The main question for the Blue Jackets coming out of today’s morning skate surrounded the status of Nick Foligno, who missed Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia and did not practice yesterday in Pittsburgh.
Here’s the good news: Foligno took part in the morning skate at CONSOL Energy Center and is a game-time decision for tonight’s game against the Penguins. It’s the Blue Jackets’ first official (excluding preseason) game in Pittsburgh since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, and it’s safe to say they’re itching to get this one going tonight.
Foligno skated on a line with Marko Dano and Artem Anisimov this morning, but it remains to be seen if that’s the combination Todd Richards goes with if Foligno is deemed ready to go after warm-ups. Foligno has been dealing with a lower-body injury that is not considered to be a long-term issue, but one that the Blue Jackets want to make sure is comfortable enough to play through.
“Right now he’s going to take warmups with the intention he’s going to play,” Richards said. “It still might be one of those calls (made) after warmups. He’s feeling good, he looked good out on the ice…we just have to make sure on it, that’s all.”
Curtis McElhinney starts in goal against Marc-Andre Fleury for Pittsburgh.
START. ON. TIME.
Much has been made recently about the Penguins’ power play, which isn’t producing at its expected clip but is still a threat just based on sheer star power. Eventually, great players cash in on their chances and Richards believes that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are getting their chances – they just haven’t scored as often as they’d like.
One thing the Blue Jackets don’t want to do is feed into that early on in the game; they’ve gotten off to slow starts far too often over the past couple of months and they can’t afford one at CONSOL Energy Center tonight. Puck management, puck support and playing as a five-man unit are things Richards wants to see his players do with regularity, because when they do it, they have success.
“(The Penguins are) a hungry team, a fast team, a team that goes to the net hard and a team that knows what it takes to win. We have to be ready,” Richards said. “It’s a dangerous power play. There’s lots of different things they can do that can hurt you. I don’t look at it as a team that’s struggling; they can still create momentum off the power play. It’s just maybe at times not going in, and we’d like to continue that one more game.”
So, no worry about a slow start tonight, right?
“No, there’s worry,” Richards said. “And it’s not about our guys not being ready – it’s about the opposition and who you’re playing.”
The Blue Jackets and Penguins locked horns in a spirited, memorable first-round playoff series last spring and former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said unprompted that “a rivalry had been born” between the two teams. It’s a little odd that they have played only one game against each other so far in 2014-15, but there is still more Columbus-Pittsburgh on the horizon.
After tonight’s game, the Blue Jackets and Penguins face off twice more in the regular season, one game each at CONSOL Energy Center (Mar. 1) and Nationwide Arena (Apr. 4). And if tonight’s game is anything like the first meeting – a 4-3 shootout win for Columbus on Dec. 13 that was full of nasty – there’s a lot to look forward to.
“We have some good memories and some bad memories in this building,” said forward Matt Calvert, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 2. “It’s a fun building for us to play in; we have quite the rivalry with these guys. The team on the losing end wants to win that much more next season…it’s a battle every time, they’re one of the top teams in our division and you want to do your best against them every time.”