The Blue Jackets having been playing well on home ice as of late, and will be looking to carry their momentum on to their Saturday afternoon matinee against the Florida Panthers at Nationwide Arena.
The Panthers are on a modest two-game winning streak, having most recently defeated the Winnipeg Jets and the Arizona Coyotes. Before that, they picked up a valuable standings point in a shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The Panthers will play a set of back-to-back afternoon games — first facing the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Saturday and then the Minnesota Wild on Sunday — and will likely split the goaltending duties between Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya. Each has picked up a win against the Blue Jackets this season.
It is still not known who will start for the Blue Jackets, but the Panthers have yet to face rookie goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
In other Blue Jackets news, the team placed defenseman Jack Johnson on injured reserve and recalled defenseman Michael Paliotta from the Lake Erie Monsters (AHL) on Friday. Johnson will miss two weeks with an upper body injury.
In their first meeting of the 2015-16 campaign, the Panthers bested the Blue Jackets, 2-1, in a shootout at Nationwide Arena.
In the second meeting between these two teams (Dec. 27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise), the Jackets had another slow start in their eventual 3-2 loss.
Here’s how it went down in south Florida:
Aaron Ekblad opened the scoring at 4:34 of the first period and Aleksander Barkov added on late in the frame (19:42) to give the home team a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
In the second period, Brandon Saad cut deficit in half, but Barkov scored his second of the night 7:23 into the third period to keep the Panthers in front by two.
Cam Atkinson capitalized on a power play opportunity at 11:26, but the Columbus rally ended there. Curtis McElhinney made 29 saves in what was a disappointing loss for the Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets are 13-6-1 in the all-time series against the Panthers.
The 2015-16 season is 75 percent done, and veteran forward Jaromir Jagr still leads the Panthers with 44 points. In 57 games played, the 44-year-old leads also leads Florida with 20 goals. It seems that as the years go by and as the season progresses, Jagr's game does not dip.
The 2016 NHL All-Star captain was acquired by Florida almost one year ago — on Feb. 26, 2015 — from the Devils in exchange for a second-round pick in 2015 and a third-round selection in 2016.
It’s safe to say that Jagr has been a game-changer for the Panthers. He has helped the team rise to first place in the Atlantic Division and on track for its second Stanley Cup playoff appearance since the 1999-2000 season.