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Pittsburgh Penguins @ Columbus Blue Jackets 2/26/2019: lines, preview, how to watch

The biggest game of the season up to this point..

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NHL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (32-22-8; 72 points, 5th place in Metropolitan division) @ Columbus Blue Jackets (35-23-3; 73 points, 3rd place in Metro division)

When: 7:00pm eastern

How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Ohio, ESPN+

Opponent Track: Columbus has won their last two games, and both by shutout. They downed Ottawa 3-0 on Friday, then blanked mighty San Jose 2-0 on Saturday. Oh, and they were the most active team at the deadline adding forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid and goalie Keith Kinkaid.

Pens Refresh: Blew the late lead and ended up with a 4-3 OT loss in Philly on Saturday. 1-1-1 in the last three games as the inconsistency continues.

Season Series: This is only the second game of the season. The Pens defeated CBJ 4-2 in Pittsburgh way back November 24th. After tonight, there is what’s sure to be a crucial home-and-home series on March 7th and 9th for the end of the four games. (Also that sounds far away, but is only like nine days from now).

SBN Team Counterpart: Jackets Cannon

Tale of the tape

—Columbus is a very good team, with only two bruises standing out in our metrics we track. One is a bad power play, which is seemingly par for the course for a franchise that has traditionally struggled in that regard.

—The other is really poor goaltending....What? That’s tough to believe since in his six seasons with CBJ Sergei Bobrovsky has been a Vezina contender four times -and has won it twice. It’s tough to say there’s been a better regular season goalie in the whole league during this time frame than Bob.

—But he’s having his worst regular season in a contract year, and after averaging a .926 save% in the last two seasons, that’s cratered to .908% this year. It’s very tough to figure out or predict goalie performance and Bobrovsky has been no different.

—The Pens PK has cratered in the past few weeks, dropping from what’s been a top 5 or 10 unit consistently all season long now down into the pack.

—And for all the talk of “we need better goaltending”, it’s still very good by the numbers. Perhaps more consistent big game situation saves on easy shots? Sure. But goaltending by and large isn’t really the Pens’ biggest problem area.

—Yielding a ton of shots against has been a major issue and slumping to 28th in the league is a new low. This is just another reason why it’s unfortunate Pittsburgh has brought in a gasoline to fight the fire in the form of Erik Gudbranson, one of the league’s absolute worse shot/chance/goal suppression defenseman.

Player stats at a glance

via hockey db

Duchene has 60 points on the season, Dzingel 44. Two big adds this late in the season.

Atkinson is quietly one of the best goal scorers that doesn’t really get a lot of attention. Since 2016-17 he’s scored 35, 24* and now 34 goals and counting. That *he was injured and on pace for a 30-goal season. He doesn’t get a ton of press but to consistently be a 30-goal guy is very impressive.

—Remember when the conventional wisdom was the Jackets over-drafted Dubois when he went third overall in 2016? He’s in his second NHL season and has already put up great numbers again. At only 20-years old, he’s looking like a force for years to come.

Possible Lines (from Monday practice)

Artemi Panarin - Matt Duchene - Cam Atkinson

Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Andersen

Ryan Dzingel - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Brandon Dubinsky - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson

Markus Nutivaara / Seth Jones

Zach Werenski / David Savard

Scott Harrington / Dean Kukan

Injured Reserve: Ryan Murray

—We’ll see if the newly acquired McQuaid figures in immediately, presumably on the right-side third pair.

—That top-9 forward group is looking mighty strong and balanced right now.

—I mean, in Columbus’ franchise history who are their best skilled centers? Derick Brassard? A young Ryan Johansen before he was traded? Duchene is huge because he offers them the type of point-per-game talent up the middle that they’ve never had in their existence.

Excitement a new feeling in ‘Lumbus

Say what you want, but man, by adding Duchene, Dzingel, McQuaid and Kinkaid the Jackets are going for it. This is a bold new direction and very much uncharted waters for this franchise. From The Athletic:

That’s four players acquired — all unrestricted free agents — in exchange for seven draft picks, including two first-round picks (one conditional) and two second-round picks.

That’s two big-ticket players — Bobrovsky and Panarin, also UFAs, who are unlikely to sign extensions this summer — sticking around with a risk that they’ll walk away for nothing in the summer.

Until this year, the Blue Jackets had never used one of their first-round picks as currency at a trade deadline. Until this weekend, the Blue Jackets have never been one of the focal points of the NHL just as the season starts to get interesting.

Well, the 2018-19 Blue Jackets are going for it. It might be reckless — time will tell — but this is going to be a riveting few months.

“Jarmo … that’s what I love about him,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “He has some jam. He wants to win. He’s letting the team know he wants to win, and the team has heard it loud and clear that he’s worked to upgrade the roster, and it’s definitely an upgrade.”

In a way, it sort of calls back to the 2008 Pens team. They had a decent young core, but weren’t considered huge contenders. But ownership committed to spending a lot of money, management made aggressive moves to add Hal Gill and Marian Hossa at the expense of several key future assets and away they went.

Of course, there’s real differences between 2019 CBJ and 2008 Pens, but the general mood of tossing aside being “just happy to be in the picture” and really going bold is similar. It ended up propelling the Pens to being the dominant team in the league in the past decade, winning three Cups and having the league’s longest current consecutive playoff streak. Columbus will need more work on the back-end to keep some of these pending UFAs, but no doubt they’re hoping for the same.

And now for the Pens

Check the game notes, eh bud?

Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:

Possible Lines

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist

Zach Aston-Reese-Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel

Jared McCann- Nick Bjugstad - Bryan Rust

Garrett Wilson- Matt Cullen- Dominik Simon

Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz

Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel

Juuso Riikola / Zach Trotman

Expected scratches: Brian Dumoulin (concussion), Kris Letang (upper body)

Injured Reserve: Olli Maatta (upper body)

Held up at customs: Erik Gudbranson

—The good news is that the Pens didn’t want to put either Dumoulin or Letang on injured reserve, which hints perhaps either could be back as soon as Pittsburgh’s next game (on Friday, @Buffalo). Of course, that could also be a stretch, but there’s reason for a level of optimism that neither might be out for too long.

—The bad news, is, well, you have eyes just look at that defensive lineup. That would probably be middle-of-the-road in the AHL with those players (outside of Schultz). And they have to hold against a high-powered Columbus team. Stranger things have happened, but it’s not a pretty sight.

—Gudbranson likely won’t be available until Friday’s game as well, as he gets his paperwork in order from being a Canadian citizen working in Canada to now moving down to the US.

—One under-reported and thought of consequence of the trade deadline and moving a forward means the Pens are sort of weak here. Ignore Kessel and Hornqvist on droughts (they’re known quantities that will get it going eventually) and you’ve got guys like Wilson and Simon now really being counted on to play and play well. The team has said they will bring back Teddy Blueger (sent to AHL for roster reasons), but that could be a big ask for him too. The Pens probably need a little more out of their new Florida acquisitions as well, who aren’t really that new any more.

Eye on the standings

Well, easy to see why this one is so big. CBJ retains a game-in-hand on Pittsburgh, but the Pens pass them with a regulation win tonight. Or the Pens can be three points behind Columbus (who will still have that extra game) with a regulation loss. Or somewhere in between with an OT/SO result.

Only one real game of note for the Pens last night, and it broke in Pittsburgh’s favor with Montreal losing in regulation. Buffalo also lost in regulation, but they’ve practically fallen out of the race at this point.