Penguins (28-11-1) (57 points, 1st in Metropolitan)
Blue Jackets (17-17-4) (38 points, 4th in Metropolitan)
The Penguins continue their road swing with their second visit to Columbus for the teams’ fourth meeting of the season. The Penguins have taken all three of the previous meetings this year, and haven’t lost to the Jackets since 2011. Former Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Penguins’ coach Todd Richards will try to get his first win against his former organization tonight.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers somehow still in playoff contention and lots of NFL chicanery dominating the airwaves Sunday, take note of an odd 6:00PM start time on ROOT.
A clever tagline/teaser here would make you want to read the rest of the preview (after the jump).
The Penguins have continued to win despite the injuries ravaging their lineup. They have managed to win 13 of their last 15 games, though their level of focus and play recently has shown some cracks in the already weakened armor. We’re not complaining about their level of play – every team is going to have its ups and downs throughout the season. This team has found ways to win even through the downs, in large part due to some incredible leading by example from captain Sidney Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Both of them might be playing the best hockey of their careers currently.
The Penguins are coming off an ugly win against Carolina, which saw them hang around long enough to keep it interesting, then grind out a win despite blowing a lead they built in the third period. It was a back-and-forth game, but they did enough to win.
After Orpik (injury) and Engelland (suspension) returned to the lineup on Friday, the Penguins could be getting more help from the convalescence of other sidelined stars. Photobomb extraordinaire Evgeni Malkin and offseason (re)acquisition Rob Scuderi were both participants at Penguins’ practice Saturday. However, Malkin did not participate in line rushes and Rob Scuderi was on an extra pairing with Friday night’s healthy scratch defenseman Brian Dumoulin.
Lines looked relatively the same, with one small change: Brian Gibbons in over Harry Zolnierczyk on the third line wing. Not sure if it’s just a mix-and-match thing, or if Harry Z is feeling a little sore after a hip check from Ryan Murphy on Friday. Didn’t seem like 39′s number was being called a whole lot after that, but that may just be overanalysis. Either way, good to see a hard worker like Brian Gibbons get back in the lineup. Kid can flat out fly, and he’s not a liability defensively either.
Kunitz – Crosby – Vitale
Conner – Jokinen – Neal
Gibbons – Sutter – Kobasew
Adams – Sill – Glass
Orpik – Engelland
Niskanen – Maatta
Despres – Brotuzzo
The Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have played very well recently. They too have had a taste of injury, especially to marquis players. They’ve been without defending Vezina-winner Sergei Bobrovsky for a large part of the year, and big money acquisitions Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton have combined to play only 18 games (all Gaborik’s). In Gaborik’s return from injury about a week or so ago, he broke his collarbone and went right back to IR. Nathan Horton had shoulder surgery in the offseason and hasn’t donned a Columbus jersey yet.
The Jackets have gotten strong play from young players like Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson, and pretty solid goaltending from Curtis McElhinney and Mike McKenna (who filled in for McElhinney while he was also injured, briefly). The Jackets have taken 13 of their last possible 20 points, going 6-3-1.
Brandon Dubinsky is still a joke, though. (Video courtesy of The Pensblog).
Foligno – Johansen – Umberger
Anisimov – Dubinsky – Atkinson
Comeau – MacKenzie – Skille
Jenner – Letestu – Tropp
Johnson – Tyutin
Wisniewski – Murray
Nkitin – Savard
What To Watch For:
1) Artem Anisimov used to kill the Penguins when he was with the Rangers. It seems that one of his trade counterparts, Derick Brassard, has Space Jammed the Penguin-killer gene from him, but you can never be too sure. He’s got a four-game points streak rolling and you can never sleep on a Penguin-killer. Also, Space Jam ruled.
2) Ryan Johansen is really becoming a good player. We’ve said that he isn’t a traditional first-line star centerman, and it seems like he’s on a mission to prove that he is. He’s leading the Blue Jackets with 30 points, really as their premier offensive player with the injuries to Gaborik and Horton. That means he’s been drawing top defensive assignments from the other team and he’s still playing well against them. It will probably be the Sutter line checking him in this one, so that will be a fun matchup to watch.
3) James Neal hasn’t played against the Blue Jackets this year. He missed the first two with an injury, and the last one with his suspension for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head. He’s been pretty damn good lately, and he’s coming off a three-point effort on Friday against the Canes. We look for him to get some more time on Crosby’s line and after penalty kills. Even when he’s out there with Jokinen, he has shown a new confidence to create his own shot as well as being a trigger man from a set-up.
Jam up the Jackets.