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Coyotes shift struggling Gagner to wing vs. Panthers

by Jerry Brown / NHL.com

PANTHERS (2-2-2) at COYOTES (2-3-1)

TV: FS-F, FS-A

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Zero goals. Zero points. Zero impact.

Summing up Sam Gagner's first six games with the Arizona Coyotes is about as simple as that.

Acquired in the offseason to add some skill and scoring to a forward unit in dire need in those departments, Gagner has yet to dent the score sheet. He has one fewer point than goalie Mike Smith, and his minus-4 rating is better than Lauri Korpikoski and David Moss among Arizona forwards.

Coach Dave Tippett will try something different Saturday against the Florida Panthers, moving Gagner to his more natural wing position alongside American Hockey League call-up Justin Hodgman and Martin Erat as the Coyotes look to snap an 0-2-1 skid that included a winless road trip.

Part of the move is out of necessity. The Coyotes won't have center Martin Hanzal (lower body) for a third straight game and lost Moss when he blocked a shot in his upper body in the 2-0 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. Hodgman will make his NHL debut in the middle while Gagner, who has 101 goals in seven NHL seasons, shifts to left wing in hopes of a jump-start.

"We need Sam to try to have an impact on the game, and the more touches he has of the puck ... the better off he is," Tippett said. "He'll still take some faceoffs and play center on our second power-play unit. The more chances he can get to have an effect out there is what we're looking for."

Hodgman will play his first NHL game at 26 after playing the past two seasons in Russia.

"He's a player that we didn't know a lot about but had a very good training camp. It was just a numbers game," Tippett said. "With Hanzal out we're going to give him a shot and see how he does. He's played a lot of professional games so perhaps he won't be as antsy.

"But that said, your first NHL game is always a special night."

The Panthers scored five goals in the first five games of the season before winning 4-3 in overtime at the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. Florida is 2-0-1 during its our-game, 10-day road trip that ends here Saturday.

The key for the Panthers has been defense. Goaltender Roberto Luongo, the expected starter Saturday, and former Coyote Al Montoya, have combined for a 2.17 goals-against average to keep their offensively challenged team in games.

"They have found success playing a good team game and [Panthers coach] Gerard Gallant has done a good job with them," Tippett said. "Luongo's been solid and they have three balanced scoring lines and some good young prospects playing defense."

Center Antoine Vermette will play in his 400th consecutive game Saturday.

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Sean Bergenheim - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes

Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Scottie Upshall

Tomas Fleischmann - Brandon Pirri - Jussi Jokinen

Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Shawn Thornton

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Dmitry Kulikov

Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched: Jimmy Hayes, Colby Robak

Injured: Dave Bolland (lower body)

COYOTES

Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan

Rob Klinkhammer - Kyle Chipchura - Lauri Korpikoski

Sam Gagner - Justin Hodgman - Martin Erat

Brandon McMillan - Joe Vitale - B.J. Crombeen

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy

Keith Yandle - Michael Stone

David Schlemko - Zbynek Michalek

Mike Smith

Devan Dubnyk

Scratched: Chris Summers

Injured: Martin Hanzal (lower body), David Moss (upper body)

Status report: Hanzal was on the ice Friday and Saturday for the first time since leaving an Oct. 18 loss against the St. Louis Blues with a lower-body injury. He hopes to return when the Coyotes open a four-game road trip at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. … Moss was getting another opinion on what could be a long-term injury and did not skate Saturday. … The decision to break up the No. 1 defense pair of Ekman-Larsson and Michalek had positive results in the loss against Minnesota, so Tippett is sticking with it. Ekman-Larsson will play with Murphy and Michalek is paired with Schlemko.

Who's hot: Luongo has allowed four even-strength goals in his five starts this season. … Smith went 2-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .964 save percentage against the Panthers last season.

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