March 29, 2011; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard (16) looks to pass from behind the Florida Panthers net during the third period at Nationwide Arena. Columbus won in a shootout 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-US PRESSWIRE

Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Blue Jackets. It Doesn't Come Easy.


FLORIDA PANTHERS: 37-24-16 (90 PTS.) vs. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: 25-45-7 (57 PTS.)




Never let it be said that this season hasn’t been full of ups and downs.  The Florida Panthers have had about as many of those as a team can have, yet continue to remain in first place in the Southeast division as the season approaches the final eight days.  Last evening’s loss to the Minnesota Wild, another team in the recent string of games that’s out of the playoff picture, presents a problem that won’t go away.  Playing to the level of the competition, and lack of scoring.  Florida is 1-3-1 in their last five games, all to teams that have early tee times.  I’m not saying that you need to get nervous, but if Florida isn’t careful they’re going to bring this down to the wire, even though the schedule has been set up otherwise.  Keep the faith, as well as your finger off the panic switch.

The good thing about last night is that there is little time to dwell on what happened and how it happened as the boys take on another “bottom feeder” in the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight.  Jose Theodore who has been the “victim” in goal for Florida took another overtime/shootout loss that he really doesn’t deserve.

“That’s a tough one,” said goalie Jose Theodore, who lost his fourth straight start. “We could’ve had two (points), probably should’ve had two. But you’ve got to forget about it.”

What worries my about tonight is that it’s another must win game for Florida in order to stay afloat and keep Washington at a distance.  This game is also the “game at hand” game, but in all honesty, it means absolutely nothing if we don’t win it at this stage of the process. A four point lead over idle Washington should grow to six after tonight unless there’s another offensive failure.  That’s been the problem of late, not getting enough scoring , especially from people who’ve led the way previously.  While Tomas Fleischmann has done his part, and it was good to see Scottie Upshall get on the board last night, there are other players who’ve been MIA.

We love Kris Versteeg, but since he’s returned from injury, he’s not been the same.  Surely his effort has been there, and the hustle that you’re used to has been as well, however as I’ve said before, he’s doing too much.  He needs to simplify his game. Period.  Shawn Matthias is another player that needs to convert some chances as well.  Shawn not having scored since mid February has really contributed to the crippled offence.  Dave Lasseter mentioned both these players in his post game this morning as two guys that must contribute to the box score.

Kevin Dineen spoke yesterday about how the Panthers don’t do anything easy despite their efforts:

“We haven’t taken the easy path all year long,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “It’s been an up-and-down season and we scratch and claw and all our games have been so close that sometimes we end up on the wrong side of it.”

Columbus on the other hand is a team that’s coming off a 4-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, which saw backup goaltender Allen York win his first NHL game in what was his second career start.  Columbus is out of the playoffs, and has been for quite some time, and they are guaranteed to finish with the least amount of points on the season.

Those happenings however don’t always translate into a game that should be a win, as Florida has shown recently that nothing is a given.  Rick Nash is the leader in goals with 27.  His future with the team is nothing short of cloudy, as he was the talk of the trade deadline, but ended up staying put.  He’s willing to accept a trade to a short list of teams, and it’s most likely going to happen in the off season.  Columbus needs a rebuild and an infusion of some young talent.  The chain around Nash’s contract and some poor decisions with trades in the last couple seasons hasn’t worked in their favor.

The Jackets surprisingly have won the last four matchups between the two teams, including an overtime game where RJ Umberger scored the winning goal, as well as a shootwin that saw Scottie Upshall get the winner.

Tonight the story should be plain and simple.  Get a good start, stay out of the penalty box, and take advantage of any mistake that Columbus makes.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* Columbus has gone 12-13-6 in it’s last 26 games after going 4-15-2 in it’s previous 21.

* Rick Nash is three goals shy of 30, an achievement he’s accomplished in six of the past seven seasons.

* The Blue Jacket power play is ranked 27th in the league with a 14.8% rating, and their penalty kill is 30th, killing off only 75.8%.

* The Panthers have lost 330 man games to injury.

* The Panthers have been in first place for 119 days, 34 of them in a row.

* Brian Campbell set the team record for power play assists last night with his 27th and 28th, taking over Robert Svehla who had 27 in 95-96.

* The Panthers are 26-2-8 when scoring on the power play.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Tags: Allen York Columbus Blue Jackets Florida Panthers Jose Theodore Rick Nash Tomas Flesichmann

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