Florida Panthers

Struggling Florida Panthers tweak forward lines with roster moves

Connor Brickley was brought back to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 as the team searches for a spark.
Connor Brickley was brought back to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 as the team searches for a spark. AP

With no trades on the horizon, the Panthers are desperate to improve themselves from within.

After losing three in a row and nine of their past 12, the Panthers mixed things up a little by calling up a pair of rookies from their AHL team and tweaking their forward lines.

Forwards Connor Brickley and Logan Shaw were brought back to the Panthers on Wednesday, with Rocco Grimaldi and Garrett Wilson sent to Florida’s AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.

“It’s all about winning, and we’re trying to improve by bringing up some guys,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Hopefully, that gives us a little spark; hopefully they play well. They’re competitive guys, skate well and bump bodies. Hopefully, they’ll make us better.”

Gallant also moved around some of his established players. Brandon Pirri, who has just three goals this season after scoring a career-high 19 last season, is up on the top line with Sasha Barkov and Jaromir Jagr.

Jonathan Huberdeau, who led Florida in scoring last season but has just one goal in 21 games, was dropped to the second line and placed with Nick Bjugstad and Reilly Smith.

“We’re just switching things up, trying to win,” Gallant said. “[Pirri] is a sniper, and hopefully up there he gets some chances to score. That’s what he does. We’re trying to get a little more balance, wake things up a little.”

The return of Brickley and Shaw — as well as the demotion of Grimaldi and Wilson — didn’t come as much of a surprise. Brickley had an exceptional showing in training camp and started his season with the Panthers.

Although Brickley’s defensive play tailed off and he was scratched for three games before being demoted on Nov. 9, he started strong and was highly regarded by coaches and teammates. One Florida front office member wondered out loud why Brickley was sent to Portland in the first place.

“My role is to be high-energy, and hopefully when I get into the lineup I’ll be a spark plug and help the team win,” said Brickley, who worked on Florida’s third line Wednesday after Jussi Jokinen left practice early.

“I’m happy for the second chance here. Hopefully, I’ll use what I learned down there and take it, roll with it up here. I got a lot of ice time, got my conditioning and my confidence up.”

Shaw was called up for one game last month before being scratched and then sent back to Portland. He hopes this stay isn’t as short.

“I’m here to work hard; that’s the player I am,” Shaw said. “I try to play every shift as hard as I can, play smart. You’re super excited when [the call] comes, excited as I was the first time. I’m happy to be here. I had to scrape my car window the other day. This is a little change.”

Wilson was apparently told of his demotion Monday after being scratched against the Kings, while Grimaldi got his notice Tuesday.

“I’m not blaming the other guys,” Gallant said. “But when you’re not winning and they’re not playing as well as you hoped, you have to make some changes. We’ve been inconsistent over the past few games. We’re just shaking things up a bit.”

▪ Backup goalie Al Montoya still has a sore neck from being run into and forced out of Monday’s game. Montoya didn’t practice Wednesday but is expected to be on the ice for Florida’s Thanksgiving morning workout in Coral Springs. In Montoya’s absence, goalie coach Robb Tallas — who played in parts of six seasons with Boston and Chicago — dressed and practiced opposite Roberto Luongo.

“I hope we don’t have to use him, but he looked pretty good,” Gallant said.

▪ Gallant confirmed that Tallas was Florida’s emergency backup after Montoya left Monday’s game. Although Tallas never got dressed, he was in the Florida locker room area during the game and would have gone in had Luongo gotten injured, as was the case last season when Florida lost both of its goalies to injuries in a loss to Toronto.

“He’s signed and ready to go,’’ Gallant said. “We were asked who our third was, and it was him.”

▪ Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was placed on injured reserve yet skated Wednesday for the first time since getting injured on Nov. 14. Gallant said Kulikov wouldn’t play this weekend but isn’t far removed from rejoining the team.

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