Who: Columbus Blue Jackets (8-13-2, 18 points, 8th place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (13-8-4, 30 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sports Network Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) for the home team, Bally Sports Ohio (BSOH) for the visitors, Sling TV, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Jackets have dropped six of their last ten, although they at least picked up a pair of points in OT (4-4-2). It’s a sign of an improving team, but not a good enough record to dig them out of the hole in the standings they dug for themselves by opening the season with nine regulation losses in their first 12 games. They last saw action on Sunday with a 4-2 loss to the visiting Red Wings.
Pens Path Ahead: The Penguins face the Sabres twice this weekend, in Buffalo on Friday and at home on Saturday, before returning to PPG Paints when the Stars come to town on Monday.
Season Series: The Penguins greeted the Blue Jackets with a 6-3 win in Columbus on October 22. After this Tuesday contest, they’ll see the Jackets twice more this spring, with a home game in March and a season finale on the road in April.
Getting to know the Blue Jackets
SB Nation counterpart: The Cannon
Johnny Gaudreau - Boone Jenner - Patrik Laine
Gustav Nyquist - Jack Roslovic - Kent Johnson
Yegor Chinakhov - Cole Sillinger - Kirill Marchenko
Eric Robinson - Sean Kuraly - Carson Meyer
Vladislav Gavrikov / Marcus Bjork
Jacob Christiansen / Erik Gudbranson
Gavin Bayreuther / Andrew Peeke
Goalies: Elvis Merzlikins (Joonas Korpisalo)
Scratches: Liam Foudy, Mathieu Olivier, Tim Berni
IR: Jakub Voracek, Justin Danforth, Jake Bean, Zach Werenski, Nick Blankenburg, Adam Boqvist, Alexandre Texier (out for the season)
- Where to start with the Blue Jackets’ injury list? Winger Jake Voracek, a player with a history of head injuries, is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms. Defenseman Zach Werenski, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in 2018, tore his other labrum in November and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Defenseman Adam Boqvist has a broken foot, and defenseman Nick Blankenburg has a fractured ankle. Defenseman Jake Bean is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. The roster Columbus expected to build this season has fallen apart, and the long-term, indefinite nature of the injuries must be brutal to the team’s morale.
- On the bright side for this injury-stricken team, winger Patrik Laine (sprained ankle) and starting goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (hip injury) were activated from the injured reserve on Thursday. Laine made his return against the Red Wings on Sunday, but Merzlikins is set to rejoin the Blue Jackets when they face the Penguins on Tuesday. It’s been a rough season so far for Merzlikins, who has a .864 save percentage and 4.74 goals against average through nine games played, and whose wife said on Instagram in October she no longer felt safe taking their son to games after verbal abuse from Blue Jackets fans.
“It’s not how we want it, right? They start booing us? OK, we deserve it, but we are trying to get out of this situation. It’s not like we are enjoying the moment, losing every single game. We want to win. We want to get confidence and start rolling. That’s our goal.” —Elvis Merzlikins on the Blue Jackets’ struggles, via The Columbus Dispatch
- The Blue Jackets only have one player ranked among the top 50 NHL point producers, and it’s not hard to guess which one. Johnny Gaudreau, who racked up 115 games for the Flames last season, is continuing to produce at over a point-per-game rate despite the Jackets’ struggles— and only five of his 26 points have come on the Blue Jackets’ (31st-ranked) power play.
- Columbus is one of the worst shot-suppressing teams in the NHL, trailing only Anaheim for the most shots against with 36.3 per game. They’ve been better as of late— their shots-against rates are down over the recent 10-game stretch, and the losses have been closer— but because Merzlikins will be starting after weeks on the injured reserve, it would behoove the Penguins to get as many pucks as they can past Columbus’ leaky defense.
Head to head
- It’s a familiar story in this head-to-head— the Penguins are ranking among the elite teams in 5v5 stats, but their still-struggling power play stands out as a sore spot.
- We’ll see if Columbus can move up league goaltending rankings with the return of Merzlikins on Tuesday.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen? - Teddy Blueger - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Jeff Petry
Marcus Pettersson / Jan Rutta
P.O. Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Kris Letang (stroke), Ryan Poehling?
- Ryan Poehling is day-to-day with an upper body injury, and skated on his own before Monday’s practice. If he is unable to go on Tuesday, it seems likely Danton Heinen will take his place in the lineup.
- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Casey DeSmith were out with illness from Monday’s practice— we’ll get updates today if they will be available for the game tonight.
- Kris Letang may not be skating at practice, but he’s still around:
Kris Letang is at the end of the runway watching today's practice (and just chirped Kasperi Kapanen after he fell while working on the power play ).— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 5, 2022