How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Ohio for the visitor’s feed, also on ESPN+ if that’s your thing
Opponent Track: Tonight the Pens will catch the Jackets on the second half of a back-to-back. Columbus opened their season at home last night against Toronto, losing 4-1 to the Maple Leafs. After tonight, they have to go back to Ohio for a game on Monday night against Buffalo (be careful, they’re killers!)
Pens path ahead: The Pens get two days off from games after tonight’s game. But Tuesday starts a stretch of four games in six days (WIN, ANA, @MIN, @WPG) that will include the entire season series with the Jets in quick succession.
Season Series: Pittsburgh and Columbus meet next on Friday November 29th (aka Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving) in ‘Lumbus. PIT/CBJ III will be December 12th in Pittsburgh, the fourth and final regular season meeting is then all the way on March 12th in Columbus.
Recent history: Columbus joined the Eastern Conference (and Metropolitan Division) at the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Since then, the Pens have a 17-5-3 record against their rivals from Ohio, including going 3-1-0 last season.
More facts: The Pens are 9-1-1 in the last 11 regular season games against the Jackets. Pittsburgh is also 15-4-0 all time at home against Columbus.
Mellow Yellow: The Pens recently announced they’ll be wearing their yellow alternate jersey that they wore last season in all 15 home weekend games in 2019-20, starting obviously with tonight. Pittsburgh went 10-2 last year while wearing yellow.
SBN Team Counterpart: Please check in with our friends at Jackets Cannon to see from the game from the Columbus perspective
Tale of the tape
Player stats at a glance
—Not too much to see so far. Cam Atkinson scored an unassisted power play goal last night for the Jackets’ only goal. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 25 of 29 shots (.852 save%) in the loss.
Possible Lines (based on Friday morning skate)
Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Gustav Nyquist - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom
Ryan Murray / Seth Jones
Zach Werenski / David Savard
Scott Harrington / Markus Nutivaara
Expected scratches: Sonny Milano, Vladislav Gavrikov, Dean Kukan
Injured reserve: Brandon Dubinsky
—The big story here is the (possibly temporary) split of the super-successful loaded top pair of Werenski and Jones. Columbus is starting the season out by using the two on separate pairs. In theory, it makes sense, especially to defend against Pittsburgh where you’ve got a Crosby and Malkin on different lines. Using a Murray/Savard combo against one of them doesn’t sound very appealing. So we’ll have to see how long Werenski and Jones are held apart from one another, but in theory it’ll be fun to follow.
—Texier is a pretty interesting player to follow, with a pretty unusual story. He just turned 20, is a 2017 second round pick from France, which not too many NHL players are. As of now he’s got more career NHL playoff games (8) under his belt than NHL regular season games (today makes 4). Texier flashed some decent hands last playoffs, scoring two goals and helped CBJ in their monumental upset over Tampa in the first round. Texier put up 41 points in 55 games last season in the top Finnish league as a 19-year old, which is pretty impressive. He played two seasons for KalPa, which is Juuso Riikola’s old team. Riikola and Texier were teammates in 2017-18.
Big changes in Columbus
Jackets Cannon lays out the big season of change that’s gone on for the Blue Jackets lately:
The good news: the core of the team remains intact. Cam Atkinson scored 41 goals last season and looks to continue chasing every offensive franchise record set by Rick Nash. Pierre-Luc Dubois scored 109 points in 164 games before he could legally drink in the US and looks to prove that he can still be the number one center he was drafted to be with the controversial #3 pick of the 2016 draft. Josh Anderson and Oliver BJORKSTRAND are wingers with a nose for the net looking to build on 20+ goal seasons. The back end features two of the most gifted young defensemen in the league in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, along with the taelnted veteran depth of Ryan Murray, David Savard, and Markus Nutivaara.
More good news: help is on the way. Enter Gustav Nyquist in free agency, and the arrival of rookies Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, and Jakob Lilja, Vladislav Gavrikov, and Elvis Merzlikins. All are eager to battle for spots in the lineup, which only benefits the team as the cream rises to the crop.
