Game Preview: at Columbus Blue Jackets - March 11, 2016 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Game Preview: at Columbus Blue Jackets - March 11, 2016

Pittsburgh Penguins (34-24-8; 4th Metro) at Columbus Blue Jackets (28-31-8; 8th Metro)
March 11, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - Nationwide Arena
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

The Penguins missed out on a crucially important chance to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division Tuesday night when they lost to the Islanders 2-1, and with only 16 games remaining in the season they might have too much ground to make up to catch the Islanders (6 points) or the Rangers (8 points). The team they'll face tonight had effectively eliminated themselves from playoff contention in October when they lost their first 8 games of the season. It'll likely be a chippy battle as the Pens travel to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that has attempted to establish itself as Pittsburgh's rival despite doing little on the ice to prove themselves worthy. It's the 4th and final meeting between the two teams this season, and the Penguins have left points on the table against Columbus, going just 1-1-1 in the previous 3 games against the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets had little choice but to fire Todd Richards after starting the season 0-7-0, but they made an interesting choice for his replacement when they hired John Tortorella as his replacement. Given that Tortorella was fired by the Canucks with term on his contract, the Blue Jackets had to ship a 2nd round pick to Vancouver to secure the right to sign the coach, an interesting move for a team destined to finish the season among the worst in the league. It's also an interesting development as the team continues to force the issue of being the Penguins' rivals, as Tortorella's utter disdain for Pittsburgh is something he's not bothered to hide over the years.

And Tortorella's hiring immediately changed the dynamic of the Blue Jackets organization. Star center Ryan Johansen, who has had a disappointing season this year, almost immediately became the source of Tortorella's ire. Johansen's production this year has fallen to a 55 point pace after scoring 71 and 63 the previous two seasons, and it's come as his shooting percentage has fallen to 7.1% from 13.4% over the prior two years. Tortorella went as far as scratching Johansen in December, presumably for struggling while being young and talented instead of as a mediocre player with "heart" and "grit", and the writing was on the wall for Johansen's future in Columbus. The Blue Jackets swung an old-fashioned hockey deal with the Nashville Predators and obtained Seth Jones in a 1-for-1 trade. Jones immediately became the most talented defender on the team, and he's flourished in Columbus, posting 15 points in 26 games while playing 24:07 per night after managing just 11 points in 40 games with the Predators, placing 5th on Nashville among defenseman with 19:38 per game.

Also flourishing in Columbus is former Blackhawk and Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad, who has already posted a career best 24 goals through 64 games this season and is on pace to flirt with the 30 goal mark. While Saad won't team with Johansen for years to come like the Blue Jackets had originally planned, he gives Columbus a great young piece to build their offense around in the future. And it's another recent acquisition that's paid big dividends for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus was able to offload RJ Umberger's bloated contract onto the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2014 offseason, sending him and a 4th round picks in return for Scott Hartnell. Umberger has 10 points in 38 games this season, often being a healthy scratch, while being under contract at a $4.6 million AAV through next season. Hartnell on the other hand is leading the Blue Jackets with 43 points, is signed for an almost identical cap hit ($4.75 million), and is signed through 2018-19.

As far as goaltending goes, Sergei Bobrovsky's repeated groin injuries this season have opened up a revolving door in net for the Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky has started just 27 games this season, and he's been limited to a 2.65 GAA and 0.911 SV% when he's been able to play. Curtis McElhinney has had injury issues himself, but he's been shockingly bad in his 18 games played this year with a 0.890 SV% and 3.30 GAA. Joonas Korpisalo has had the best success in net for Columbus, but his numbers are still fairly mediocre (2.63 GAA, 0.918 SV%). With Columbus trading one of the best young offensive talents in the game for one of the best young defensive talents, the Blue Jackets will need to receive better production in their own zone going 


Penguins: Carl Hagelin (concussion symptoms), Kevin Porter (ankle), Ben Lovejoy (upper body), Eric Fehr (lower body), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)

Blue Jackets: Brandon Saad (upper body), Jack Johnson (upper body)


- While injuries have contributed to robbing the Penguins of much needed depth during a crucial stretch of the season, the team did receive good news on the injury front as all the injured players, with the exception of Kevin Porter, were able to participate in practice to varying degrees. Carl Hagelin, Eric Fehr, and Beau Bennett will all be game-time decisions for tonight's game while a potential return to the lineup for Ben Lovejoy remains further out.

- The Pens improved health at forward has created a roster crunch, and the team addressed the pending return to the lineup for Fehr and Bennett by re-assigning Conor Sheary to Wilkes-Barre.

- Marc-Andre Fleury will be looking for his 350th career victory tonight, his second attempt to reach the milestone after the team fell short against the Islanders Tuesday.

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