Blues Gameday Preview: Florida Panthers – 12/7/2021

The St. Louis Blues have run into a series of unfortunate events over the last week. COVID-19 has forced the team to think critically about its deployment after losing their ninth player this season. To put it bluntly, the Blues are doing everything they can to simply get through each game without losing another player. Missed scoring chances, inconsistent linemates, and injuries have left the players looking out of step and sometimes out of sync with one another. Should this trend continue, this will not bode well when they visit the Florida Panthers, the NHL’s top-ranked team, on Tuesday.

Here’s a look at a few storylines to follow ahead of the game when the two franchises meet for game one in a back-to-back series:

3 Storylines: Blues (12-8-4)

Jekyll and Hyde Special Teams

The Blues come into tonight’s game with the 19th-overall ranked penalty kill (80.06 percent) and the second overall power play (30.3 percent). While the team did manage to successfully prevent all four power-play opportunities against the Panthers on Saturday afternoon, these drastic differences should be a large area of concern for the coaching staff as they take on a club that ranks 16th on the power play with a success rate of just under 20 percent, and the second-highest goals per game rate at 3.83. While desperate times do call for desperate measures, it is unclear if the organization has the depth to supplement this struggling penalty kill.

COVID & Injuries Lead to Increased Time on Ice

It is no secret that the Blues are currently facing an uphill battle and a difficult road ahead. With six players currently out of the lineup, responsibilities and veteran leadership are oftentimes heavily leaned upon. Over the last five games, the club has presented a lineup featuring 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an uneven and oftentimes temporary lineup solution to provide rest for a player or preventative maintenance for a temporary injury. During those five games, six players have not only seen an increase in time on ice but several have been tasked with carrying the load.

PLAYER NAME10/16/21 – 11/25/2111/26/21 – 12/5/21
Ryan O’Reilly19:0221:26
Robert Thomas19:0620:01
Pavel Buchnevich16:5919:30
Ivan Barbashev15:5718:40
Brayden Schenn16:2718:38
Jordan Kyrou16:1717:02
St. Louis Blues forwards increased Time On Ice increase

To complicate things further, the Blues will need to do without Robert Thomas as he is currently dealing with a lower-body injury. When asked about the injury, head coach Craig Berube stated: “It’s a lingering thing. (It’s) been going on for a little bit but he’s fought through it. Now it’s time he needs some rest.” Holding Thomas out of the lineup tonight will force the club to play a man short due to salary cap complications. Thomas is currently the second-highest scorer on the team this season with 22 points in 24 games, as well as faceoff wins (206) and faceoff win percentage (52.2%).

Pavel’s Coming to Town

After a somewhat slow start to his season, Pavel Buchnevich has been red hot as of late to help provide the Blues with chances to win hockey games. Over the last six games, he has scored five goals and assisted on three others, leading the Blues with a total of eight points in that timeframe. The club’s acquisition of Buchnevich in the offseason was like an early Christmas present that many fans hoped would add another layer of scoring potential to the lineup each night. At this current rate, he is on pace to have a career-best 33 goals and 65 points.

3 Storylines: Panthers (17-4-3)

Coaching Not a Coincidence

When former Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville resigned from his duties on Oct. 28, he left the club with a record of 17-4-3 to his successor, Andrew Brunette. Many wondered if the club’s record was a product of “Coach Q,” the players and talent that were assembled on the ice each night or a combination of both.

Related: Blues’ Injuries and COVID Situation Force Team to Search for Answers

After Saturday’s third consecutive come-from-behind victory, Brunette has now led the Panthers to a 10-5-2 record. The interim head coach has shown early signs of success despite having seven players out of the lineup, including team captain Aleksander Barkov who had managed 17 points in 15 games.

Bobrovsky Reclaiming Status

Prior to the 2019-20 season, the Panthers signed veteran goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a massive seven-year, $70 million contract (from ‘Panthers sign goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to 7-year, $70 million deal; add veteran forwards, defensemen’ South Florida Sun Sentinel, 07/01/2019), leaving many wondering if he would live up to the hype after leaving the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now in his third season with the franchise, the man they call “Bob” is finally starting to turn things around.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In a dismal first season, the starting goaltender had a record of 23-19-6, a .900 save percentage (SV%), and a 3.23 goals-against average (GAA) — not a value worth paying $10 million. Turning the page to the 2021-22 season and Bobrovsky is 11-1-2 through 16 games this season with a .920 SV% and a 2.41 GAA. Though the season is still early, Bobrovsky is certainly doing his part to not only earn his paycheck but to help lead the Panthers in their quest for a Stanley Cup.

Ekblad Resurgence

On March 28, 2021, Aaron Ekblad collided with Dallas Stars defenseman Esa Lindell, resulting in an injury that left many wincing at the sight of it. Ekblad was ultimately stretchered off the ice and underwent surgery the next day to repair a left-leg fracture and a long 12-week recovery before he could return. Fast-forwarding to the 2021-22 season, the 2014 first-overall draft pick is on pace to shatter his career-best of 41 points in 67 games. He currently boasts eight goals and 15 assists in 24 games this season, a pace of 78 points in 82 games.

Projected Line Combinations

St. Louis Blues

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Brandon SaadRyan O’ReillyPavel Buchnevich
Jordan KyrouBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Dakota JoshuaIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist
Logan BrownJake Walman (D)
Left DefenseRight Defense
Niko MikkolaColton Parayko
Torey KrugMarco Scandella
Scott PerunovichRobert Bortuzzo
Starting Goalie
Ville Husso

Florida Panthers

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Carter Verhaeghe Sasha BarkovMaxim Mamin
Jonathan HuberdeauSam BennettSam Reinhart
Frank VatranoAnton LundellOwen Tippett
Ryan LombergEetu LuostarinenPatric Hornqvist
Left DefenseRight Defense
Mackenzie WeegarAaron Ekblad
Lucas CarlssonBrandon Montour
Gus ForslingRadko Gudas
Starting Goalie
Sergei Bobrovsky

Blues Next Game: Detroit Red Wings (7 PM CST)

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