Florida @ Columbus preview
Last Meeting ( Nov 6, 2023 ) Columbus 4, Florida 5
The Florida Panthers look to keep momentum going when they kick off a five-game road trip at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
The Panthers are coming off a 3-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, their second straight win and fourth in the past six games (4-1-1).
They've outscored their opponents 18-6 in those victories and 22-12 in the six outings overall.
After playing six of their past nine games at home, Florida stops in Columbus before venturing west to Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
"These games are going to be big," goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said. "We're still building our game. We're still getting things together. It's a process and we're in the first part of it. It's a big, big road trip and a big couple wins for us."
The Panthers have shown few signs of a hangover from reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season and have worked their way into the top 10 in the NHL standings despite missing defensemen Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad for the first five weeks.
One factor in their success has been the play of versatile forward Evan Rodrigues. Signed by Florida to a four-year contract as a free agent this past summer, Rodrigues has 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) through 26 games. The 30-year-old, playing on the top line with captain Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart, is on pace for a career-high 66 points, 23 more than his previous best set in 2021-22 with the Penguins.
"For myself, it's just focusing on doing the little things," Rodrigues said. "Being fast, getting in on the forecheck, just competing hard and letting my skill kind of take care of itself. When I get the pucks, they're usually always open. ... I look up and they seem to be on an island. Get it to them and then obviously they do their thing."
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, will have their organizational depth further put to the test with the loss of captain Boone Jenner, who is out six weeks with a fractured jaw sustained in the second period of a 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. Jenner leads the team with 13 goals and is second with 18 points.
Columbus was already without forwards Jack Roslovic (fractured foot), Patrik Laine (illness) and Cole Sillinger (upper body), defensemen Damon Severson (oblique), Adam Boqvist (shoulder) and Erik Gudbranson (illness), and goalie Elvis Merzlikins (illness). Laine and Sillinger could potentially return against Florida, according to The Athletic.
The win against the Blues snapped a three-game losing streak for the Blue Jackets and was only their second victory in the past six games (2-3-1).
"I'm really proud, for sure," Columbus coach Pascal Vincent said. "We've done it before. We've seen this before. The group is all in. They want to do it the right way. They work hard. ... We talked about confidence, but also having the confidence to compete and be who we are as a team, in our DNA. That's what they brought. And I'm really proud of them."
Rookie Adam Fantilli is riding a four-game point streak in which he has five points (two goals, three assists). The 19-year-old, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 draft, is third on the team with eight goals and tied for third with 16 points in 29 games.
--Field Level Media