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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets start road swing at Florida

Columbus has won seven straight vs. Panthers heading into matchup

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

BLUE JACKETS (11-13-4) at PANTHERS (13-9-5)     

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla. (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports appCD 102.5 FM

Oliver Bjorkstrand kept firing. He fired into the very end of the outstretched leg of Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev on the power play in the first period. He fired high of an open net from a sharp angle in the third. He fired off the top of Georgiev's glove on another late rebound chance.  

Finally, for the cherry on top, he fired into the post, drawing iron in the final moments of what would be a 3-2 loss for the Blue Jackets on Thursday night. 

In all, Bjorkstrand fired the puck 17 times in the game. Of those, seven missed the net or were blocked, but 10 were stopped by Georgiev, putting Bjorkstrand in the select company of Blue Jackets players to have double digits in shots on goal in one game. 

And yet he couldn't score. The rest of the Blue Jackets couldn't do enough either, as a season-high 47 shots on goal still netted the team a loss that felt like a highway robbery.  

Video: Tortorella meets with the media after practice Friday

"I don't think so," Bjorkstrand said when asked if he'd ever had a game like that. "That's the only way I can answer it. I just have to be better once I get the chances, I guess. I don't know. The few rebounds there, (he made) good saves, but I have to make a different shot, I guess." 

The "I guess" was the tip-off that this was no normal loss. What more could the Blue Jackets have really done -- other than score? 

We bring this up not to pick on the Danish forward but to point out, as most CBJ fans know, it's just been a trend for the team this season. Chances have been a plenty, but goals have been hard to come by, with the team leaving numerous losses this year believing they did just about everything to win a game but win it. 

Of course, that's the thing you have to do, though, and the lack of offensive production has magnified all other aspects of the Blue Jackets' game. Against the Rangers, the team gave up just 19 shots on goal and nine scoring chances but lost because of a goal given up late in the first period, a power-play goal in the second and a game-winning goal that came because a bad line change left the team outnumbered 5-to-3 in the defensive zone.  

"I am certainly not going to put any type of negative tone on how we played because we played our (butt) off and played really well," head coach John Tortorella said. "But we are in that wave of finding ways to lose games, and we gotta try to turn this around." 

While the lack of finishing gets the publicity for the most part with the team, the frustration is equally spread among the critical breakdowns on the other end of the ice that have kept the Blue Jackets from winning games. 

Mistakes are always going to happen in hockey, but the annoyance comes from making ones that can be described either as elementary or addressed in pregame prep.  

"That's the road we're down right now with the room for error," captain Nick Foligno said. "We're going to have to just continue to go about this process that we're in. We're playing good hockey. I don't think anyone is going to argue that, but now, we need to focus on the finer details within good hockey." 

Know the Foe

Florida enters tied for second in the Atlantic Division with Buffalo, though considering the Panthers have more losses than wins, that's as much an indictment of the division as anything else. 

While former Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was signed this offseason to shore up the defense, that has not happened. The Panthers allow 3.48 goals per game, third worst in the league, and are actually the worst 5-on-5 defense in the NHL with 2.78 goals allowed per game in that state. Bobrovsky, who will start Saturday night, has struggled, as his 3.48 goals-against average and .884 save percentage are worst among the 13 NHL goalies with at least 20 starts so far. 

Yet the team has been saved by an offense that is pumping in goals. Florida averages 3.44 goals per game, good for fifth in the NHL. The combination of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov continues to be one of the most underrated in the league, with Huberdeau's 33 points good for 10th in the league and Barkov's 32 slotting in 12th. Huberdeau has 11 goals and 22 helpers, while Barkov has nine goals and 23 assists, placing him sixth in the league in the latter category. 

The team's No. 1 goal scorer is actually offseason signing Brett Connolly, the former Capital who has 12 tallies among his 19 points. Evgenii Dadonov (10-11-21) and Mike Hoffman (10-8-18) each have double digits in goals, while Keith Yandle has a 2-20-22 line to lead the blue line. 

Special teams have been consistent for the Panthers, with the power play eighth in the NHL at 22.9 percent and the PK at 84.8 percent, good for seventh.   

3 Keys to the Game

Pepper Bobrovsky: In a season in which most goaltenders who have played against the CBJ have turned in Vezina-worthy efforts, perhaps facing one that the team knows intimately well will help. 

Fine-tune the details: Columbus didn't give the Rangers, one of the top scoring teams in the NHL, much offensively but did still find up a way to give up three goals. The team must be on its defensive game for 60 minutes vs. Florida. 

Stay in front: Columbus is winless when giving up the first goal, but even when scoring first, the team has spent much of the season coming from behind. It's a trend that has to be turned around.  

Of Note

Columbus begins the first of three road trips that will last at least four games. … Blue Jackets defenseman Andrew Peeke hails from Parkland, Fla., just outside Miami, and grew up attending Panthers games. … Former Blue Jackets defenseman Anton Stralman has played in every game this year for the Panthers, posting a 2-8-10 line. … Columbus has won seven straight against the Panthers and three consecutive games in Sunrise. … Cam Atkinson (2-2-4), Boone Jenner (2-2-4) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (1-3-4) each had four points in three games vs. Florida a season ago. The Blue Jackets tallied 16 goals in the three-game series last year. … Columbus is 5-0-1 in its last six vs. the Atlantic Division.  

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change)  

Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Emil Bemstrom  

Josh Anderson - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand   

Gustav Nyquist - Alexandre Texier - Cam Atkinson 

Nick Foligno - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson 

Dean Kukan - Seth Jones     

Ryan Murray - David Savard   

Vladislav Gavrikov - Andrew Peeke  

Elvis Merzlikins (confirmed starter)

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratches: Alexander Wennberg, Scott Harrington 

Roster Report: Wennberg is a healthy scratch while Robinson returns to the lineup, while Merzlikins will get his seventh start of the season. 

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