BLUE JACKETS (28-16-9) vs. PANTHERS (29-17-5)
Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, CD 102.5 FM)
If you're a Blue Jackets fan, odds are when you buy a ticket to Nationwide Arena, you're gonna get your money's worth.
So far this season, Columbus has played 53 games. A full thirty-two of them, more than 60 percent, have been settled by one goal.
Columbus is 17-6-9 in such games, earning a point in 26 of a possible 32 games that are decided by the smallest of margins, and for head coach John Tortorella, there's a reason for that.
The Blue Jackets have never been the most talented team in the league, and the ethos installed by the team decision makers is one that the team will fight and scrap for anything it gets. As a result, Columbus is used to being in tight situations, whether it be games that come down to the end or seasons -- much like this one -- that require the team to scrap for a playoff berth.
"We live in this world," Tortorella said. "We play so many one-goal games. Two years in a row, you're a wild card team in the playoffs. We've played 30-plus one goal games. We live here. I don't think we feel it at all, we just play."
The latest examples of that came in the first two games back from the holiday break over the weekend. Columbus battled back from a 1-0 deficit that in the return game Saturday, scoring in the third period to force overtime before falling to Buffalo. A day later in Quebec, the Blue Jackets twice saw Montreal eat into their two-goal lead in the final minutes but was able to hold on to a 4-3 victory.
In each game, the team showed little panic while both looking for a tying goal and while defending a lead late.
"You can always learn and grow in situational play," defenseman Seth Jones said. "We feel calm. We communicate well on the bench. We talk to each other on the ice as well. I think we work together well when the game is tight or whatever situation we're in."
Early in the season, one of the biggest frustrations for Tortorella was the lack of patience shown by his team during games. He knew coming into the year that the Blue Jackets were going to have to play a solid defensive game to be successful, and opening up to chase games was not going to be a formula for success.
That was one of the things that went into the team's early struggles with the record, but as the season has gone on, comfort in close games has become one of the hallmarks of the Blue Jackets.
"The guys have, for the most part, most of this year even when things were going south on us as a team at the beginning of the year, I don't think we've lost our composure or our confidence about trying to compete," Tortorella said. "I think we play in a lot of one-goal games. We are in a lot of situations like that. I think we feel pretty good about playing in it."
Know the Foe
If there's a big question for the Panthers at the moment, it's over the status of captain Aleksander Barkov.
The team's second-leading scorer left the team's Saturday game with a knee injury and did not play last night in Toronto in the team's 5-3 comeback win, their seventh victory in the last eight games. The status of one of the game's top centermen remains in doubt for the game against the Blue Jackets, and the Panthers would miss his 16-38-54 line in 50 games to this point.
Barkov is a key cog in one of the league's highest scoring teams, as the Panthers average 3.63 goals per game, second in the NHL. But he's far from the only dangerous piece, as All-Star winger Jonathan Huberdeau leads the way with 66 points, seventh in the NHL, on 19 goals and 47 assists.
Evgenii Dadonov leads the Panthers in goals with 23 tallies among his 41 points, while Mike Hoffman boasts a 19-23-42 line. Keith Yandle is sixth in the NHL in scoring among defenseman with 39 points, 34 of which are assists.
A number of offseason acquisitions also have filled up the net, as Noel Acciari has 18 goals and Brett Connolly has 16. Frank Vatrano adds 14 goals as well.
Defense has been the issue for the Panthers throughout the season, as Florida allows 3.27 goals per game, 25th in the NHL, and is 24th in penalty killing at 77.5 percent. As CBJ fans are likely aware, Sergei Bobrovsky has had a tough season with a 20-13-4 record, 3.25 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. He has won five of his last six starts, though, including Monday against the Leafs while backup Sam Montembault is 4-2-1 with a 3.35 GAA and .888 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Strong start: With the Panthers coming off a back-to-back, a quick start could be key. Florida is a league-best 24-2-2 when scoring first, while Columbus is 20-4-3 when doing so.
Stay out of the box: Florida is sixth in the NHL on the power play at 23.9 percent, but the Blue Jackets have allowed just one power-play goal in the last eight games. Even better, Columbus has taken just 15 penalties in that span, showing a commitment to discipline.
Team defense: The Panthers boast an array of players who can fill the net, so the CBJ commitment to defense leads to an interesting matchup. So far, Florida has scored five goals in two meetings with Columbus, well below the team's average.
The Blue Jackets have points in eight straight games (7-0-1). … Oliver Bjorkstrand has 10 goals during an eight-game point streak (10-3-13) including a four two-goal games. … Pierre-Luc Dubois has a 7-17-24 line in his last 22 games and is plus-16. … Alexander Wennberg is one point from 200 in his CBJ career, while Atkinson is two goals from the 200 mark. … The teams have split the first two games of the season, with Florida winning a home game by a 4-1 score Dec. 7 before Columbus captured a 4-1 victory on New Year's Eve.
(Subject to change)
Nick Foligno - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Gus Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Cam Atkinson
Sonny Milano - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom
Nathan Gerbe - Ryan MacInnis - Eric Robinson
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara
Scratches: Jakob Lilja, Andrew Peeke, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)
Roster Report: With the injury to Alexander Wennberg that will keep the center out three to four weeks, MacInnis will enter and likely center the fourth line. Merzlikins will get the start.