There will be a lot of uncertainty when the Florida Panthers visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
Can the Panthers take it up a notch after having been idle since Jan. 19? They have played just two games — tied for the fewest in the NHL — while most teams in the league have completed five, six and even seven contests.
Florida’s two most recent games on the schedule were postponed due to COVID-19 issues on the Carolina Hurricanes. Earlier this season, the same thing happened to the Dallas Stars, which also cost the Panthers games, at least in the short term.
“You can tell our guys are to the point where they want to play more real games,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said after a recent practice. “This little time here, it is what it is.”
Meanwhile, Columbus, which has points in four straight games (2-0-2), has been disrupted by last week’s blockbuster trade in which the Jackets sent Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick to Winnipeg for high-scoring winger Patrik Laine and center Jack Roslovic.
It’s not known yet if Columbus’ two new players will arrive in Ohio in time to play the Panthers — there are work visa and quarantine issues to deal with, especially coming from Canada.
But the Jackets, including general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, are thrilled to get them — especially Laine.
“There’s a price to be paid for an elite player like (Laine),” Kekalainen said.
And that leads to more key questions: How will the Jackets play Tuesday without Laine if he isn’t cleared to play? And if he is ready, will the Jackets need time to adjust to a 22-year-old star who scored 140 goals in 306 games with the Jets?
After that mystery is solved, there are more questions. How will the armada of former Blue Jackets now in Florida do in their return to Columbus?
That group includes goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, in his second year with the Panthers, and newcomers Anthony Duclair, Alexander Wennberg and Markus Nutivaara.
Nutivaara has yet to make his Panthers debut due to COVID protocol. Wennberg has no goals and one assist with the Panthers, and Duclair has two assists. Bobrovsky allowed four goals but got the win in his only appearance so far this season on Jan. 19 against Chicago.
Speaking of newcomers, the biggest positive for the Panthers in 2021 has been winger Patric Hornqvist, who has a team-high three goals and one assist in the two games since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Columbus’ leading goal scorer is Alexandre Texier, 21, who is getting his biggest opportunity in the league since he broke into the NHL in 2018-19. He has three goals and two assists in five games.
As for the goalies, the Jackets have given three starts each to Elvis Merzlikins (1-1-1, 3.34 GAA, .891 save percentage) and Joonas Korpisalo (1-1-1, 2.34, .935).
If the Panthers don’t start Bobrovsky, they will go with Chris Driedger, who allowed two goals in his only game this season on Jan. 17 against the Blackhawks.
–Field Level Media