BLUE JACKETS (15-22-9) at PANTHERS (28-12-5)
Monday, 7 p.m. ET, BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, CBJ app
Radio: Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets radio network (97.1 The Fan flagship)
One of the biggest issues right now for the Blue Jackets isn't who is on the ice. It's who is not.
Over the last two weeks, the Jackets have traded veterans Nick Foligno, David Savard and Riley Nash, while Boone Jenner and Zach Werenski are out for the season with injuries either suffered or addressed in the past fortnight. Add in the season-long injury to Gustav Nyquist and that's six of 18 skaters from what you'd call the best-laid-plans lineup that are no longer available to the Jackets.
It hurts on the ice and it hurts from a leadership standpoint, too, as Foligno and Jenner both wear full-time letters on their sweaters while Savard was one of the longest-tenured members of the team and a leader in the room as well.
"There's a lot of guys coming in, so yeah, it's different," Oliver Bjorkstrand said after Saturday night's loss in Dallas, Columbus' 12th in the last 14 games. "You look at our lineup, two weeks ago, it's obviously different from now, so it can be a challenge. We still need to be better, and it's still not good enough."
In that answer, Bjorkstrand hits the fundamental situation the Blue Jackets are in now. With so many pieces gone, it certainly is a depleted Jackets lineup, but at the same time, the team can't use it as an excuse as it comes down the stretch here.
While the Blue Jackets are playing out the string, with hopes of a fifth straight postseason appearance now a mere pipe dream, there still is pride on the line, plus the hope of a strong finish to serve as a springboard to the future.
"It's unfortunate when you get rid of two of your biggest leaders in the locker room with Fliggy and Savvy going," Max Domi said. "It's a tough pill to swallow and a good part of our leadership group. That's unfortunate, but we have some good young guys coming up, and everyone that has been here has to take a step froward. That's all we can control. When you have a bunch of individuals that are emptying the tank every single day and bringing their best, the team has success and that's what it takes."
Know the Foe
Florida has continued to shock the NHL world, as a team with a first-year general manager in former CBJ associate GM Bill Zito and with a number of new faces - including former Jackets players Alexander Wennberg, Anthony Duclair and Markus Nutivaara - remains in the race for the Central Division crown.
The Panthers remain one of the top offensive clubs in the league, scoring 3.16 goals per game (3.83 vs. Columbus), but the biggest improvement has come defensively as the Panthers allow just 2.69 goals per game.
Florida, 2-3-1 in its last six games after a six-game win streak, currently is missing two of its top players, as defenseman Aaron Ekblad (11-11-22 in 35 games) is out with a leg fracture and Carter Verhaeghe (17-18-35 in 42 games) is out with an upper-body injury. The Panthers also were active at the trade deadline, bringing in forwards Sam Bennett and Lucas Wallmark and defenseman Brandon Montour as well as signing Nikita Gusev.
Aleksander Barkov continues to lead the way offensively with more than a point per game, posting an 18-27-45 line in 39 games. Jonathan Huberdeau also has 45 points thanks to 15 goals and 30 assists, with the point mark tying the two Panthers for 14th in the NHL. Veteran Patric Hornqvist has 14 goals - eight on the power play - and 30 points, while Frank Vatrano has 15 tallies and Wennberg 11.
The team continues to roll with the duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger in net. Bobrovsky has 25 starts, posting a 16-7-2 record, 2.86 GAA and .907 save percentage. In 20 starts, Driedger is 12-5-3/2.09/.927.
3 Keys to the Game
Team defense: Florida has at least 30 shots on goal in all six games this year against the Blue Jackets. Columbus has to defend in waves against a strong Panthers attack.
Handle adversity: Columbus has scored first in each of the last four games but lost all four of them, a common thread this season. The Jackets have to be better at not giving up goals in bunches.
Beat the boys: There are plenty of familiar faces on the Panthers side; maybe that will get the Jackets going, facing their former mates.
Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team with a 14-19-33 line this year. Cam Atkinson matches him on the goal-scoring front with 14 tallies, while Jack Roslovic is the first player on the team to reach 20 assists. … Atkinson is three points from 400 in his NHL career (212-185-397). ... Roslovic also has seven points (3-4-7) in the last six games while Patrik Laine has three goals in the last four games. ... Laine has tallied 8-9-17 in 11 career games against Florida ... Tortorella has 670 career wins, two behind Mike Keenan for 12th place in NHL history. … Columbus has stopped 35 of 39 power-play chances against (89.7 percent) in the last 15 games. … The Blue Jackets have tallied first in 28 of 46 games. … The Jackets have just one win in six games in the season series.
Projected Lineup presented by Blue Technologies
(Subject to change)
Oliver Bjorkstrand - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson
Stefan Matteau - Alexandre Texier - Patrik Laine
Eric Robinson - Kevin Stenlund - Zac Dalpe
Ryan MacInnis - Josh Dunne - Kole Sherwood
Michael Del Zotto - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - Mikko Lehtonen
Gavin Bayreuther - Andrew Peeke
Elvis Merzlikins (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Max Domi, Mikhail Grigorenko, Scott Harrington, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan
Taxi squad: Nathan Gerbe, Adam Clendening, Cam Johnson
Injured reserve: Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out 5-6 months as of November), Zach Werenski (sports hernia, out for the season), Emil Bemstrom (lower body, rehabbing with a timetable TBD), Boone Jenner (broken finger, out six weeks as of April 7), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR).
Roster report: The Blue Jackets will make three changes to the lineup, inserting Stenlund, Sherwood and Bayreuther in, with the latter making his CBJ debut. Domi, Grigorenko and Harrington will be healthy scratches.