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Blues at Panthers preview: Depleted Blues face the best team in the NHL

Raise you hands if you had the Panthers leading the league at any point this season.

St Louis Blues v Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are a team who has faced adversity this year, clearly not of their own making. They got off to a dominant start in the Atlantic Division, going 7-0-0 before head coach Joel Quenneville resigned as a response to his participation in the Blackhawks’ astronomical failings to protect Kyle Beach.

None of this, of course, was on the Florida Panthers, or any guy on that team. Luckily for them, their talent went deeper than their head coach. Also luckily for them, Quenneville was replaced by Andrew Brunette, who has proven to be more than capable of keeping the Panthers on the playoff trajectory that they’ve been on the past several seasons.

As fans of a Central Division team, it’s easy to miss what goes on in the Eastern Conference sometimes. The Lightning reminded the Blues of what kind of firepower exists in the East, and the Panthers can do the same to them tonight. A very depleted Blues team held their own against the Lightning to a point on Thursday night, which was a moral victory. But the team is still depleted today, and might have to fight to hold off the 16-4-3 Panthers’ top stars.

The Panthers’ last two victories were come from behind wins against the Capitals (5-4 on Tuesday) and the Sabres (7-4 on Thursday). If the Blues think that they can pull their “get out to a lead and then protect it/forget that hockey games involve three full periods” schtick tonight, they’re wrong. They’re going to have to consistently apply pressure to the Panthers top scorers, like Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Reinhart, and Aaron Ekblad. Huberdeau himself had a five point night against the Sabres, with a goal and four assists. Ekblad summed up their team’s mood like this:

“The belief is fantastic,” said Ekblad, who finished with four points against the Sabres. “After that second period, we were in the room, obviously not in a favorable position down 4-3, but we had that power play, and you could feel the confidence in the room. It showed in that third period.”

On the other hand, the Blues will still be short Jordan Binnington, Tyler Bozak, and Justin Faulk tonight, all due to the Covid-19 protocol list that they reside on. David Perron is still out with a probable concussion, and James Neal and Klim Kostin will be on the IR for the foreseeable future.

If the guys that the Blues do have out there on the ice don’t support Ville Husso, this could go further south than Sunrise for the Blues, and quick. Luckily, Pavel Buchnevich is riding a five game point streak, Robert Thomas is an assist machine, and Jordan Kyrou has shown no signs of slowing down, potting five points over the last five games to put his team leading point total at 23.