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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets get right back at it vs. Pittsburgh

Columbus hopes to finish its chances in game two vs. Penguins

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

BLUE JACKETS (0-1-0) at PENGUINS (0-1-0) 

Saturday, 7 p.m., PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports appCD102.5 FM

If John Tortorella said it once, he said it four times in the aftermath of the Blue Jackets' season-opening setback vs. Toronto. 

It was some variation on the story of the game being that Columbus had scoring chances, but the Blue Jackets were unable to finish them at the same level the Maple Leafs did, one reason the visitors returned to Canada with a 4-1 win. 

"I thought we had some good minutes through the game, but we don't score at key times and they do," Tortorella said. "The game's over." 

It was the fourth time the head coach reiterated some words on that theme, so it wasn't hard to figure out where the head coach thought the difference in the game lied. 

Both Columbus and Toronto put 29 shots on goal in the game, while the Maple Leafs had a slight 54-51 edge in total shot attempts for the game. The Leafs also converted 2 of 5 power plays and adding a 4-on-4 goal, with Columbus finishing 1 for 5. 

So it wasn't a blowout when it came to possession or anything along those lines despite the final score, but the Leafs did one key thing the Jackets didn't -- finish their opportunities. Afterward, Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno alternated between tipping his cap to Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen while also ruing the fact the Blue Jackets let the game get away from them a bit. 

"Andersen, tip your cap to him," Foligno said. "He obviously played really well for them. I liked a lot of our game. I just thought we didn't stay as patient as we normally would. I don't know if it's the first-game jitters or what it was, but that's something we can obviously take into our next game is sticking with it a little bit more." 

It also looked like the Blue Jackets were a beat off when it came to chemistry, as there were chances to set up teammates that went begging. It was perhaps no coincidence that the line that looked the best offensively was paired Foligno with Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson, a trio that often played together during the 2018-19 season. 

The three other forward lines had some new faces playing together, and Cam Atkinson said that can make a difference.  

"Not playing a lot together, right?" Atkinson said. "We didn't get a chance to play in the last preseason game, not that that really hurt us, but there's only so many things you can work on in practice going against your teammates. You need game-like situations going against opponents to work on the chemistry. But I think the second half, 5-on-5, overall the lines started picking it up and playing better." 

The good news is work on building that chemistry will continue immediately. The Blue Jackets will take on a Pittsburgh team likely smarting from an opening 3-1 setback vs. Buffalo on Thursday night, but getting back on the ice will give Columbus another chance to shake off the early rust and get the season's first victory. 

"That's the nice part about playing back-to-backs, and we seem to get a lot of them," Foligno said. "Get right back at it against a division rival tomorrow. It's an opportunity to take what we learned tonight and put it to good use tomorrow against a really good team."  

Know the Foe 

Pittsburgh needs no introduction to Blue Jackets fans, but this is a bit of a new-look Penguins squad. Gone is Phil Kessel, who was traded this offseason to Arizona for Alex Galchenyuk, while the blue line has continued its bit of flux from last season. 

Of course, the big names are still there -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Matt Murray still highlight Mike Sullivan's squad. Just Malkin scored in the team's home loss to the Sabres on Thursday to start the season, but firepower shouldn't be a problem for the Pens as the season goes on. 

Crosby is coming off his sixth 100-point season and first since 2014 as he posted a 35-65-100 line a year ago. Malkin had a bit of a down year but still posted 21-51-72, while Jake Guentzel took another big step forward with a team-best 40 goals to go with 76 points. Letang also had a 16-40-56 line a year ago, while Galchenyuk is coming off a 19-goal season in the desert. 

The defense has a bit of a different look, though, after the offseason trade of Olli Maatta to Chicago for forward Dominik Kahun. Erik Gudbranson and Marcus Pettersson, each acquired during last season, skated in the opener, as did former Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. The defense wasn't great in the opener, though, giving up 41 shots on goal to the Sabres. 

In net, Murray had a 2.69 GAA and .919 save percentage a year ago and made 38 saves in the opener. Last year's backup Casey DeSmith was put on waivers before the season, and Tristan Jarry is backing up. 

3 Keys to the Game 

Survive the start: After Pittsburgh's opening loss to Buffalo, Evgeni Malkin reminded his team that it's not preseason anymore. It seems like the Pens will come out flying, and Columbus will have to be ready. 

Find Guentzel: Of all the offense talent the Penguins have, Guentzel is the one who feels like a Blue Jackets killer. In 11 career regular-season games vs. Columbus, the Nebraska-Omaha product has seven goals, most against any team. He also has five goals in five career postseason games vs. the Jackets. 

Finish chances: It was all Tortorella could talk about postgame, and the Blue Jackets will need to score goals to beat a team like Pittsburgh with its firepower up front. Wins against the Pens rarely come 2-1.

Of Note 

Boone Jenner is one point away from 200 in his NHL and CBJ careers, while Oliver Bjorkstrand is three points from 100. … Columbus has lost seven straight in Pittsburgh and won just four times all-time in the Steel City. ... The Blue Jackets will look to avoid going 0-2 for the first time since 2016-17, though the team won a franchise-record 50 games that season. 

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson 

Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson 

Gustav Nyquist - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom 

Ryan Murray - Seth Jones 

Zach Werenski - David Savard 

Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara 

Joonas Korpisalo 

Elvis Merzlikins 

Scratches: Sonny Milano, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov 

Roster Report: Head coach John Tortorella has not indicated if any lineup changes are in the offing, noting that Harrington won the battle to be the team's sixth defenseman in camp. 





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