Reinhart wasn’t cutting it on Panthers’ top line. Now he’s giving the third line a jolt

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Sam Reinhart simply wasn’t cutting for the Florida Panthers on their top line.

The Panthers gave their newcomer a pair of chances to play with Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe to start the season, and the results were not good. He didn’t score a single point — he only even took his shots and didn’t generate a single rebound — and Florida’s top line, which was one of the best in hockey last season, got outshot in 5-on-5 action. Panthers coach Joel Quenneville made a quick change.

“Sometimes performance is what we’re looking for,” the coach said.

Sometimes, a change can be good. Reinhart learned quickly.

Quenneville sent the forward down the third line Tuesday, and Reinhart responded by scoring his first two points as a Panther in Florida’s 4-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. In the first period, he got the puck off a faceoff win by center Anton Lundell and slid a pass across the ice to defenseman Brandon Montour, who ripped home the first goal at Amalie Arena. In the third, Reinhart helped seal the win by perfectly executing a 2-on-2 fast break with Lundell to set up the rookie for his first career goal.

For two games with Barkov and Verhaeghe, Reinhart was a negative player, in terms of expected goals percentage in 5-on-5. In his first game with Lundell and left wing Mason Marchment, Reinhart helped make the third line one of Florida’s most productive at 5-on-5, with its third-period goal, five shots and six scoring chances.

“All of a sudden, you put him with Lundy,” Quenneville said, “and it looks like they’ve found something.”

Reinhart once again skated with the third line in practice Wednesday at the Florida Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs and Quenneville will likely keep the group together Thursday when Florida (3-0-0) hosts the Colorado Avalanche at 7 p.m. at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise.

The Avalanche (1-2-0) boasted the third-best defense in the NHL last season, but the Panthers now rank third in the league with 4.67 goals per game, and have 10 players with multiple points already after Reinhart and Lundell each scored two Tuesday.

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If the new-look third line can build on its Tuesday performance, the Panthers will be even closer to its four-lines-deep offensive ideal.

“We’ve tried some things on some of the lines on a need basis,” Quenneville said. “Having so many different options, we can move guys around. ... It’s a good situation to have those type of options.”

At the start of the year, Quenneville viewed Reinhart as a potential top-line player. He led the Buffalo Sabres in goals and points last season, and Quenneville hoped Florida could stabilize its rotating first-line right wing spot by seeing what Barkov could get out of the former top-five pick.

The experiment — or at least the first look at it — lasted less than two games, as winger Anthony Duclair moved up to the top line for the third period of the Panthers’ blowout win against the New York Islanders on Saturday and stayed there Tuesday.

The move immediately worked in two ways. With Duclair back with Barkov and Verhaeghe, the top line was Florida’s most productive against the Lightning, and Reinhart helped spark Lundell as two the teamed up for one of the flashiest goals of the season for the Panthers so far.

With less than six minutes remaining and Florida clinging to a one-goal lead, Lundell and Reinhart charged down the ice for a 2-on-2. Both defenders went for Lundell, and the 20-year-old Finn split them to get a pass to Reinhart. The defenders turned toward Reinhart and the 25-year-old Candian tapped a pass right back to Lundell, who beat star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Panthers a late two-goal.

In the preseason, Quenneville praised Reinhart’s creativity and instincts, and he finally started to show them off this week.

“At times in my career and especially coming to a new team, that’s what I’m trying to get away from, just overthinking on the ice,” Reinhart said. “It’s almost easier once the season starts. There’s less thinking. There’s more just playing.”

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