Now for the bad news. With all that hope comes much uncertainty. Nyquist is a known entity, but the rookies are far from sure things. As successful as Cam and PLD have been over the last two seasons, we don’t know if they can sustain that production without the help of an elite playmaker such as Panarin. Bobrovsky was a rock in goal who the team often relied on to carry them to victory. How does the team change their approach after seven years of knowing Bob could bail them out?
And now for the Pens..
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based on Friday practice)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Alex Galchenyuk - Evgeni Malkin - Brandon Tanev
Jared McCann - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Dominik Kahun
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Justin Schultz
John Marino / Chad Ruhwedel
Jack Johnson. Juuso Riikola Erik Gudbranson (rotating)
Injured: Bryan Rust (broken hand, LTIR)
—Practice showed a whole new look for the team, with only the Malkin line and Dumo/Letang pair staying the same from the opening night debacle on Thursday.
—Top line Dom Simon will garner some groans somewhere, but he also tips the ice in a positive way and Guentzel (no SOG Thursday) and Crosby (1 SOG) certainly need to spend more time in the offensive zone. Simon should help there, doing the little things and helping along the boards and in the neutral zone to help the stars get to scoring areas.
—And how about Guentzel and his success against Columbus? He’s absolutely feasted on CBJ producing 12 points (7g+5a) in 11 career regular season games, and adding 6 points (5g+1a) in 5 games in the 2017 playoffs. Jake has torn up the Jackets like no other opponent, and surely now would be a good time to get on track.
—Coach Mike Sullivan goes back to two of his preseason staples that worked well in the Pettersson - Schultz duo and the McCann-Bjugstad-Hornqvist line. And while he broke both pairings up at the very end of camp, for totally unknown reasons, now they’ll apparently go back to what wasn’t broken. That’s progress!
—The current fourth line now really reeks of “hey we don’t have anyone else who is healthy to put here right now!”. Plus or minus double digit even strength minutes for any of these guys tonight, would anyone take the over?
—As far as the defense goes, I guess we’ll see. Friday’s practice seemed to emphasize Marino and Ruhwedel as the third pair. Is Sullivan going to roll with some new faces? That would be great. If anything, it looks like they’ve at least created a decent 2nd pair with Pettersson-Schultz, now the long journey begins to find a passable third pair picking two out of the mess of Gudbranson, Marino, Ruhwedel, Riikola and Johnson.
Key to the game, as told by a quote from The Wire
(The Wire is a great show and my favorite show, so I’m going to see how long into the season I can use a quote that ties to the preview of a game)
“Yeah, now, the thing about the old days: they the old days” — Slim Charles
The Columbus Blue Jackets won a playoff series in 2019, for the first time in franchise history. And it was such a monster upset as CBJ took down a 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning team. In a four game sweep. That’s one of the most stunning outcomes in modern NHL times, if not in all of NHL history that not only did Columbus win, but they swept the best regular season team in the salary cap era. Update your narratives accordingly.
So the old days of Columbus being the hapless doormats of the conference and league are gone. Even though they’ve lost Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky (as well as deadline pickup Matt Duchene) they still have a core of players that remains young enough and talented too with players like Dubois, Jones and Werenski. And, shoot, for the Pens’ sake not seeing Bobrovsky any more might not be a great thing — Pittsburgh enjoys a certain psychological edge and have long tortured the talented netminder.
So while the Pens have long been on the winning side in a sort “big brother / little brother” type of relationship with CBJ, that was in the old days. 9-1-1 in the last 11 as you saw above, and all that good stuff. But, as Slim Charles reminds us, the old days are a thing of the past, because they’re in the past.
Even if it’s a minor accomplishment, Columbus has now won a playoff series. They’ve made the playoffs three years in a row. They’re not the same old hopeless franchise that was around for so much of the early 2000’s, and the Pens would be well served to remember that and take this game seriously. Hopefully they learned that lesson in their own 2019-20 season opener, or else the old days of racking up wins against Columbus will also become a thing of the past.