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Game Preview#24: Sixty Minutes

Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins – 7:00 PM
Game Face-off

The Blue Jackets are coming off an ugly, ugly win in New Jersey. Predictably (and justifiably) had a fan just tuned in for John Tortorella’s post-game press scrum, it would have been assumed that the game had been a loss . . . a bad one. That’s why Tortorella got the nod in Columbus — to maintain accountability, elevate standards and get the most out of his players. It’s not a seamless process.

The good news is that the Blue Jackets did, in fact, win the game in Newark, despite an effort that was a disorganized mess after a solid first period. Tortorella knows it, the players know it, and expect it to be very different tonight. I’m expecting the same forward deployments tonight, but suspect that Justin Falk will draw in for Dalton Prout, given the latter’s horrific performance on Wednesday, which had Tortorella play five defensemen in the third, rather than put Prout out there again. I’m surmising that Sergei Bobrovsky is back in net tonight, with Curtis McElhinney probably getting the nod tomorrow in St. Louis.

Pittsburgh is coming off of a home OT win over the St. Louis Blues, with Evgeni Malkin the star of the show. Sidney Crosby is showing signs of emerging from his early season doldrums, which is not a good sign for the rest of the league. He had two goals for the Penguins on Wednesday. Still, Pittsburgh ranks near the bottom of the league in offensive numbers and power play, having relied largely on the great early play of net minder Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury let in a softie against St. Louis, but was otherwise solid. Expect him between the pipes tonight, with Jeff Zatkoff probably handling their home contest against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

For the Blue Jackets, the focus must be on a full sixty minutes of pace, and staying out of the box. The two are tightly related, as the Blue Jackets had the energy sucked out of their game by 5:30 of PK time in the first part of the second period against the Devils, and some irresponsible penalties put Prout solidly on the bench. Brandon Dubinsky is back, and will fulfill his primary role as the Chief Antagonist for Crosby. Watch for some fireworks from Patric Hornqvist, who was mixing it up with anybody that moved in the last contest.

One interesting match-up to watch tonight will be the fourth lines. For the Blue Jackets, the combination of Kerby Rychel, Alexander Wennberg and Gregory Campbell has provided a nice combination of physical play, speed and offensive threat. The Penguins feel the same way about their fourth line of Sergei Plotnikov, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr. Winning that pairing, neutralizing Crosby, and keeping the line of Phil Kessel — Evgeni Malkin–David Perron to the perimeter will be indicators of success.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(9-14-0, 18 Points; 8th division, 15th conference)

Boone Jenner Ryan Johansen Brandon Saad
Matt Calvert Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson
Scott Hartnell William Karlsson Nick Foligno
Kerby Rychel Alexander Wennberg Gregory Campbell

Jack Johnson David Savard
Ryan Murray Kevin Connauton
Andrew Bodnarchuk Justin Falk

Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

Pittsburgh Penguins
(13-8-0, 26 Points; 3rd Division, 5th Conference)

Pascal Dupuis Sidney Crosby Patric Hornqvist
David Perron Evgeni Malkin Phil Kessel
Chris Kunitz Nick Bonino Beau Bennett
Sergei Plotnikov Matt Cullen Eric Fehr

Rob Scuderi Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin Ben Lovejoy
Ian Cole Adam Clendening

Marc Andre-Fleury
Jeff Zatkoff