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Game #23 Preview: First-Place Blue Jackets Visit Reeling Penguins

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The Columbus Blue Jackets visit Jack Johnson and the Pittsburgh Penguins on this Saturday night. It’s the first regular season matchup between the two clubs this season.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday, November 24, 2018 - 7:00 EST
PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
TV: Fox Sports Ohio - Radio: 97.1 WBNS FM
Opponent’s Blog: Pensburgh

Columbus Blue Jackets, 13-7-2, 28 points, 1st Metro, t-4th East

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Pittsburgh Penguins, 8-8-5, 21 points, t-7th Metro, t-13th East

It’s a rivalry kind of day in Columbus, and for the Columbus Blue Jackets, that extends out of state on up to Pennsylvania as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time all season. As the Jackets finished a home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a 4-2 win last night at Nationwide Arena, the Penguins fell to the Boston Bruins in overtime, 2-1.

Player to Watch

Brandon Dubinsky has seen a lot of the Penguins during his tenure in the Eastern Conference and NHL as a whole. In 49 career games, he has 13 goals, 20 assists, 68 penalty minutes. You know to look out for him tonight in the agitator role.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Five Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Jackets Notes

Columbus enters tonight’s game 6-1-2 over their last nine. ... The Blue Jackets went 0-1-3 against the Penguins last season, two of those losses via the shootout. ... The last win to come against Pittsburgh was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 5-4, April 4, 2017. ... The last regular-season win occurred Feb. 17, 2017, 2-1, in overtime. ... Sergei Bobrovsky patrolled the crease in Friday’s night win over the Maple Leafs, which suggests the idea Joonas Korpisalo (0-1-0, 4.04, .882 in lone career start vs Pittsburgh in 2015-16 season) gets the second start of the back-to-back Saturday. ... Cam Atkinson extended his career-high goal-scoring streak to six games in the win last night. ... Atkinson is tied with Rick Nash for the longest goal-scoring streak in franchise history, trailing Geoff Sanderson. ... Atkinson’s 14th goal of the season also gives him 23 points on the season, putting him into a team co-lead with Artemi Panarin, who had a third period assist. ... The short-handed goal in the second period was Atkinson’s second in four games, and the Blue Jackets fourth of the season. ... Columbus had four short-handed goals all of last season. ... Markus Hannikainen’s third period goal, which originally was credited to Panarin, would have snapped a 10-game goalless streak for Panarin. ... Panarin has now gone 11-consecutive games without a goal, tying a career-high dating back to 2015-16. ... Pierre-Luc Dubois saw the Penguins for the first time last season, registering six points (one goal, five assists) in the four regular season matchups. ... Nick Foligno has 24 points (7—17) in 36 meetings.

The Other Bench

The Penguins have gotten off to a slow start this season, but similar to seasons past, they are just one streak away from being in the thick of the division race. Which makes Saturday’s game all the more crucial for Columbus to get off to a fast start.

Sidney Crosby, who missed three games following an upper-body injury, returned to the lineup Wednesday night for the Penguins in Dallas. His return helped propel the Penguins to a 3-0 first period lead with a goal and two assists in the 5-1 win over the Stars. But last night’s loss to the Bruins extended the Penguins November slump. Following an undefeated trip through Western Canada in October, the Penguins have two wins in their past 12 games dating back to Halloween and are just 2-7-3 in November.

Currently, the Penguins are tied-for-seventh in the Metro with the Devils and seven points back of the first place Blue Jackets.

It is not yet official who makes the start in goal for the Penguins tonight after their game with the Bruins Friday. Matt Murray (4-5-0, 4.08 GAA, .877 SV%) is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. In his stead, Tristan Jarry, recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, made the start last night, making 35 saves. Probable starter Casey DeSmith (4-3, 2.39, .924), who has appeared in 13 games for the Penguins this season, has made nine starts on the year. If DeSmith gets the nod, it would be his first-career start against Columbus.

For Crosby, this will be his 26th regular season meeting versus Columbus, in which he has seven goals, 21 assists. Evgeni Malkin (current six-game points streak — two goals, seven assists) comes into his 21st meeting with 11 goals, 15 assists. Patric Hornqvist has lit up the Jackets as well over 39 meetings with 25 points (13—11). Phil Kessel (current seven-game points streak — three goals, seven assists) has 23 points (12—11) in 23 prior meetings; Kris Letang, 17 points (8—9) in 21 meetings.

