteran Shane O’Brien was recalled from AHL San Antonio.
Ekblad, a native of nearby Windsor, Ontario, netted the game-winner in Florida’s 4-3 win in Detroit last week. Ekblad said he’ll be ready to play Friday.
“He has a little lower-body soreness,’’ Gallant said. “We just left him off the ice. We don’t think it’s anything.’’
Friday: Panthers at Red Wings
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.
Series: Detroit leads 16-8-3.
Noteworthy: The Red Wings, who had won three in a row since losing to the Panthers last week, lost in a shootout to the visiting Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Detroit came into Thursday atop the Eastern Conference standings with 40 points.