Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-9; 81 points, 3rd place in Metropolitan division) @ Columbus Blue Jackets (37-27-3; 77 points, 5th place in Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Ohio, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Well, it’s not good. The 3-0 loss to the Pens on Thursday has them just 2-3-0 since all the big trade deadline additions, with both wins coming in OT/SO situations. They’re just 1-3-0 in the last week, being outscored by a dreadful combined score of 13-3 in those four games (shootout added goal taken away).
Pens Refresh: At 4-0-2 in the last six games, everything is breaking Pittsburgh’s way right now. Being led by their star players - especially Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray - who have been just phenomenal difference makers in each and every game lately.
Season Series: Pittsburgh is going for a sweep tonight of the series. The Pens beat the Jackets 4-2 on November 24th, then won recently 5-2 on Feb 26th and of course 3-0 just last game.
SBN team blog: Jackets Cannon
Player Stats at a Glance
—Boy, exactly like last game preview, except one more game played for everyone and no additional goals or assists. How perfect!
Possible Lines (from Thursday’s game)
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Riley Nash - Alexander Wennberg - Brandon Dubinsky
Zach Werenski / Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara / David Savard
Scott Harrington / Adam McQuaid
—Torts could always perform shakeups here, given his desperation anything could be on the table. These lines seems like they’re smart enough, especially playing the two new Ottawa guys together and making more of a crash ‘n bang third line.
And now for the Penguins...
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Zach Aston-Reese-Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Jared McCann - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Teddy Blueger- Matt Cullen- Garrett Wilson
Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson
Brian Dumoulin / Zach Trotman
Expected scratches: Juuso Riikola (healthy), Kris Letang (illness? and upper body injury), Chad Ruhwedel (upper), Bryan Rust (lower)
Injured Reserve: Olli Maatta (upper body)
—Letang has been skating but missed Thursday’s game day skate with an illness unrelated to his neck injury. Friday was a travel day, so it remains to be seen if he’s jumping back in tonight.
—And one thing to consider is today starts a back-to-back for the Pens. They have to jump home tonight and prepare for the Boston Bruins (who haven’t lost in regulation in 18 games now) so that proves to be a challenge. Will the Pens turn to Casey DeSmith for one game? Will it make sense to have Letang return for both? Is he ready? Lots of questions not yet answered
—Really liked the new look 3rd line, who combined to score the only 5v5 goal of the game last game. McCann and Bjugstad naturally play together well with their combined experience dating back to their Florida days. Hornqvist ideally needs to be aided by a big time center, but the other two guys play well on the boards and in battle situations, which is how all combined to create the aforementioned goal. Not sure if it will stay together forever, but the energy they showed getting in on a forecheck was fun to watch.
Eye on the Standings
Since the Pens have picked up points in their last six games, the picture has turned pretty favorable in the past week or so. Even better have been some out of town results since the last game preview. Carolina got blown out 8-1 last night by Winnipeg. Things are not going well for Montreal out in California. The Habs lost in San Jose on Thursday and then again lost by a whopping 8-2 mark to Anaheim last night.
On the other side, Washington has now won six straight games and are in a dead heat with NYI for the division lead. At this point, especially with a Pens win tonight, the 2 vs 3 matchup in the first round in the Metro is starting to look like Pittsburgh against whoever falls behind between NYI/WSH. This picture could and probably will change, being as Carolina isn’t too far behind.
But the main takeaway from the Pittsburgh perspective is that in the past week the Pens have gone from playoff bubble/wildcard to being in an increasingly stronger position in the Metro bracket.
And while many are acting like it’s the end of the world for Columbus with a loss tonight, they’re still only 2 points behind both teams in the WC chase, and have a game on hand on both (plus ROW tiebreaker) on Montreal.
Another loss to Pittsburgh tonight would be damaging to CBJ in the race for top 3 in the Metro, and of course psychologically terrible, but if you look at the big picture this team totally still controls their destiny past tonight. They’ll have to string together some wins in the last 15 games, of course. It kind of feels like they’re dead in the water and struggling mightily, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
That’s a clinical look, though. It certainly feels like they’re spiraling now, but fortunes change quickly. Pittsburgh looked in deep trouble this time last week when they were 1-1-2 in their last four previous games and seriously banged up injury-wise. A week later, folks are practically planning another parade and celebrating a patchwork defense for a job well done. (Which, it has been a job well done lately). Point being though, repeating the earlier thought, momentum can change very quickly in the NHL being as it’s based in parity and three-point OT games are available. It might seem like Columbus can be written off, but they still have a lot of opportunities left to right their ship, starting with this very game.
Key to the Game
The Jackets masked man
No matter where Columbus has turned when it comes to playing the Pens, they haven’t found an answer in net. Sergei Bobrovsky - winner of two of the last six Vezina trophies - has been totally unable to stop Pittsburgh; going 1 win, 9 losses with ugly, ugly 3.87 GAA and a .882 save percentage since the 2017 playoffs against Pittsburgh. It was so bad, Columbus didn’t even dress Bobrovsky as the backup on Thursday night. Which, how do you expect a player’s confidence and mentality to come back from that?
Joonas Korpisalo got the nod two days ago, and truth be told he made some big saves and gave his team a chance. But he also gave up a goal on the first shot of the night that he saw from Phil Kessel (which wasn’t even really an on-target shot) and he also let CBJ fall two goals back on a shot to his five-hole from big Bjugstad. Korpisalo wasn’t bad, but he didn’t get the job done either.
The X-factor might be Keith Kinkaid, a recent trade deadline pickup. But Kinkaid has a save percentage under .900% this season, and hasn’t played a game with Columbus. Kinkaid’s last game was about three weeks ago, still with NJ. And that game was against these same Pens where he gave up 4 goals on 28 shots in a losing effort.
With a season potentially on the line, at least for hopes of staying in touch with the top three of the Metro, who do you turn to? There’s no clear answer.
Bobrovsky is by far the best goalie, but he performs absolutely and unavoidably TERRIBLY against the Pens. Plus he just got scratched last game, it would seem unfathomable to turn to a guy at this point given that decision. Korpisalo has the overall talent of a backup, and just lost to the Pens hours ago. Kinkaid has absolutely no experience playing with this Columbus team, and would have to be a bit rusty considering he hasn’t played recently.
Whichever way Columbus is going to turn, there’s not much reason to be confident. For a team that needs a great game, any choice has to be more hopeful (maybe Bob pulls it together, maybe Kinkaid gives a spark despite not ever playing in front of this team, maybe Korpisalo can be a bit better)....Blind hope usually isn’t a good strategy this time of year.
And the Jackets’ hope has always been dashed every time in recent memory by this Pens team. If Pittsburgh gets off to a hot start, they might never look back in this one. Either way, it should be another playoff-type of game with a ton of intensity and physicality.