BLUE JACKETS (17-14-8) vs. PANTHERS (20-13-5)
New Year's Eve, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
BUY TICKETS (New Year's Eve presented by New Amsterdam Vodka; 2020 NYE sunglasses giveaway for first 10,000 fans; Postgame Fireworks)
Ask Nick Foligno if he's ever seen anything like this, and his quick answer is yes. Yes he has.
Five seasons ago, the Blue Jackets were coming off what was the most successful season in franchise history to that point, the 2013-14 campaign that ended with a playoff berth and a topsy-turvy postseason series vs. Pittsburgh.
The hope was to keep the momentum going for the Blue Jackets, but the hockey gods weren't having it. Columbus led the NHL with 502 man games -- an average of more than six players out per game -- lost to injury that season and, despite a torrid run of 15 wins in the last 17 games, fell short of the postseason. The Blue Jackets were so banged up that 40 different skaters suited up for the team, and just six players skated more than 72 games.
"We had like 100 guys out," Foligno recalled Monday. "I actually laughed, I had to introduce myself to some of the guys (the team called up) because I had never met them before. It was a wild year. It was a joke."
It's not a fun memory for Foligno to go back to, but it's pretty similar to what is happening now to the Blue Jackets. A hundred guys aren't out, but the injury report emailed out by the team Monday featured 10 names that likely will be unavailable for Tuesday's New Year's Eve clash with Florida, with 157 man games now lost to injury.
The only difference for Foligno? Right now, the Blue Jackets are winning. While the injuries pretty much doomed that 2014-15 team from the start, this year's squad has continued adding to what is now a 10-game point streak, seemingly adding another game to the run every time another player gets injured.
The latest blow could be a huge one, as goaltender Joonas Korpisalo has been ruled out for "weeks" with a knee injury suffered in a shootout Sunday night. The netminder has been one of the hottest goalies in the NHL, posting a .926 save percentage in his last 22 appearances.
Elvis Merzlikins, in his first year in the NHL and owner thus far of an 0-4-4 record, gets a chance now to show his skills in what could be an extended run, and the Blue Jackets have the same attitude when it comes to the Korpisalo injury as all the others.
"It's next man up," Foligno said. "It's just the way it works in sports. You can't start wondering what it would be like to have someone in the lineup. You just have to go. I think we've done a really good job of that with the players that we've had come in already. They've done an outstanding job and jumped in, and we expect the same out of our goaltending. It will be a good test for us, but this is when you band together a little more."
Center Pierre-Luc Dubois also knows that Florida won't care about the injuries that have piled up for the Blue Jackets.
"Injuries happen," he said. "No team feels bad for you. Obviously Elvis has worked really hard, practiced hard, working with (goaltending coach) Manny (Legace) to improve. I know he doesn't have a win, but he's given us a chance to win a couple of games this year that have gone to a shootout or overtime. I'm confident in Elvis. He's a good goalie. Now we just have to play well and help him out."
Know the Foe
Florida has won five of its last six, with goals a plenty. The Panthers have tallied 29 goals in that six-game stretch, made all the more impressive the team had just a single goal in its lone loss in the stretch, a 6-1 setback Dec. 23 vs. Tampa Bay. That means the squad has 28 goals in its last five victories, and with 3.55 goals per game, the Panthers are second overall in the NHL in scoring.
So it won't be an easy challenge for Merzlikins, though he has already taken on the Panthers and made 23 saves on 26 shots against in a 4-1 loss to Florida on the road Dec. 7.
The Panthers' attack is led by Jonathan Huberdeau, the All-Star forward who is sixth in the NHL with 53 points. He has 16 goals and 37 assists, with his helpers total tied for fourth in the NHL. Aleksander Barkov isn't far behind, as the young center has a 13-32-45 line that places him 12th in the league in scoring.
Keith Yandle leads the blue line in scoring and is third on the team with a 4-26-30 line, while Evgenii Dadonov (14-15-29), Mike Hoffman (13-14-27) and Brett Connolly (15-10-25) have all been solid contributors.
In net, a familiar face will return to Nationwide Arena in Sergei Bobrovksy, the goalie who spent seven years with Columbus, won a pair of Vezina Trophies and was in net for four different playoff teams. After a slow start -- Bobrovsky is 14-10-4 but has a 3.26 goals-against average and .898 save percentage -- things are turning around for the Russian netminder as he has a .922 save percentage in nine December games.
3 Keys to the Game
Stay out of the box: It's always good advice -- we put it here often -- but it's key against a Florida team that is eighth in the NHL at 23.4 percent on the power play. Columbus has taken too many penalties in its last two games and paid the price.
Play the right way: The Blue Jackets have been playing good hockey of late, limiting chances against Korpisalo for the most part. With a new goalie in net, they can't change their style.
60 minutes: Columbus has lost leads late in each of the last two games before taking the loss in extra time in each game. The Blue Jackets have to stay on the gas if they get ahead, as the best defense can be a good offense.
Columbus' 10-game point streak is tied for the fourth longest in franchise history. … Vladislav Gavrikov is plus-12 in his last 12 games and has three points in his last four games (2-1-3). … Pierre-Luc Dubois has a 3-6-9 line in his last eight contests. … Forward Nathan Gerbe will play in his 400th NHL game if he suits up. … Columbus had won seven straight vs. Florida before a 4-1 loss to the Panthers on Dec. 7. The Blue Jackets scored 16 goals in the three-game series a year ago. … Columbus still holds a 12-game point streak at home vs. Florida (11-0-1). … The Blue Jackets are 7-3-1 all-time at home on New Year's Eve.
(Subject to change)
Nick Foligno - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Nathan Gerbe
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Kevin Stenlund
Alexandre Texier - Alexander Wennberg - Eric Robinson
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Ryan MacInnis
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Gabriel Carlsson - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Sonny Milano (injury), Scott Harrington, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)
Roster Report: The Blue Jackets skated the same lines Monday afternoon as they iced for Sunday night's game, though injured players Milano, Cam Atkinson and Emil Bemstrom did join practice. There will be no changes to the Jackets' 18-skater lineup.