After a frustrating loss to the Devils on Saturday night, the Jackets are on the road and back to work against a team they’ve had pretty good success against this season in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Jackets are 2-0-0 this year against the Penguins, scoring a home shootout win in December and then a 2-1 victory last week at CONSOL Energy Center punctuated by Brandon Dubinsky’s third period goal.
The Jackets will be without Dubinsky and line mate Matt Calvert for the near future, as both were diagnosed with concussions before Saturday’s game. Countering those losses, the Jackets will ride into Pittsburgh with a few players they did not dress during their last visit. Sergei Bobrovsky was activated off of injured reserve and backed up Curtis McElhinney on Saturday. He may be an option to start in Pittsburgh. Dalton Prout also returned to the lineup Saturday after missing nine games with an upper-body injury, and Brian Gibbons also played his first game for Columbus since Dec. 18. Newly-acquired David Clarkson will make his first road trip with the Jackets.
The Penguins have made some maneuvers of their own, and Daniel Winnik will make his Penguins debut today against Columbus. Winnik has scored seven goals and 25 points this season with the Maple Leafs before being traded earlier in the week, including two goals and three assists in two games against the Blue Jackets this season.
The Penguins sit third in the Metropolitan Division, three points ahead of the Washington Capitals and buoyed by their 4-3 win in Washington on Wednesday -- their third straight win. The Penguins figure to be well-rested, as they haven’t played since Wednesday and will be waiting for the Jackets in Pittsburgh.
That also means the Jackets are likely to get their second look in 11 days at Marc-Andre Fleury, who is enjoying a great season between the pipes in Pittsburgh. He has 28 wins, and his .924 save-percentage and 2.17 goals-against average are both career-bests. His league-leading eight shutouts this season have already established a single-season Penguins record.
The Blue Jackets rode a terrific road performance and solid goaltending to a 2-1 win at CONSOL Energy Center on Feb. 19. Tied 1-1 late in the third period and with Kevin Connauton in the box for tripping, former Blue Jacket Blake Comeau misconnected on a neutral zone pass for Sidney Crosby and instead sent Matt Calvert in on Marc Andre-Fleury on a mini-break. Comeau tried to make up for his mistake, back-checking to knock Calvert off the puck in the low slot. That loose puck slid right to Brandon Dubinsky, who was following up the play and buried the shorthanded goal for the eventual winner.
McElhinney outdueled Fleury for the win, stopping 29 of 30 shots for a Blue Jackets sweep of their back-to-back trip through Pennsylvania.
David Clarkson was brought to Columbus to add to the Jackets’ top-nine depth and hopefully regain his 30-goal form in a new environment. Those tasks won’t be accomplished overnight, but Clarkson is certainly leaping into a prominent role immediately in his new home. Calvert and Dubinsky were injured against Montreal while Clarkson was en route to Columbus, and Clarkson made his debut as a top-liner against the Devils. Clarkson has scoring potential, but he also provides the grit and toughness the team usually looks to Dubinsky to provide. Clarkson needs to help fill that gap as well, particularly against a Penguins opponent that has been chippy in the past two meetings. He made his Blue Jackets debut last night on the No. 1 line.
The Penguins offense always revolves around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Of late, it’s been Malkin with the hot hand, netting three goals and eight points during a four-game points streak and the Penguins coninciding three-game winning streak is, well, no coincidence. Malkin is coming off back-to-back three point games, and has 24 goals and 61 points this season to rank second on the Penguins in total scoring behind Crosby. Malkin has four goals and 11 points against the Blue Jackets in nine career regular season games, including the lone Penguins goal in the teams’ last meeting. Not included in that total is a hat trick in Game 6 of last year's first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
“Something’s Gotta Give”
The Jackets shutout loss to the Devils on Saturday just added to their frustrations the past two weeks, having failed to score more than two goals in five of the past six games. That stretch has featured some standout goaltending performances from Carey Price, Cory Schneider, and Michael Neuvirth. The task doesn’t get any easier as the Jackets prepare to face another one of the game's best net-minders in Fleury. Todd Richards was happy with his team’s performance in the first period Saturday and the shots that got to the net, but felt those efforts tapered as the game went on. The Jackets will need more consistency in the offensive zone to snap their losing streak in hostile territory.