The Blue Jackets (49-21-8) finally return to PPG Paints Arena tonight looking to tussle with the Penguins (48-19-11) for another victory and two crucial points to boost their Metropolitan division standing.
However, this matchup begs for a different sort of watching attitude for coaches, media, and fans alike. It features a stellar preview of the Penguins’ potential challenger in the first round of this season’s playoffs, as well as an all-out brawl for second place in the division and home ice advantage – a paramount and coveted feat in this league’s competitive format.
“We know it’s going to be a big game,” Penguins winger Jake Guenztel told ESPN.
This game isn’t just big, it’s absolutely massive, and with only four games left on each team’s regular season schedule, tonight’s winner inches that much closer to a major advantage come next week.
To reflect, Columbus slid past the Penguins on a Dubinsky top-shelf snipe in overtime back in mid-February, and though it stings a little to remember, it’s good to remind ourselves that even though it dropped the ball in OT then, Pittsburgh still possesses a one-point lead for second place in the Metro. Another good note: Columbus had trouble finishing its shots on Sunday and is coming off a gritty 3-2 loss to the Capitals, our five-point advantage leaders.
Let’s break down a few key components to keep in mind and watch out for:
Other than hopeful news on Daley’s return for the upcoming away-series, there isn’t much to look forward to on the injury front tonight.
Trevor Daley may be in the lineup for the Penguins’ 3-game away stint set to start at New Jersey on Thursday, but other than updates on him and some vague talk by Mike Sullivan, no other injured Pens will make their returns.
Coach Sullivan on team injuries: "Everybody at this point is status quo until we tell you otherwise."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 4, 2017
This means that our good pals Archibald, Rowney, and Kuhnhackl will have their numbers called again to start.
Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella lamented that breakout rookie defenseman Zach Werenski is still day-to-day with a shoulder injury and will not play against Pittsburgh.
After a hard hit by Washington winger Alex Ovechkin, Werenski left the game in the third period of a 3-2 loss to the Capitals on Sunday. This is a huge blow to Columbus’s defensive unit, as the 19-year-old holds the record for points (47) and assists (39) by a rookie. He’ll be tough to replace, especially up against the Penguins’ high-flying top lines. However, winger Oliver Bjorkstrand will return to the lineup after missing six games. Look for him on the fourth line with Karlsson.
Columbus is on its first three-game losing streak this season, and with playoff implications on the line, it’ll be hard-pressed to let itself to lose again.
After a bitter loss to a desperate Carolina team, a tough onslaught of matchups against Chicago and Washington bullied Columbus into its first three-game losing streak. With Pittsburgh next, you’d assume a beaten team might just lay down and take what’s coming to them.
Unfortunately, that won’t be the case tonight. Ever since the Blue Jackets made their way into the Metropolitan division, a beautiful semi-rivalry started brewing between them and the Pens. You can probably chalk that up to the proximity between the two cities, or maybe even the rugged style the two teams like to play with. Whatever the case, this game won’t be won easily.
I have a really good feeling the Penguins’ top line will shine (yet again) tonight.
I know, I know. This is the coldest take of the year. Of course Crosby’s line will do well. But I’m more focused on his talented kid-wingers in tonight’s bout. It’s no secret that I love Conor Sheary’s game, but I’ve been a lot more focused on the young AHL call-up (read: future superstar) Jake Guentzel. Guentzel makes a mockery of goalies because of his tenacious ability to drive to the net. During Sunday’s duel against the Hurricanes, the winger beat the Carolina defense and buried a wide-open powerplay goal off a beautiful pass by Chad Ruhwedel. Expect him to continue to elevate his game – particularly on special teams.
The puck drops at center ice at 7 p.m. You better hold on, it’s going to be a wild ride to the final buzzer.