PITTSBURGH – The Blue Jackets’ first game in five days is more than “just another game” and not just because many of their fathers are along for the trip.
When the puck drops on Friday night at the CONSOL Energy Center, they know it will take their best collective effort to start their Metropolitan Division rivalry with Pittsburgh on the right foot. And while it’s not officially a rivalry yet – a playoff series or two goes a long way in that regard, Mark Letestu (a former Penguin) said – there’s not a single Blue Jackets player who isn’t eagerly awaiting this weekend’s series.
Not only is this another of the so-called “measuring stick” games for the Blue Jackets, the home-and-home against the Penguins presents an opportunity to make some headway in the division standings. Entering the weekend, the Blue Jackets are eight points behind the Penguins but have played one fewer game.
It’s no secret what they have to do, either – it starts in their own end and sticking to their team-defense approach against the Penguins’ stacked offense.
“They obviously have a ton of skill over there, and we’re going to have to play physical,” Nick Foligno told BlueJackets.com. “It’s not even so much running around and hitting them, it’s just being physical and not giving them time and space; when you give Crosby and Malkin room, they’re going to make you pay.
“That will be our focus – making sure we’re strong on pucks, we’re battling and making it a physical hockey game that might make it more difficult for them.”
Adrenaline is going to be a factor, nerves might a factor, but at the end of the day the Blue Jackets know their avenue for success is paved by being hard to play against in all three zones.
They want to play an energetic and in-your-face game, and with that mentality also comes a need for discipline; in facing a team with a potent power play and two of the league’s most dangerous forwards, the Jackets can ill afford to give the Penguins anything for free.
“We’re not a team that can afford to do that with anybody,” Foligno said. “We have to make sure we stay disciplined because their power play is dangerous. If we make it a hard, heavy game, we’re a team that can play that style and make it tough on them.”
Letestu, who started his NHL career in Pittsburgh and knows the Penguins organization well, echoed Foligno’s assessment.
“You want to limit your turnovers,” Letestu said. “They’re a team that preys on that and especially through the neutral zone. They’re really quick to their offense, too; we need some better puck decisions than what we’ve been having lately and that’s going to go a long way.”
“It’s just getting up to play the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Foligno said. “They’ve done a great job in becoming an elite team in the league and I think people respect them, but we also want to see how we match up. It’s always a battle and I think that makes it even more impressive, because everyone they play wants to give them their best game. It’s a matter of us going out and playing our style. When we’re a physical team, we’re a good team.”