Game 4 Preview: Driedger gets call as Panthers look to start 4-0-0

After a wild game Tuesday night, in which the Panthers tied the game with 2 seconds left and then won in a shootout, the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-2-3) look for revenge against the Florida Panthers (3-0-0) as the two finish their first two game set at Nationwide Arena. The hero on Tuesday night was Patric Hornqvist, as the Swede scored the game tying goal and the shootout winner.

In the 4-3 game on Tuesday, Columbus had goals from Stenlund, Texier and Atkinson. Florida’s goal scorers were Verehaege, Barkov and Hornqvist. Huberdeau and Hornqvist scored in shootout for the Panthers, as did Bjorkstrand for Columbus. Korpisalo made 28 saves on 31 shots for Columbus and Bobrovsky made 19 saves on 22 shots for Florida.

Scouting the Opponent

Despite a decent outing from Joonas Korpisalo on Tuesday night, John Tortorella continues to rotate his 1a/1b tandem as Elvis Merzlinkins gets the call tonight. The Latvian born netminder had a phenomenal second half of the season last year, including 5 shutouts. One of those shutouts came against the Panthers as he battled Sergei Bobrovsky in a goalie duel that went to OT. The 45th Jacket shot by Werenski beat Bobrovsky as Columbus won 1-0. In three games against the Cats, Elvis is 2-1-0 with a .958 save percentage, a 1.32 GAA and a shutout. So far this season, Merzlinkins has had three starts. He is 1-1-1 with a .891 save percentage and a 3.34 GAA with the win coming against Tampa Bay.

Jack Roslovic makes his Blue Jackets debut tonight as he comes in for Kevin Stenlund. Roslovic will slide into the third line center role for the Blue Jackets. The Columbus native was a 1st rounder for the Jets in 2015 and played 180 career games in the ‘peg with 26 goals and 41 assists. Roslovic gets a great opportunity as his wingers are Boone Jenner and the high scoring Cam Atkinson. Look for Tortorella to roll all four lines.

Alex Texier and Oliver Bjorkstrand lead the team in points with 6 each.

My player to watch for Columbus is Elvis Merzlinkins. Merzlinkins is a phenomenal talent and has owned the Panthers so far in his young career. A good start here could propel him to the 1a role.

Blue Jackets Projected Lines

71 Nick Foligno- 42 Alex Texier- 28 Oliver Bjorkstrand

25 Mikhail Grigorenko- 16 Max Domi- 19 Liam Foudy

38 Boone Jenner- 96 Jack Roslovic- 13 Cam Atkinson

50 Eric Robinson- 9 Mikko Koivu- 20 Riley Nash

3 Seth Jones- 8 Zach Werenski

44 Vladislav Gavrikov- 58 David Savard

15 Michael Del Zotto- 46 Dean Kukan

90 Elvis Merzlinkins

70 Joonas Korpisalo

Scratched: F Kevin Stenlund; D Gabriel Carlsson; D Scott Harrington

The Panthers

The Panthers have made a few lineup changes for tonight. Most notably is the debut of Markus Nutivaara on defense, as he missed the first three games due to the COVID protocol. The Finnish defenseman was traded to the Panthers by the Blue Jackets for Cliff Pu. This was a cap clearing move by Columbus. Nutivaara’s Panther debut is against his old team at their home rink, so that has got to be a treat for him.

After a disappointing third game, which included a four minute double minor high sticking, Forward Owen Tippett was loaned to the taxi squad. Tippett was benched by Quenneville, only playing 7 minutes of ice time. The former 1st round pick will have to work his way back onto the main roster. Joel Quenneville may play seven defensemen again. I expect Keith Yandle to be the new hybrid, as Mark Pysyk left for Dallas. My guess is that Yandle will slide in where Tippett’s empty spot is.

I also think Noah Juulsen may also make his Panther debut. That hasn’t been confirmed yet but Joel Quenneville wants to get his extra defenders some ice time.

Chris Driedger will slide in for Sergei Bobrovsky. Driedger made 28 saves on 30 shots on Opening Night, as the Panthers missed Bobrovsky due to an undisclosed injury. Driedger’s effort helped lead the Panthers to a 5-2 victory. The 2019-20 league leader in save percentage and GAA for goalies who played above 10 games, Driedger could really make an impact and possibly steal the starting job from Sergei Bobrovsky. The Russian starter has had a disappointing start to the season after a disappointing debut season. The Panthers won the two games with Bob in net, but Bob struggled allowing 7 goals as both games went to the extra frame.

Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verehaege are tied for the team lead in points with 5 each. Hornqvist leads the team in goals with 4, as Anthony Duclair leads the team in assists with 4.

My player to watch for the Panthers tonight is Patric Hornqvist. The Swede has been huge for the Panthers so far this season, and every shift he is on the ice, he makes an impact.

Projected Lines Panthers

23 Carter Verehaege- 16 Aleksander Barkov- 91 Anthony Duclair

11 Jonathan Huberdeau- 21 Alex Wennberg- 70 Patric Hornqvist

3 Keith Yandle- 27 Eetu Luostarinen- 77 Frank Vatrano

10 Brett Connolly- 55 Noel Acciari- 94 Ryan Lomberg

52 Mackenzie Weegar- 5 Aaron Ekblad

65 Markus Nutivaara- 6 Anton Stralman

58 Noah Juulsen- 7 Radko Gudas

60 Chris Driedger

72 Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratched: F Juho Lammikko; F Vinnie Hinostroza; D Gustav Forsling


I am now 1-2 on predictions with only one point. My prediction tonight is a 2-1 Jackets victory with Atkinson scoring the dagger.