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Panthers continue to mix and match with top line

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen will be going his fourth different top line in four games Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators.

Veteran Alex Kovalev will be the latest to skate alongside center Stephen Weiss and left wing Tomas Fleischmann. He follows Mike Santorelli, Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky on the line that’s missing last year’s right wing, Kris Versteeg, who is out with a lower-body injury.

"You're always hoping for different things when you put a group together out there," Dineen said. "Just a little different look. That's going to be part of the package here early is trying to find some chemistry that's going to work."

After beating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 on the strength of three power-play goals, the Panthers combined for one goal in losses at Ottawa on Monday and the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

The Panthers have scored two goals at even strength all season, neither of which was produced by the top line.

Fleischmann has two assists in the first three games, and Weiss has one assist.

"We just don't have the same player on the line every game," Fleischmann said. "It's tough to get something going chemistry-wise, but everybody is an NHL player and we have to get used to it. We've just got to work hard and it's going to come. It's just about the time, I would say. It's going to be OK."

Kovalev, who was given a one-year contract after coming to camp as a tryout player, had three points in the opener playing on the second line with Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, but has been shut out since.

"Flasher is a good shooter and Weisser can make plays," Kovalev said. "Hopefully, with my skill I can open up some space."

Versteeg, who underwent hip surgery in the offseason, sustained a lower-body injury in practice the day before the opener and was placed on the injury list Monday.

He's eligible to return to action Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, but Dineen said it was doubtful Versteeg would play in that game.

Dineen said the lineup change Thursday night is about more than just getting better production from the first line.

"I think everybody's shown well in that spot, but what we're trying to do is find balance through four lines," Dineen said. "With our injury situation, there's a little mix and match that would happen anytime. Those guys will be fine. They're high-end professionals."

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