Before the CBJ puck drops: Florida Panthers
FEB 01, 2014 2:41p ET
GAME 55: Florida Panthers
21-26-7 -- 7th place in the Metropolitan Division
4-5-1 in last 10 games
[Have you registered for the FOX Sports Ohio Florida Flyaway? Win club seat tickets, signed pucks and perhaps even a trip to watch the Columbus Blue Jackets take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 11! Click here for more information, and to sign up!]
Goals for/NHL Rank: 2.32 goals/game - 27th in the NHL
Goals against/NHL Rank: 3.06 goals/game - 27th
Goals for/NHL Rank: 2.87 goals/game - 8th in the NHL
Goals against/ NHL Rank: 2.82 goals/game - 17th
ABOUT OUR OPPONENT:
The first thing striking me out of the gate when looking at the Goals For/Against rankings above is: How in the world is this team not in their division cellar? Then I realize that Buffalo plays in their division, and it all makes sense.
Seriously, a team that is 27th in Goals For and 27th in Goals Against - in a 30-team league - cannot be good. And Florida is not, although they're apparently scrappy enough to win 21 games thus far in 2013-14. And it's not like they're devoid of NHL-caliber talent, not with the likes of Brad Boyes, former Blue Jacket (at least for an extended cup of coffee) Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Campbell, Sean Bergenheim, Tim Thomas and others. Then there are youngsters like Johnathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson. No, most of these are not top-tier NHL players. But then again, you could say the same thing about 95 percent of the Columbus Blue Jackets' roster - except that the Blue Jackets have figured out a way to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts (at least on some nights).
It's pretty clear to me that general manager Dale Tallon is in the midst of a (re-)building cycle. A quick look at CapGeek tells us that the team is a whopping $37 million under the NHL salary cap - Is that possible? - and only two players are signed to contracts beyond the end of next season, and one of them was this year's first round draft pick. The cupboards are being laid bare, and I suspect that Tallon will look to do yet another overhaul in the days ahead.
Lastly, there's the money thing. The Panthers are hemorrhaging cash, to the tune of $20 million a year, and are asking for public assistance to stay afloat. That can't help the team as it looks to solidify its roster and its future prospects. At least the Panthers have great weather (at least in hockey season) to sell to prospective players.
Top scorers in Sunrise are:
- Forward Brad Boyes (14 goals, 11 assists, 25 points)
- Defenseman Tom Gilbert (2 G, 22 A, 24 pts.)
- Forward Scottie Upshall (9 G, 15 A, 24 pts.)
- Forward Aleksander Barkov (8 G, 16 A, 24 pts.)
- Forward Tomas Fleischmann (5 G, 18 A, 23 pts.)
When you are two-thirds of the way through the season and your top scorer has 25 points, there's no other way to put it: Florida has one anemic offense.
Former Boston Bruin Tim Thomas apparently is getting the start in net tonight. He has 33 starts on the season, a 14-15-3 record and a .912 save percentage. Considering the defense in front of him isn't anything special, he's actually doing quite well.
WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:
On the playoff front, the Blue Jackets slipped into fourth place in the Metropolitan Division with Carolina's win last night over St. Louis (!!). That bumped the Blue Jackets back out of the playoff picture as the Atlantic Division has the two wild card slots at present. This "in one day, out the next" stuff should be impressing upon the Blue Jackets that every game from here on in is a playoff-caliber game. The playoffs are very reachable this season for Columbus, but they're going to have to scratch and claw to get there.
Then there's the home ice component. This is the last home game before the Olympic break (The CBJ will go on a three-game West Coast swing to wrap up their pre-Olympic schedule). I'm hearing that it will likely be a decent crowd tonight, and it would be fantastic to see the Blue Jackets take their leave on a high note. It likely would be of help with fan morale, ticket sales and much more.
WHO I'LL BE WATCHING:
The Panthers are billing tonight as "Tim Thomas versus Sergei Bobrovsky." That's a reasonable point of attention. At the same time, I've got Ryan Johansen squarely in my sights. He had two goals the other night against the Capitals (now up to 21 on the season), and I'd like to believe that the kid has a hat trick inside himself somewhere. Would there be a better pre-Olympic sendoff for the home crowd than to give them an excuse to toss their headgear onto the ice?
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:
The Nationwide Arena home stand wraps up with:
- Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" at 6:30.
- The puck drops at 7PM, with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.
- Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with insight and analysis.
- Brian's "Blue Jackets Slap Shots" has an encore presentation at 10PM.
Enjoy the game tonight, everyone! Go Jackets!