GAME 79: BLUE JACKETS VS. PENGUINS
PPG PAINTS ARENA, 7:00 P.M.
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO / FOX SPORTS GO
RADIO: 97.1 & BLUEJACKETS.COM
For the third game in a row, the Jackets face off against another top five team in the league when they head to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins on Tuesday.
Once again, it's a game that has postseason implications for both teams.
The Jackets and the Penguins have been swapping back and forth the second and third positions in the Metro Division for a while now. Currently, Pittsburgh (48-19-11; 107 pts.) holds a one-point edge on the Jackets and sits in second place.
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Whoever ends up in that second place spot when the season is over will own home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. With a regulation win, the Jackets could reclaim that spot for their own.
The Jackets currently have the edge on the Penguins this season. They've won two of the three games played this year. They've also gone 7-3-1 against Pittsburgh since 2014-15 and are 2-2-1 at PPG Paints Arena in that same span.
"They are really good team, one of the better teams in the league," Oliver Bjorkstrand said. "It's definitely going to be a hard game tomorrow and we need to be ready for a game like that. It's getting closer to playoffs and its two good teams so you can be sure the intensity is going to be high. You want to have those good games going into playoffs."
Here are five things to watch for:
Welcome back, Bjorkstrand.
The Jackets anticipate having offensive weapon Oliver Bjorkstrand (6-5-11, 22 GP) back in the lineup Tuesday. The forward skated with the team at practice Monday and also lined up on the first power play unit.
"I got a good practice in," Bjorkstrand said. "I'm going to do everything I can to be ready from the puck drop. I want to be ready from the start so I don't have to ease in. I'm just ready to get going."
Video: Bjorkstrand on returning to the lineup in Pittsburgh
Forecast is Sonny.
Sonny Milano (16-27-43, 56 AHL GP) is the leading scorer for the Cleveland Monsters and has 12 points in his last ten games (3-9-12). He will join the Jackets in Pittsburgh Monday and is projected to be in the lineup on Tuesday, per head coach John Tortorella.
The reports coming from Cleveland on Milano's play have described a player who the Jackets "cannot not take a look at with the way he's playing right now," according to the Jackets' head coach.
Jackets recall Sonny Milano from Cleveland
Injuries aren't an excuse.
The Jackets will be playing without injured center Lukas Sedlak and defenseman Zach Werenski on Tuesday. Both players have been a part of the team's success this year. Werenski, in particular, holds the franchise record for points by a Blue Jacket rookie.
NOTEBOOK: Injury updates on Werenski, Sedlak
Pittsburgh is expected to be without Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maata, Trevor Daley, Kris Letang, Carl Hagelin and Tom Sestito; and they have found ways to win games even with that adversity.
"If you can look at one team that gone through injuries and still finds a way to win it's (Pittsburgh)," Tortorella said. There's no whining. No 'oh woe, oh jeez we lose this guy.' We're just going to play and that's how we have to go about our business."
Video: Torts on dealing with lineup changes before playoffs
Tortorella is still looking for his forwards to return to form offensively. They've been generating more chances of late, but still can't get the puck in the net. Tortorella expects the team to keeping working to gain chances, something more than a few Jackets have had success with against Pittsburgh this season.
Seven Jackets have three or more points against the Penguins this year. Brandon Dubinsky leads the charge with two goals and three assists. Scott Hartnell has three goals, and Cam Atkinson has two goals and an assist. The other players notching three points against tomorrow's opponent are Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Saad, Seth Jones and Jack Johnson.
Even with injuries, the Penguins rank first in goals per game (3.36), and captain Sidney Crosby leads the league in goals scored (43) and is fourth overall in total points (43-41-84). He has 14 points (9-5-14) in his last twelve games.