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Pens vs. Columbus Preview: Lines, Injuries, Keys to the Game

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The Columbus Blue Jackets come to town for the first time this season with a struggling starting goalie and an injured #1 defenseman. Good omens for the Pens?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Two Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Basics

Who- Columbus Blue Jackets (21-13-1) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (17-15-3)

When- 7:08 PM ET

SBN Friends- Jackets Cannon

Occasion- “Ugly Sweater Night” at the Arena

Zing-

Opponent focus

The weird schedule continues- the Blue Jackets will visit Pittsburgh tonight, and again in both team’s first game after the Christmas break on 12/27 (next Wednesday) and that’s the only two visits to Western PA all 2017-18 season. The Penguins don’t venture to Ohio until February, and then again in April for Game 81 of Pittsburgh’s season. Odd, huh?

Anyways, Columbus enters tonight a bit up and down in recent weeks. CBJ were winners last night at home 4-2 over Toronto, but previous to that they’ve sandwiched identical 7-2 losses on 12/12 and 12/18 around two wins on 12/14 and 12/16. With the losses, folks we must inform you that John Tortorella is at it again

Still, despite the ever-present baby attitude, CBJ currently sits solidly in a playoff spot for now with a strong record.

Expected Lines

Last night the Jackets went with:

Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Josh Anderson

Boone Jenner - Alex Wennberg - Cam Atkinson

Sonny Milano - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Matt Calvert - Lukas Sedlak - Markus Hannikainen

Markus Nutivaara / Seth Jones

Jack Johnson / David Savard

Scott Harrington / Gabriel Carlsson

Injuries: Werenski, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Murray

—One name conspicuous by his absence in the lines is Zach Werenski. The sensational 20-year old leads the LIG so far this year in goals by a defensemen (10) but missed his first game of the season last night with an injury. Per our pals at Jackets Cannon, he’s “day-to-day” and while it’s not known if he’ll play tonight, conventional wisdom would point to shutting him down until Christmas at this point.

—Guess who is 2nd on the team in points? If Bjorkstrand (22p, 6g+16a) was among your first 5 guesses you did better than I did.

—Conversely, as an early disappointment Boone Jenner only has 3 goals in 28 games so far this season.

—Another point is last night backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo played and won. That would make it seem like tonight would be reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky, right? Well, look at the stats of the two since Thanksgiving-

You’d think on a b-2-b they hope Bob can bounce back, but something to consider that at least for the Pens it’s gotta be a plus that CBJ’s main goalie hasn’t exactly been playing well of late. That would be a first in a while for Pittsburgh to see a goalie who isn’t playing well.

Penguins Notes

Phil Kessel was at the morning skate but may be a little banged up. Seems a little par for the course for him, and a break might not solve too much but it seems counter-productive sometimes when these streaks prolong a banged up player continuing to play.

Patric Hornqvist missed last game and is officially a “game-time decision”. He skated today with the team too, so maybe he will be back

Lines from practice yesterday

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon

Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist

Conor Sheary - Riley Sheahan - Bryan Rust

Tom Kuhnhackl - Carter Rowney - Ryan Reaves

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Olli Maatta / Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Hunwick / Jamie Oleksiak

—The above will change for tonight since Kessel is likely to play. As always, interesting when they don’t have Ian Cole in the top-6, and this game could mark the Pens debut of Oleksiak.

3 Keys to the Game

1) A good start. Cliche but too often the Pens have looked sluggish at the beginning of games and fall behind. “We are at our best when we play with passion and enthusiasm,” coach Mike Sullivan said today. “Hopefully this divisional matchup will stir that up and help us improve our game.” Hopefully, indeed. CBJ is 9-2-0 when leading after 20 minutes and 13-1-0 when winning after 2 periods. They don’t blow too many leads if they can get them, so the Pens are best advised not to let them get one in the first place.

2) Power-less play. Columbus has just an 11.0% power play so far this season, good for 31st in a 31 team league. Winning the special teams war is a must tonight for Pittsburgh, if they are out-scored tonight by both team’s power plays the chance of them winning the game goes way, way, way down. That’s true on any night but especially true tonight.

3) Shoot! CBJ is 15-8-0 when they outshoot their opponent and just 6-5-1 when they are outshot. The Pens can take them into deeper waters if they are possessing the puck, and with Werenski out it may be more possible to do so. Bobrovsky’s recent struggles since Thanksgiving (and his playoff struggles) suggest the Penguins could light the lamp if they are generating chances and shots tonight. So it is written, so let it be done.