Jackets’ Bobrovsky 7-2 in net to start season
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers want to get tougher. They need to be tougher.
The Panthers (4-6-1) will get their chance on Thursday night against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets (8-4-0).
Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio
The toughness issue came up after Florida was blown out 8-5 at home by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.
That loss — and the way it happened, with Tampa Bay skating freely all night — irked many of the Panthers, including star defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
“They were a hell of a lot better than us,” Ekblad said of the Lightning. “We had a lot of problems. We made mistakes that we talk about day in and day out. We shouldn’t be making those same mistakes.”
Ekblad said “passion” — or the lack thereof — was an issue.
“In the third (period), I think we found it, but it was too late,” he said. “We have to have our defenders — all of us — with a chip on our shoulders. Every time (Tampa Bay’s) Steve Stamkos touched the puck, I want to be better than him. Any time Nikita Kucherov touches the puck … we needed to make his life miserable.”
On Thursday night, you can substitute the names of Stamkos and Kucherov for Columbus top forwards.
“We have to play a hell of a lot harder and make it impossible for those guys to get a sniff,” Ekblad said in the final moments of his rant. “On any team — any team’s best line — we have to make sure they don’t get a sniff.”
There’s a reason why Ekblad is upset, and it goes beyond just the Tampa Bay game.
Florida is allowing 3.91 goals per game this season, making it the second-worst defense in the league. And the Panthers have allowed 12 power-play goals in 11 games — the worst percentage in the league.
But perhaps Florida will catch a break on Thursday since Columbus has the worst power play in the league, converting just three out of 35 chances (8.6 percent).
Florida’s offense, meanwhile, has been producing. For example, its top line of Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Huberdeau combined for 10 points against Tampa Bay on Monday.
But secondary scoring from the remaining lines is a question, and the Panthers will have a difficult challenge in beating Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who is 7-2-0 and ranks fifth in the league with a 1.97 goals-against average.
Bobrovsky stopped both shootout attempts he faced in Monday’s 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins. Columbus improved to 4-0 this season in games decided after regulation.
“We wanted two points, not one, and we found a way to get the two,” Blue Jackets right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand told The Columbus Dispatch.
Columbus was without forward Cam Atkinson (lower-body injury) on Monday, and he is questionable for the Panthers game. Columbus defenseman Gabriel Carlsson hasn’t played since Oct.13, but he is believed to be near a return. On Tuesday, he practiced for the first time since his injury.
Florida has four injured players, including starting goalie Roberto Luongo, who played just four games before being sidelined due to a right thumb injury. He hasn’t played since Oct. 20 and will miss at least one more week.
The Panthers are also missing three forwards: Connor Brickley, Jared McCann and Colton Sceviour. But even without them, the Panthers are sixth in the league in scoring at 3.64 goals per game.
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