Preview: Panthers welcome Blue Jackets to town for 1st home game of 2018-19
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
The Florida Panthers are off to a slow start this season — but not because they have played poorly.
Florida will play its home opener on Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. While many other NHL teams have already played three and four games this season — Columbus, for example, is 2-1-0 — the Panthers are 0-0-1 and have been off since last Saturday.
But the Panthers aren’t worried. They finished one point short of the playoffs last season are a trendy pick to make the postseason in 2019.
Even so, the Panthers are already facing adversity as starting goalie Roberto Luongo is out two-to-four weeks due to a right-knee injury. He was hurt in Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“No one wants to be without their No. 1 goalie, but it could have been worse,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “And we have good depth there.”
The Blue Jackets are dealing with their own issues as forward Brandon Dubinsky suffered an oblique injury on Sunday and will likely miss at least four weeks.
Dubinsky had brought physicality and grit to what had been Columbus’ best line in its first two games, teaming with Josh Anderson and Boone Jenner. In those two games, Dubinsky had one goal and one assist.
“(The injury) is a tough break for him and for our team,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “That was our best line, and specifically him.”
Columbus beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 on Tuesday in their first game without Dubinsky. The teams were tied 2-2 after two periods before Columbus closed with a flourish. Nick Foligno starred for the Jackets, scoring twice and adding one assist.
Former Boston Bruins forward Riley Nash, signed as a free agent this past offseason, has replaced Dubinsky on that Anderson-Jenner line. He was a plus-one in 16 minutes of ice time on Tuesday.
Another repercussion of the Dubinsky injury is that Lukas Sedlak — a healthy scratch the first two games — will be more involved as a fourth-line center. He got 6:47 of ice time on Tuesday, including 50 seconds on the penalty kill and 1:03 on the power play.
Thursday’s lineup, however, is subject to change.
“I can’t say what’s going to happen in my mind as we go through a game,” Tortorella said. “I want to keep lines together. But I also need better play from other people.”
The Panthers, meanwhile, just want a victory. They played well on Saturday against the Lightning, a team favored to reach the Stanley Cup Finals this season. But Tampa Bay got a short-handed goal in the third period — Florida was using five forwards and no defensemen on its power play and got burned with that alignment — and the Lightning then won the game in the shootout.
Winger Mike Hoffman, making his Panthers debut after scoring 104 goals the past four years with the Ottawa Senators, had an unlucky game. He hit the post on an overtime shot that would’ve won the game. Hoffman then hit a post again in his shootout attempt.