BLUE JACKETS (10-10-4) vs. PENGUINS (14-7-4)
Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, CD 102.5 FM)
Before the Blue Jackets took on Philadelphia on Wednesday night, Nick Foligno was happy with the way things were coming along for his team.
"I think we had (an identity) early on, and we just lost it a bit," the captain said of a 1-5-2 stretch the team was emerging from with a 4-1-1 run of play. "When certain things don't go your way and you're not scoring as much as you'd like, you try to think that maybe (a different) way is better. I think we learned the hard way going through a slump like that. We've played better hockey of late."
About 12 hours later, he was singing a different tune. After a 3-2 setback vs. the Flyers in which the Blue Jackets took five penalties in the first 40 minutes and eventually gave up the game-losing goal on the power play late in the second period, Foligno was left ruing a game in which he felt his team gave away a victory.
"It's frustrating to play a game like that when I really thought everything was starting to come together," he said. "I'm sure it is, and I hope this is a really good lesson. ... This is not going to be a recipe for winning. It's going to be a long year if we go down that road. We better catch ourselves Friday against a really good team."
The Blue Jackets have a chance to get back on the horse against a pair of Metropolitan Division foes, starting tonight vs. Pittsburgh. Columbus then hits the road for the second night of a back-to-back against a New York Islanders team that again is off to a tremendous start.
With the two teams each contending near the top of the division, the Blue Jackets will have to be on their game in a way they just weren't against Philadelphia.
"You learn from your mistakes in this league," Foligno said. "You have to learn quick; otherwise this is the situation you put yourself in. We worked so hard to climb out of that hole we dug ourselves (with the slump) after 10 games and really starting to play good hockey, trending the right way. And then you come out (against Philadelphia) with a good first period, and then it's just penalties, penalties, penalties. It just kills you. I mean, why?
"It's just a focus, an understanding, and it's a commitment to your team. We didn't have it from everyone tonight."
With the team in a stretch of both 10 of 15 against Metropolitan Division foes as well as eight of 10 at home, the Blue Jackets need a quick turnaround starting with the game vs. the Penguins.
"We have to make sure we come out on top on Friday," Gus Nyquist said.
Know the Foe
Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Kris Letang. Alex Galchenyuk. Brian Dumoulin. Bryan Rust. Justin Schultz, Jared McCann. Nick Bjugstad. Patric Hornqvist.
That's not just a list of some of the top players on the Pittsburgh Penguins. That's also a list of Pens who have missed time this year because of injuries.
In fact, as the Penguins get ready to visit Nationwide Arena on Friday to take on the Jackets, Crosby, Bjugstad and Schultz are still out, yet the team remains not just above .500 and in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race. The Pens are coming off a wild 8-6 win vs. Vancouver on Wednesday in which the team scored five consecutive goals in the third period.
That's in part because the team's depth has started to shine, with 11 players in double figures in points. It's also in part because of a defense that is best in the NHL in expected goals allowed per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (1.86), with the team controlling pace and scoring at 5-on-5. Pittsburgh is sixth in the NHL with 3.52 goals per game and sixth in defense at 2.72 allowed.
Jake Guentzel leads the team with 14 goals - tied for eighth in the NHL -- and 25 points, while Malkin's five-point game against the Canucks gives him six goals and 13 assists for 19 points in just 14 games. McCann and Rust also have matching 9-8-17 lines while Letang has 14 points in 17 games.
In net, Matt Murray has been good with a 9-4-4 record, 2.72 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, but backup Tristan Jarry has been great (5-3-0/2.01/.938) in eight games.
3 Keys to the Game
Limit chances in transition: The Pens are lethal in that case, as the Blue Jackets found out in the 7-2 loss in Pittsburgh in game two of the season. Patience will be key as Columbus simply cannot open up.
Finish: The Penguins are among the best teams in the NHL this year when it comes to limiting chances at 5-on-5. If the Blue Jackets get a great look, they have to bury it, as the next one might not come for a while.
Cool down Malkin: The Pens' center was on fire even before Wednesday night, and he now has 12 points in the last six games. He's also been a noted Jackets killer with 30 points in 25 career games.
Columbus is 6-3-1 in the last 10 home games vs. Pittsburgh. ...Oliver Bjorkstrand has a 3-5-8 line in the last three games. … Joonas Korpisalo has a .917 save percentage in his last eight starts. ... Werenski has 99 career assists. … With 551 games played, Cam Atkinson is two away from passing Fedor Tyutin for second in career games for the CBJ. ... Columbus has played in 17 one-goal games, most in the NHL, going 9-4-4 in such games. … The Blue Jackets are 10-3-1 when scoring first and 0-7-3 when giving up the first goal, and Columbus has scored first in nine straight games.
(Subject to change)
Nick Foligno - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Sonny Milano - Alexander Wennberg - Josh Anderson
Alexandre Texier - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan
Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Eric Robinson, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Head coach John Tortorella said Nash will go in for Robinson, playing his first game since Nov. 19. Korpisalo will make his third straight start.