Who: Columbus Blue Jackets (20-37-6, 46 points, 8th place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (31-22-9, 71 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. EST
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh for the home team, Bally Sports Ohio for the visitors, ESPN+
Opponent Track: After selling at the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets are coming out of a weekend of back-to-back losses to the visiting Kraken (4-2) and the host Senators (5-2). Winger Patrik Laine described the loss to the Senators as the team “just sleeping for 60 minutes.” They’ve won just two of their last seven outings.
Pens Path Ahead: This five-game home stretch is the last time this season the Penguins will be playing more than three games in a row at PPG Paints Arena. Their next three contests are all against other Metropolitan Division opponents, and on Thursday they meet the New York Islanders in a contest both potential wild card teams would really, really like to win.
Season Series: The Penguins last saw the Blue Jackets on December 6. Johnny Gaudreau opened scoring just one minute into the contest at PPG Paints Arena, but the Penguins scored a string of unanswered goals in response to turn the deficit into a 4-1 win.
Hidden Stat: This has nothing to do with the Blue Jackets, but here’s a fun fact: since losing to the Penguins in that 7-3 blowout two Saturdays ago, the Lightning have yet to win a single game. They’ve spiraled into a five-game losing streak— two of those courtesy of Pittsburgh— and were crushed 6-0 by the Hurricanes in their last outing on Sunday.
Getting to know the Blue Jackets
SBN partner blog: The Cannon
Potential Game Lines
Johnny Gaudreau - Boone Jenner - Kirill Marchenko
Kent Johnson - Jack Roslovic - Patrik Laine
Eric Robinson - Cole Sillinger - Mathieu Olivier
Liam Foudy - Lane Pederson - Emil Bemstrom
Nick Blankenburg / Andrew Peeke
Tim Berni / Erik Gudbranson
Gavin Bayreuther / Adam Boqvist
Goalies: Elvis Merzlikins, Michael Hutchinson
Scratches: Sean Kuraly (oblique strain, likely to miss the rest of the season)
IR: Justin Danforth (shoulder), Jake Bean (shoulder), Zach Werenski (shoulder)
Suspended: Alexandre Texier (playing in Switzerland)
- The loss of Kuraly for what is likely the rest of the season hurts. The Blue Jackets leaned on him for penalty killing and face offs.
- That is not the only player missing from Columbus’ season-opening roster. Defensemen Zach Werenski, who has led the Columbus blue line for the past five seasons, and Jake Bean, who had a career 25-point season last year, are both recovering from shoulder surgery. Vladislav Gavrikov, who skated in Columbus’ top defense pairing, and Joonas Korpisalo, the goalie splitting time equally with Elvis Merzlikins, have been traded to the Kings. 10-goal scorer Gustav Nyquist was sent to Minnesota. At this point in the season, the Penguins are facing a stripped-down, ready-to-tank Blue Jackets squad.
- That means more time for rookies like Nick Blankenburg (24) and Tim Berni (23) to gain experience. As a point of reference, the Blue Jackets currently only have one active player (former Penguin Erik Gudbranson) who is 30 or older. In contrast, if Kulikov skates tomorrow, the Penguins will have thirteen 30-plus players (make that 14 if DeSmith starts.)
- With Korpisalo gone, it will now be up to Elvis Merzlikins to hold down the net for the Blue Jackets. So far this has been the toughest season of Merzlikins’ career, and his numbers have dipped dramatically from the stellar 2019-20 season after which he finished fifth in Vezina and Calder Trophy voting. The Blue Jackets may not be playing for the playoffs this year, but they will be looking to build up Merzlikins’ confidence for next season.
“I need to finish this season and then try to change my routine in summer preparation. I need to change the start of the season. Obviously I’m not happy with what I had this year. But that’s the past. I’m not going to look back, I am just going to get ready this summer for next season.” —Merzlikins on the rest of the season, via NHL.com
- The Blue Jackets’ postseason chances may be ice cold, but winger Patrik Laine has been heating up lately. He has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last five games. His shot is, as always, lethal.
Patrik Laine had this one absolutely LABELED pic.twitter.com/kNZphXgIpD— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 4, 2023
- The Penguins need every point they can get to stay in the wild card race, while the Blue Jackets might have the opposite motivation. In 2014-15, the Blue Jackets were in a similar spot at this point in the season, but finished 15-1-1, which was good enough to drop them to No. 8 in the 2015 draft and miss out on some guy named Connor McDavid. Ranked dead last in the league heading into Tuesday, Columbus might be considering how to avoid making the same mistake with Connor Bedard.
And now for the Pens...
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Mikael Granlund - Jeff Carter
Drew O’Connor - Nick Bonino - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Jeff Petry
Dmitry Kulikov / Jan Rutta
Goalies: Tristan Jarry, Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Chad Ruhwedel, Ryan Poehling, P.O. Joseph?
- Jake Guentzel missed Monday’s practice for a maintenance day but is expected to be available tonight, said Mike Sullivan.
- Ryan Poehling joined Monday’s practice in a no-contact jersey.
- Tristan Jarry, who missed Saturday’s game due to illness, was present at Monday’s practice.
- Dmitry Kulikov took P.O. Joseph’s place on the third defense pairing during Monday’s practice and looks set to make his Penguins debut tonight. Certainly there could be debate on whether or not it should be Joseph sitting out for Kulikov.
- It looks like the Penguins are considering trying Granlund out as third-line center in place of Jeff Carter.
Mike Sullivan, on having Mikael Granlund at center today (1/2): "He can play all three positions. He's comfortable there. We're trying to figure out combinations that give us the balance we need, that give us the best chance to win...— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) March 6, 2023
(2/2): "So we're going through a little bit of a process here to try to figure out what those look like. Part of it is, are we a better team when he's playing center for us, or when he's playing on the wing? We're not sure the answer yet. But that's part of the process for sure."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) March 6, 2023