COLUMBUS -- Brandon Dubinsky is close to playing his first game for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season after having abdominal surgery in October. His return can't come soon enough with the news Monday that center Artem Anisimov will miss two to three months because of a torn triceps.
Unfortunately for the injury-prone and struggling Blue Jackets, Dubinsky won't be in the lineup against the Florida Panthers at Nationwide Arena on Monday.
Dubinsky, Anisimov and Mark Letestu, who will miss his 15th straight game because of a groin injury, comprise three-fourths of the centers coach Todd Richards planned to have at the beginning of the season. Only leading scorer Ryan Johansen remains healthy.
"You lose three penalty killers, guys who you really rely on; three guys on faceoffs," Richards said. "We've had nights when we've been really good on faceoffs but there have been other nights we've been chasing the puck. It starts in the circle. Losing another center, we'll have to deal with."
That's the brave front the Blue Jackets, losers of six straight and 15 of 17, are trying to put on in the face of unrelenting injuries. They've lost 154 man-games to injury, an average of 6.7 per game. Florida is at 51 man-games lost.
Columbus has seven players on injured reserve. Defenseman Fedor Tyutin and Anisimov are tied for the fewest games missed (seven) among them. Anisimov has two goals and six points in 16 games; he missed seven games earlier this season with a concussion.
"We've been through injuries already. It's nothing new to us, it's sad to say," Blue Jackets right wing Nick Foligno said. "You become numb to the fact and now it's a matter of worrying about us; who's in the locker room, who's playing tonight. That's the way it goes."
The Panthers, winners of two straight, will start backup goaltender Al Montoya in place of Roberto Luongo, who left the game Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second period with an upper-body injury and did not play Friday against the Ottawa Senators, when Montoya made 22 saves in a 3-2 win.
"It gives [Luongo] more practice time," Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. "[Montoya] played real well the other night and he deserves the start tonight."
Left wing Shawn Thornton (groin) will be a game-time decision according to Gallant, who was an assistant coach with the expansion Blue Jackets in 2000-01 and head coach from 2004-06, compiling a 56-76-10 record.
"I liked it here," Gallant said. "I had seven great years here. My family grew up here, my kids were in high school, middle school here."
It also will be a homecoming for Panthers center Derek MacKenzie. He signed as a free-agent with the Panthers on July 1 after seven seasons and 279 games with the Blue Jackets. He doesn't expect a loud reception from the fans.
"Being a fourth-line guy and the role I had, in a lot of ways I took pride in just kind of flying under the radar," he said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Brandon Pirri
Jussi Jokinen - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes
Tomas Fleischmann - Vincent Trocheck - Jimmy Hayes
Tomas Kopecky - Derek Mackenzie - Sean Bergenheim
Aaron Ekblad - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Willie Mitchell
Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson
Scratched: Colby Robak
Injured: Shawn Thornton (groin), Dave Bolland (lower body), Scottie Upshall (ankle)
Scott Hartnell - Ryan Johansen - Nick Foligno
Kerby Rychel - Boone Jenner - Cam Atkinson
Matt Calvert - Michael Chaput - Jack Skille
Brian Gibbons - Adam Cracknell - Jared Boll
Jack Johnson - Dalton Prout
Jordan Leopold - David Savard
Kevin Connauton - James Wisniewski
Scratched: Tim Erixon, Corey Tropp
Injured: Nathan Horton (back), Ryan Murray (knee), Cody Goloubef (knee), Fedor Tyutin (knee), Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery), Mark Letestu (groin), Artem Anisimov (torn triceps)
Status report: Jokinen is expected to play after missing the last game because of illness. … Cracknell returns to the Columbus lineup because of the injury to Anisimov and will center the fourth line.
Who's hot: Columbus has won eight straight against the Panthers since March 21, 2008, and five in row at Nationwide Arena since Dec. 9, 2009.