The Florida Panthers (2-0-0) return to the ice to face the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-2-2) tonight as the Panthers get their first action in a week. Due to the Carolina Hurricanes coronavirus outbreak, the NHL postponed Florida’s games on Thursday and Saturday.
The Blue Jackets made a splash on Saturday with one of the biggest trades in recent memory as they traded C Pierre Luc-Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets. In exchange they got W Patrik Laine and C Jack Roslovic. Laine, the 2nd overall pick in 2016 is buddies with Panthers captain Sasha Barkov and has hit the 30 goal plateau every season except for the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. Due to visa and injury issues, the dynamic Finnish winger likely won’t be ready for this series. C Jack Roslovic had a falling out with the Jets organization and the Columbus native trained in his hometown during the offseason. The first Columbus born NHL player, the new Blue Jacket does not have to go through the red tape like Laine, but Coach Tortorella is going to hold him out of the Florida series so he can get some practice.
The Blue Jackets got off to a slow start, largely due to the Pierre Luc-Dubois saga, but with that resolved, the team is ready to go, as they defeated the Lightning 5-2 on Saturday.
Longtime Wild captain Mikko Koivu signed with the Jackets during the offseason, but started the season in COVID protocol. Koivu is going to make his Jacket debut tonight.
Despite a solid outing Saturday, Elvis Merzlinkins will not start tonight. Joonas Korpisalo will start. Korpisalo has had a solid start to the season going 1-1-1, 2.34 GAA and a .935 SVPCT. Korpisalo is 3-1-0 in his 4 starts against Florida with a .905 SVPCT and a 3.45 GAA in his career against the Panthers.
Alexandre Texier and Oliver Bjorkstrand tie for the lead in points on the Jackets with 5. Texier and Nick Foligno lead the goal scoring with three goals apiece. Michael Del Zotto leads the team in assists with 4.
Koivu (17 GP 5-12-17) is the only active Jacket at a point per game in their career against Florida.
71 Nick Foligno- 16 Max Domi- 13 Cam Atkinson
38 Boone Jenner- 42 Alexandre Texier- 28 Oliver Bjorkstrand
19 Liam Foudy- 20 Riley Nash- 50 Eric Robinson
25 Mikhail Grigorenko- 9 Mikko Koivu- 11 Kevin Stenlund
8 Zach Werenski- 3 Seth Jones
44 Vladislav Gavrikov- 58 David Savard
15 Michael Del Zotto- 46 Dean Kukan
90 Elvis Merzlinkins
70 Joonas Korpisalo
Scratched: F Nathan Gerbe; D Gabriel Carlsson; D Scott Harrington
Non-Roster: F Jack Roslovic
IR: F Gustav Nyqvist (Shoulder, 3-4 months); F Patrik Laine (Upper Body, Day to Day); W Brandon Dubnisky (Wrist, Season, LTIR)
The Panthers are well-rested coming off of the weeklong break. The Panthers now face a daunting task- 54 games in 102 days. The Panthers start this journey in Columbus, a city they will have to visit four times this year. This city is a struggle for them as they have not won a game at Nationwide Arena since December 4th, 2015.
However much of the Panthers roster is familiar with this team. Sergei Bobrovsky was the longtime netminder here. GM Bill Zito was the assistant GM for many years in Columbus. Alex Wennberg and Markus Nutivaara wore the navy blue sweaters here last season and Anthony Duclair and Anton Stralman have each made pit stops in this city.
Sergei Bobrovsky gets his second start of the season after a less than ideal debut against the Blackhawks. Bob has played three games in his career against his old team, all with Florida last season. Bob went 1-1-1 with a .944 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA against them. This included one of the best goalie duels I’ve seen where Bob matched Merzlinkins shot for shot last year until Zach Werenski scored on the Blue Jackets 45th shot in overtime last season giving the Jackets a 1-0 win.
Patric Hornqvist and Jonathan Huberdeau lead the team in points with 4. Hornqvist has the goal lead with 3. Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov split the assist lead with 3 apiece.
Gustav Forsling (2 GP, 0-2-2) is the only Panther at a point per game against Columbus.
23 Carter Verehaege- 16 Aleksander Barkov- 91 Anthony Duclair
11 Jonathan Huberdeau- 21 Alex Wennebrg- 70 Patric Hornqvist
77 Frank Vatrano- 27 Eetu Luostarinen- 74 Owen Tippett
13 Vinnie Hinostroza- 55 Noel Acciari- 10 Brett Connolly
52 Mackenzie Weegar- 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gustav Forsling- 6 Anton Stralman
3 Keith Yandle- 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
60 Chris Driedger
Scratched: D Noah Juulsen; F Ryan Lomberg
Non-Roster: D Markus Nutivaara; F Juho Lammikko
Status Report: Nutivaara and Lammikko have cleared the Covid protocol but Coach Q wants them to get more practice in before they join the lineup. Expect Nutivaara to join the main group and Lammikko to be relegated to the taxi squad.
I am 1-1 on predictions this year. I have 1 point, as I have failed to predict the correct final score and GWG scorer. My prediction for tonight is a 2-1 Columbus victory in overtime with Zach Werenski scoring the GWG.