Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (7-6-0, 14 points, 6th place Metropolitan Division) @ Columbus Blue Jackets (4-7-4, 12 points, 8th place Atlantic Division)
How to Watch: SportsNet Pittsburgh for the visitors, Bally Sports Ohio for the home team, streaming on ESPN+
Pens’ Path Ahead: The Penguins have an important stretch ahead with two games against strong division opponents in the Devils (at home Thursday) and the Hurricanes (on the road Saturday.) The Pens know from last season just how critical these division points can be by the end of the season.
Sidney Crosby, on the upcoming divisional games vs. CBJ, NJD, and CAR: "They’re all huge. Just the way the playoff is format is made, you see the strength of our division - so every single point you can grab against a divisional team is massive, and you have to understand that."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) November 13, 2023
Opponent Track: Columbus started out the season with three wins in five games. They are now 1-5-4 in their last ten contests. Although they’ve picked up points in three overtime losses, as well as a shootout loss Sunday to the New York Rangers, it’s been a disheartening stretch.
Season Series: The Jackets come to PPG Paints Arena for a rematch on March 5 before the season series concludes with two games in three days at the end of that month.
Last Year: The Penguins won the first three games of their 2022-23 series with the Blue Jackets last year, but lost the season finale 3-2 after Johnny Gaudreau scored in overtime. That loss hurt the Jackets more than the Pens— the Penguins had already been eliminated from playoff contention the night before, but the Jackets’ two points hurt their chances of drafting Connor Bedard. (Adam Fantilli is proving to be a pretty good consolation prize.)
Hidden Stat: The Jackets’ Sunday shootout loss to the Rangers marked the second time in four games the team has blown a third-period lead and lost in extra time. (The other instance was a 5-4 OT loss last Monday to the Florida Panthers.)
Right where we want to be! pic.twitter.com/4yk4kKgDIN— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) November 13, 2023
Getting to know the Blue Jackets
Projected Game Lines
Yegor Chinakhov - Boone Jenner - Patrik Laine
Dmitri Voronkov - Adam Fantilli - Kirill Marchenko
Johnny Gaudreau - Cole Sillinger - Emil Bemstrom / Mathieu Olivier
Alexandre Texier - Sean Kuraly - Justin Danforth
Damon Severson - Ivan Provorov
Zach Werenski - Erik Gudbranson
Jake Bean - Adam Boqvist
Goalies: Elvis Merzlikins and Spencer Martin
Possible scratches: Emil Bemstrom / Mathieu Olivier, Andrew Peeke
IR: Daniil Tarasov
- The Jackets made a few lineup adjustments Sunday, swapping in Chinakhov for Bemstrom and Bean for Peeke, per BlueJackets.com’s Jeff Svoboda.
- Third-line winger Jack Roslovic was placed on injured reserve Monday after suffering a fractured ankle. He could be replaced by Bemstrom or Olivier.
- 19-year-old defenseman David Jiricek, a top-ten pick in 2022, was called up to the Jackets’ roster yesterday. Through 10 games, Jiricek had a goal and three assists. His earlier demotion to the AHL came as a surprise, as he’d previously been told by the Jackets he had already made the NHL roster, per The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline.
- Adam Fantilli, the Michigan star turned No. 3 pick of the 2023 draft, is off to a hot start for the Jackets with nine points (4-5—9) in his first 15 games. But he isn’t happy with the team’s recent record. From Fantilli after Sunday’s loss:
“Yes, we have a young team, but that does not matter. I hate losing. I never want to lose. I don’t want to get used to losing.
I’m not happy about it. I’m not happy about the series of losses that we’ve had. I want to be able to fix it. I want to do my part in being able to fix that. We’re a young team, but we’re extremely skilled, and I think we have a lot better than we’re showing.”
