Preview: Panthers look to reverse trend of slow starts as Blue Jackets come to town
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m.
The Florida Panthers have allowed the first goal — or in some cases the first two scores — in five consecutive games.
“First periods haven’t been that good lately,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said in an understatement.
The Panthers (17-16-6) will try to reverse the trend when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.
The Blue Jackets (23-14-3) will be playing on a second consecutive night after being knocked off 4-2 on Friday night by the Carolina Hurricanes. The Blue Jackets, who will be operating on one day shorter rest than the Panthers, got goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand and Artemi Panarin.
That line was held to just one point on Friday, so perhaps Saturday could be the night Tortorella breaks up that unit … or not.
“They are one of the best lines in the league, and I’m trying to let them figure it out,” Tortorella said. “I don’t want to short-circuit them with a knee-jerk reaction just because I’m mad about a couple of shifts.”
Panarin leads the Blue Jackets with 44 points. Atkinson is second with 42, and Dubois is third with 36. They have combined for 13 game-winning goals and have helped Atkinson post two hat tricks.
They also have combined to score eight of Columbus’ 16 power-play goals. However, the Blue Jackets have struggled tremendously with the man advantage lately, going 0-for-22 in their past nine games.
Tortorella said he wants more secondary scoring, and it would help if, for example, Brandon Dubinsky can get back on track. He hasn’t produced a point in nearly one month — since Dec. 6.
Defenseman Seth Jones, who has scored six goals, is fourth on the Blue Jackets with 24 points. Fellow defenseman Zach Werenski is fifth with 23 points.
As for the Panthers, they will send one player — defenseman Keith Yandle — to the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, which will be played Jan. 26 in San Jose.
Yandle, who is Florida’s quarterback on the power play, ranks second on the Panthers with 27 assists and fifth in points with 33. His 17 assists on the power play ranks first on the team.
The Panthers also have a shot to send Barkov to the All-Star Game, as he is one of the 31 “Last Men In” under the league format. Each NHL team has one player represented in Last Men In, and fan voting will select one All-Star per division.
Barkov, who made his All-Star debut last year, ranks second on the Panthers with 41 points and third with 16 goals.
He also ranks first in the NHL among forwards in ice time per game (23:12). Barkov is second in the league with 58 takeaways.
Other Panthers forwards to watch are Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads the team with 35 assists and 45 points; Mike Hoffman, who leads the team with 19 goals; and Evgenii Dadonov, who is second on the team with 17 goals and fourth with 35 points.