BLUE JACKETS (12-14-4) at PENGUINS (17-10-4)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
When the Blue Jackets raced to an impressive 5-2 win Monday night against the Washington Capitals, the team with the most points in the NHL, there was a big question hanging in the air after the game.
How do the Blue Jackets bottle that energy and that performance and keep it going forward? If the team plays the way it did against the Caps, there's no question it will win a lot of games the rest of the season.
"Same way," said Cam Atkinson, who tallied twice in the win. "Turn the page. Think about all the good things we did in this game and take it a day at a time and realize that when we play like that we're a really good team. We just have to believe, and I think it starts with a huge win like this."
It was a rare victory that was what the team drew up, one in which the Blue Jackets got an early lead, added to it, absorbed the other team's push in response, notched insurance goals and then finished it off with a late empty-net tallies.
The Blue Jackets have been a team that has had to scrap and fight for everything it has gotten this year, and numerous excellent performances haven't been rewarded with victories. That was most true last Thursday night, when Columbus outshot the Rangers by a 47-19 score and still found itself on the wrong end of a 3-2 decision.
Then came a 4-1 loss at Florida on Saturday that wasn't up to snuff, making Monday night a huge response game against the Caps. The response was what the team wanted, as the Jackets came out flying and didn't easy up from there.
"I thought we played better tonight than we did against Florida," head coach John Tortorella said after the game. "We played a really good game against the Rangers. I think we looked lethargic against Florida. We played much better tonight."
Which leads to the question of how the Blue Jackets bottle that feeling to play the Pens. It shouldn't be hard to play with some mojo given the rivalry between the two teams, one that appeared close to exploding in a Nov. 29 game in Nationwide Arena.
In hockey, there's going to be good nights and bad nights. A team won't always have the jump Columbus had against the Capitals, but the hope is to try to keep the energy level as consistent as possible.
"We have to play at that level all the time," defenseman Ryan Murray said. "Every guy on our team, I think if we show that we can do that, we need to do it consistently. We are definitely capable of it, so there's no real excuse for not playing like that every night."
Know the Foe
While Pittsburgh enters having held together a strong season despite a rash of injuries, the team's 38 points are good for only fifth in the Metro behind Washington, the New York Islanders, Philadelphia and Carolina.
The Pens will have a lengthy injury list against the Blue Jackets as well, as forwards Sidney Crosby, Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist remain out along with defenseman Brian Dumoulin.
Despite all that, the Penguins have kept the boat afloat thanks to depth and defense. Fourteen different plays have at least 10 points, one reason the team is seventh in the NHL with 3.32 goals per game, while the squad is ninth in the league in defense with an average of 2.74 goals per game allowed.
Up front, Jake Guentzel has confirmed himself as one of the game's top goal scorers with a team-best 17 tallies as part of a 32-point season thus far. Evgeni Malkin has been centering his line and is off to an impressive start as well, with an 8-19-27 line in 20 games.
From there, the depth takes over. Names of note include center Jared McCann and winger Bryan Rust, who have matching 9-9-18 lines; defenseman Kris Letang, who has notched seven goals with 11 assists; offseason acquisition Dominik Kahun at wing, who has eight goals and 17 points; and winger Brandon Tanev, who has a 6-10-13 line.
John Marino (3-10-13, plus-11) and former Blue Jacket Jack Johnson (plus-8) have stepped up for a defense that is increasingly playing in front of Tristan Jarry and not Matt Murray. Jarry set a franchise record by extending his shutout streak to 177:55 in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Montreal, and he has a 7-5-0 record, 1.92 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. Murray is at 10-5-4/2.85/.897 this year.
3 Keys to the Game
Match Pittsburgh's energy: The Pens are coming off that listless loss to Montreal and should have a fire in their belly vs. the Jackets. Columbus has to match that with the energy that it had Monday in Washington.
Break the hex: Columbus is 0-5-3 in its last eight regular-season games in Pittsburgh and has lost four straight playoff games there as well. It's not an easy barn to play in, especially for the Jackets, but the trend is due a turnaround.
Everyone contributes: The win over the Caps was notable because each line did its part. That's the kind of "no passengers" effort Columbus has to have to have success.
The teams have split the season series, with Pittsburgh winning 7-2 in the second game of the season Oct. 5, while Columbus answered with a home win by a 5-2 score Nov. 29. … Gus Nyquist had a hat trick in the last game vs. Pittsburgh and has a total of four goals over the two games this year. … Seth Jones will likely play the 300th game in his Blue Jackets career and two away from 500 overall, while Sonny Milano is two games shy of 100 in his CBJ career. … Cam Atkinson has three goals in his last three games.
(Subject to change)
Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Gustav Nyquist - Alexandre Texier - Cam Atkinson
Alexander Wennberg - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Dean Kukan - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Andrew Peeke
Scratches: Emil Bemstrom (injury), Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Tortorella said the team will skate the same lineup as it did Monday in Washington with Korpisalo in net. Bemstrom is expected to be out six-to-eight weeks, the team announced Wednesday, after he was injured Saturday at Florida. Forward Kole Sherwood (oblique) and defenseman Zach Werenski (shoulder), who each practiced Wednesday, will not return yet.