THAT RELEASE. — NHL (@NHL) November 13, 2023
Adam Fantilli continues to amaze us. pic.twitter.com/x0It53F9KJ
- Fantilli won’t be able to lead that recovery alone. The Jackets’ stars have been quiet so far. Jonny Gaudreau has one goal in 15 games. Patrik Laine, who recently returned from a concussion, has two in six. Columbus is going to need more production from the team’s biggest offensive threats in order to get on the right side of the win column.
- Merzlikins put up a strong performance in net Sunday night, stopping 37 of 40 shots through regulation and overtime before falling in the shootout. It’s hard to blame him for the loss when the Blue Jackets registered only three shots in the third period.
- Both Merzlikins and former Canucks netminder Spencer Martin after doing better than their career-worst 2022-23 campaigns, in part thanks to new goaltending coach Niklas Backstrom (not to be confused with old Washington Capitals rival Nicklas Backstrom.)
Blue Jackets, haters of leads
It’s gotten to the point that Jackets fans already know what’s going to happen as soon as the team goes up by one goal.
The Jackets have lost nine times in their last ten games. Seven of those losses involved blown leads. At a glance:
- October 24: The Jackets hold a one-goal lead with four minutes left in the third period. The Ducks tie, then win in overtime.
- October 26: The Jackets hold a one-goal lead with 17 seconds remaining in the second period. The Habs tie, then win in regulation.
- October 30: The Jackets hold a one-goal lead heading into the second period. The Stars respond with four straight goals and win.
- November 6: The Jackets hold a one-goal lead with one minute left in the third period. The Panthers tie, then win in overtime.
- November 9: The Jackets hold a two-goal lead in the first period. The Stars score five straight and win.
- November 11: The Jackets hold a one-goal lead in the second period. The Red Wings score three straight and win.
- November 12: The Jackets hold a one-goal lead with 11 seconds remaining in the third period. The Rangers score and win in a shootout.
“We couldn’t hold onto the lead, which has been typical lately. That’s something we need to figure out.” —Patrick Laine after the November 11 loss to the Red Wings, per the Columbus Dispatch’s Brian Hedger
“To let one in with 11 seconds (left last night), it doesn’t feel good. You’re 11 seconds away, and all you’re thinking is, ‘Was there one more battle that I could have won to get the puck out?’” Sean Kuraly after the November 12 loss to the Rangers, per Svoboda.
And now for the Pens...
Infographic courtesy of Pens PR
Projected Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Reilly Smith - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Drew O’Connor - Lars Eller - Radim Zohorna
Matt Nieto - Noel Acciari - Vinnie Hinostroza
Ryan Graves / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Karlsson
Ryan Shea / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Magnus Hellberg and Tristan Jarry
Expected scratches: P.O. Joseph, Jeff Carter (lower-body injury)
IR: Alex Nedeljkovic, John Ludvig (concussion)
Season opening IR: Raivis Ansons, Will Butcher
- Jeff Carter missed practice Monday. He has an upper-body injury, per Mike Sullivan.
- Riley Smith, who was busy reuniting with his old Cup teammates at the White House, was also absent. He’ll be back in Columbus for the game.
- The Pens used those open roster spots as an opportunity to put together some interesting practice lines, including P.O. Joseph’s debut in a brand new role.
Penguins’ lines, pairs and power-play groupings.— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) November 13, 2023
I don’t think we’ll ever see the second or fourth lines in a game, but a boy can dream. pic.twitter.com/9aqE8SXYAq
- Tristan Jarry said following the Pens’ loss to the Ducks, “I need to be better.” Since then, he has been. His 4-0 shutout of the Sabres marked his third blank sheet of the season in just 10 starts. That’s good for the NHL lead and marks the second-fastest journey to three shutouts in franchise history (the first belonging to 2014-15 Marc-Andre Fleury, who hit the mark in his first nine games, per Penguins PR.)
- Streak watch: Sidney Crosby has points in eight straight games (4-6—10), good for the sixth-longest production streak in the NHL. Erik Karlsson is on a five-game point streak, the second-longest by any defenseman.