After a few days to regroup, the Blue Jackets will travel down to Sunrise to meet the Panthers Thursday night in the second half of a home-and-home. The Blue Jackets have been off since Monday’s 2-1 win over the Panthers at Nationwide Arena, a victory that snapped their six-game losing streak. The Panthers had no such rest, as they traveled to Detroit to take on the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
The Panthers have had trouble scoring this season (29th in the NHL), and had similar trouble against the Jackets. Sergei Bobrovsky made 24 saves, including a game-saver on Tomas Kopecky, but overall was not overly taxed for most of the contest. It was a different Panthers team in Detroit on Tuesday night, beating Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard for four goals and hanging on during a late Detroit surge to get a 4-3 win. It was only the second time the Panthers have dealt with a back-to-back this season.
Roberto Luongo made 38 saves in his return from an upper body injury to help Florida pick up a big win over one of the NHL's top teams. Aleksander Barkov missed Tuesday’s game after injuring his hand against the Blue Jackets. Offseason acquisition Dave Bolland has missed most of the season with a groin strain, but is hopeful to return to the lineup this week.
The Blue Jackets took down the Panthers 2-1 on Monday for their seventh win of the season. After a sluggish start to the game in which the Jackets took two penalties and failed to register a shot in the first 10 minutes, the Jackets opened the scoring late in the first period. Columbus forced a turnover in the Panthers zone and when the puck worked its way below the goal line, Michael Chaput swung the puck to an uncovered Matt Calvert, who walked around Al Montoya and finished for his third goal of the season.
The Panthers responded in the second period with Kerby Rychel in the box for high-sticking. Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad flicked a seeing-eye slapper through traffic that beat Bobrovsky for his third goal of the year. Rychel would redeem himself in the third period, when Boone Jenner’s pass through the slot found his stick and Rychel quickly sent the puck on goal. Montoya made the save, but Jenner punched home the rebound for the eventual game-winner.
Hayes scored again against the Red Wings, and now has six goals on the season to rank second on the team. His 12 points are only six shy of the 18 he racked up in 53 games last season, his first full NHL campaign. Hayes played 31 games his first season in Chicago and 10 in his second, showing talent and ability to use his 6-foot-6, 220 lb. frame, but had difficulty cracking the lineup consistently and in offensive roles. He’s getting that opportunity with the Panthers, and he’s showing the offensive skills that made him a standout player at Boston College, where his brother Kevin (now with the New York Rangers) also starred for the Eagles.
Matt Calvert has had to battle through injuries this season, but he appears to be finding his offensive touch working alongside Jack Skille. Calvert has two goals in his last five games, one on a nifty move Monday night off a feed from below the goal line and the other on a 2-on-1 rush against the Flyers on a feed from Skille. The Blue Jackets have been searching for much of the season to find depth scoring, impact and consistency from players not named Nick Foligno or Ryan Johansen. A healthy Calvert that continues to produce scoring chances using his speed and strong play on the wall will go a long way toward achieving that.
Jackets' bottom-six forwards vs. Panthers' defense
We expected a close game on Monday between two goal-starved teams. The difference was that it wasn’t Foligno and Johansen finding a way to win the game for Columbus. Calvert opened the scoring on a feed from recent call-up Chaput, and later Jenner finished off a play by another call-up in rookie Kerby Rychel. The Panthers blue line isn’t the most dynamic in hockey but it’s pretty dependable; veteran Willie Mitchell has always drawn the tough minutes, Erik Gudbranson is still developing but has greatly improved in his own end, and Ekblad is a rookie in name only. The Panthers have the tools to matchup against Foligno and Johansen on home ice with the last line change. Even if one of those point-per-game players can break through, the Jackets will still need contributions from secondary sources if they're to have success.