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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Panthers, Islanders, and Blue Jackets

A trip to Florida starts off the week before a weekend of divisional matchups at PNC.

NHL: New York Islanders at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Panthers

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at BB&T Center

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes will look to keep their perfect start alive as they travel to Sunrise, Florida to take on the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. The new-look Panthers now feature a familiar face in net, as their main offseason move involved adding former Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky. While the Panthers look to improve their defensive work both in front of the crease and within it, the main driver for this team remains their stellar top line featuring Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Evgenii Dadonov. Along with second-line snipers in Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck, the Panthers possess a high-octane attack that together forms one of the more dangerous power play units in the NHL.

Carolina was consistently hurt when working against the man advantage a season ago versus Florida, specifically yielding two tallies in the last matchup in February. If the Canes are to control the action against the Panthers, they will need to remain at five-on-five to take advantage of their depth and style of play.

The Panthers are off to a reasonable start at 1-1, as they have completed an unusual back-to-back against their in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning. With Bobrovsky familiar to the Canes from his days in the division with Columbus, expect Carolina to throw as many pucks as they can to the net and to try and create as much traffic as possible to take the eyes away from the big Russian netminder.

New York Islanders

Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at New York Islanders Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Just months after exiting the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a whimper, at the hands of a sweep from the Hurricanes, the New York Islanders return to PNC Arena seeking a measure of revenge. Last season, the Islanders completed a transformation under head coach Barry Trotz to transform from the worst defensive team in the NHL to the best team statistically. That style of play appears to have carried over to this season as the Islanders are 1-1 on the season, but have yielded only three total goals in their two contests thus far.

The biggest change for the Islanders is in net where Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner has exited for Chicago, with the void being filled by Semyon Varlamov. Most observers believe that the change in net will have little effect on the overall performance from the Isles, as the lion’s share of credit for their turnaround has been directed towards the system of play rather than the ability of the goalies in net. It is certainly true that Trotz has created a team in his image as the Isles look to grind each and every shift and expect to play low-scoring, physical hockey.

The Islanders offense will continue to be led by Mathew Barzal, the sniping speedster, but in the first two contests they have been led by Anthony Beauvillier who has notched three points (one goal, two assists) to get his season off to a nice start. Regardless of their proclivity for a phone booth battle, expect the Isles to come into Raleigh motivated and eager to prove a point to the Canes that they are ready for another spring matchup if that ends up being in the cards.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason was a tumultuous one for the Columbus Blue Jackets, as the bill came due for the gamble made in order to qualify for the playoffs in the Spring. The exodus of Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Artemi Panarin were not matched by the additions of players such as Gustav Nyquist and Marko Dano.

The load that was carried in net by Bobrovsky now resides with Joonas Korpisalo after he has spent the last three full seasons as the clear backup to Bobrovsky. Another team that plays a very structured, defensive system under head coach John Tortorella, the Blue Jackets do still feature a very formidable blue line with Seth Jones, David Savard, and Zach Werenski helping to keep pucks and players from the front of the Columbus net.

In order to beat the Blue Jackets, forcing that blue line to have to consistently work pucks out from behind their net is required. If the Canes hope to be successful on what will be the back end of a back-to-back, they will need to force the Columbus attack to work 200 feet with the puck in order to create chances. transition turnovers and neutral zone work is the best way to create chances against the Blue Jackets.

While many are expecting a significant drop off from the Blue Jackets this season, there is still enough talent remaining on the roster to remain competitive, especially against intra-division foes who they are very familiar with. Expect another hard-fought, grinding game that should be the hallmark of several of the divisional matchups throughout the season.