Jackets hope to right ship against Florida
PANTHERS (11-13-6) at BLUE JACKETS (13-11-5)
: Florida 2-4-4, Columbus 2-5-3.
: Annual inter-conference meeting between the two teams, their last one not a lot different from what the Panthers have been experiencing lately. They took a 1-0 lead into the closing minutes of the third, then Raffi Torres tied it with 2:46 left and gave the Jackets the lead 1:13 later. Antoine Vermette added an empty-net goal to seal a 3-1 Columbus win.
: Despite current trends for both teams, someone has to win this game. Florida has lost three in a row, Columbus eight of nine. Both are near the bottom of the NHL in goals allowed per game, the Panthers 27th at 3.27, the Blue Jackets 28th with 3.45. Both were in similar straits this time one year ago, the Blue Jackets turning it on soon enough to make a first-ever playoff berth, the Panthers falling just short.
: They did it again. Another third-period lead slips away, another game lost in the shootout. Against Edmonton on Monday, Dominic Moore gave the Cats a 2-1 lead with his second goal of the game, on the power play 1:25 into the third frame, only to see Dustin Penner erase it with a score 3:07 later.
"It's like Groundhog Day," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said afterward.
And just like the Bill Murray movie, the same things keep happening over and over. It's the eighth time in nine games that they've either held the lead or were tied in the third period, and they have but one victory to show for it.
And yet, they're still only two points out of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We're playing the right way, we're doing things the right way, we're not getting rewarded for it right now,” said DeBoer. “But you have to stick with the program and know if you keep doing that, good things are going to happen.”
A road trip could be just the thing. Last time the Panthers went on a long trip, it included stops in Buffalo, Detroit and Madison Square Garden, and they took away all six points. This time it's four games, with New Jersey on Friday, Pittsburgh Saturday and the Islanders Monday.
: No one likes to blame the schedule, but this is the first time the Jackets have gone three days without a game since Nov. 8-10 and won't see another three-day break until Feb. 7-9. That puts a premium on practice time, a fact not lost on coach Ken Hitchcock.
"When you have a young team and you don't practice, man, do you pay for it," Hitchcock said Monday. "It's amazing all the details you have to go over and over, and how quickly you can get out of synch. It felt really good to practice.
"It's somewhere between fine-tuning and an overhaul. There's some things we need to do better. Bottom line, we have to compete harder, but we also have to compete harder on the details. When you have a young team, putting details in can be information overload, but we're getting beat on details too."
: Columbus forward Jason Chimera has collected two goals and an assist in back-to-back games, scoring a goal in each. Forward R.J. Umberger has 10 points in his last 10 games, including his second career hat trick Nov. 30. Florida center Stephen Weiss
six goals in four games last week earned him NHL Second Star of the Week honors.
: Blue Jackets forward Derek Dorsett (concussion) returned to practice Monday after a nine-game absence and could play barring setbacks. Defenseman Rostislav Klesla had surgery Friday in Philadelphia to repair two torn tendons in his groin and an abdominal tear. He is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
Gregory Campbell, victim of an on-ice collision with teammate Bryan Allen
during the Oilers game, will not make the trip to Columbus with the team pending evaluation by the team's medical staff.
: Despite their recent slump, the Blue Jackets' record over 29 games still matches their best-ever start in 2007-08. The Panthers' power play has been strong of late, scoring on eight of their last 33 chances for a 24.2 percent clip.
: "We got into it at the end of December last season, and it was just enough time to make it," Hitchcock said. "If we start our engine after Christmas, we're not going to get in. We're not going to be a playoff team. We have to start our engine now."