And of course, tonight means the first meeting between the Blue Jackets and Jack Johnson since his free agent departure last summer for five years, $16.25 million.

Shortly thereafter the news of the signing, and comments from Jack Johnson:

“I’ve been looking to be in a winning culture.”

And Penguins GM Jim Rutherford:

“I don’t think he [Jack Johnson] had a bad year.

“He was a healthy scratch at the end of the season. I know the reason why. It wasn’t because of how he was playing.”

All set Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella ablaze into full-blown rivalry mode, setting the former Stanley Cup champion known for tongue lashings and famous media frenzies with his press conferences and sound bites into a July frenzy.

“All I know is, this organization, from the lawyers, the front office, J.D. (John Davidson), the managers, the coaches, players … has done nothing but try to help Jack. And for him to backhand slap us like this is utter bullshit, and he should know better.

“No one wishes anything bad to happen to him and his family. We wish him the best. But for him to put it the way he put it today is bullshit. And to have a general manager question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a fucking magician.”

“I love the fucking guy (Johnson). I’ve had him on the Olympic team. I get him on the World Cup team. I love the guy. But for him to do this is ridiculous. He has got to start pointing the finger at himself, not other people.

“If I’m a (former) teammate of his and I play against him next year … my gosh … ”

Johnson further clarified his comments:

“I didn’t mean it in any way, shape or form as a backhand towards Columbus. It’s just … Pittsburgh’s won two (Stanley) Cups in the last three years, and there’s a winning culture there. I didn’t mean it in any way to insult the Blue Jackets at all.”

Both Johnson and Tortorella have talked since, hashing out any differences:

“Jack and I have since talked, and I believe Jack. I think Jack was out there looking at homes, he got thrown into a press conference. I believe what he has said, that you have to show Pittsburgh respect. They’ve won. It’s your new team. I get that. Jack and I have worked through that.”

You can read the full quote at The Athletic.

In the 16 games Johnson has faced the Blue Jackets throughout his career — Kings and Hurricanes — he has no goals, seven assists. This season for his new team, Johnson has one goal, five assists in 21 games, and is skating to a -10. He was a -6 for Columbus last season in 77 games, and a +23 the season before (2016-17) when he played all 82 games. Johnson has a 47.3 CF%. One thing that would make ole Torts proud are his 38 blocks, which lead the team.

Patric Hornqvist took a hit from Kevan Miller in the second period Friday night. Head coach Mike Sullivan said he would be further evaluated Saturday. Matt Cullen is on IR (lower-body), Derek Grant, who did not play Friday, is uncertain for Saturday, and Justin Schultz (leg) is on IR and out for at least four months.

Season Series

11/24/2018 CBJ @ Pit
2/26/2019 Pit @ CBJ
3/7/2019 CBJ @Pit
3/9/2019 Pit @ CBJ

Stats

Pittsburgh Columbus
3.33 (7) GPG 3.41 (4)
3.19 (t-22) GAPG 3.09 (18)
25.4% (6) PP% 16.0% (25)
81.5% (t-9) PK% 78.6% (19)
50.15% (16) EV Corsi % 48.82% (21)
100.5 (t-15) EV PDO 101.3 (9)
Phil Kessel, 10 G Leader Cam Atkinson, 14
Evgeni Malkin, 20 A Leader Artemi Panarin, 18
Evgeni Malkin, 29 P Leader Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin, 23
Evgeni Malkin, 32 PIM Leader Pierre-Luc Dubois, 32
4-5-2 Home / Road 7-3-1
2-6-2 Last 10 6-2-2

Projected Lineup

Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin Pierre-Luc Dubois Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno Boone Jenner Josh Anderson
Brandon Dubinsky Alexander Wennberg Anthony Duclair
Lukas Sedlack Riley Nash Markus Hannikainen
Ryan Murray Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara David Savard
Zach Werenski Scott Harrington
Joonas Korpisalo
Sergei Bobrovsky
Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel Sidney Crosby Patric Hornqvist
Tanner Pearson Evgeni Malkin Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-Reese Derrick Brassard Dominik Simon
Bryan Rust Derek Grant Riley Sheehan
Brian Dumoulin Kris Letang
Olli Maata Jusso Riikola
Jack Johnson Jamie Oleksiak
Casey DeSmith
Tristan Jarry