BLUE JACKETS (35-23-3) vs. PENGUINS (32-22-8)
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, CD102.5)
Matt Duchene has been a Blue Jacket for less than a week, but he's starting to figure things out.
When asked Monday if he knows if there are any rivalries his new team is a part of, Duchene showed he's a quick learner.
"I didn't really know, but I'm hearing it's Pittsburgh," he said. "So I'm excited for tomorrow night. Obviously the playoff series a couple of years ago, watching that, I knew these teams went at it, and I've been asked a few questions about it today. I've just been filling in the blanks here."
Video: 1-on-1 with new CBJ forward Matt Duchene
And if Duchene still is unsure, he'll likely figure it out Tuesday night when the Penguins come to Nationwide Arena for the first time this year. After rugged playoff series in 2014 and '17, not to mention four games per season since the teams moved to the Metropolitan Division, the battles with the Penguins tend to bring some of the most intense hockey of the season.
And with the trade deadline done, the playoff push on, and the Blue Jackets loaded up for the postseason like never before, what better way is there for Columbus to measure itself post-deadline than by taking on the Penguins?
TRADE CENTRAL: Read about everything the CBJ did at the deadline
Sure, this doesn't appear to exactly be the same Penguins team as past years; if the season ended today, Pittsburgh wouldn't even be in the playoffs. Still, the star power is there, Pittsburgh can blitz you at any time if you don't play a solid team game, and the Pens can jump the Jackets and be on the right side of the playoff bar with a win Tuesday at Nationwide.
"What's the old saying? It's a four-point game," Duchene said. "It's a big one."
Of course, any game would be interesting to Jackets fans after the way the past few days have unfolded. Columbus is 2-0 since acquiring Duchene on Friday, and the team figures to add newly acquired forward Ryan Dzingel and defenseman Adam McQuaid to the lineup against the Pens.
There's an undeniable buzz around the Jackets, who have never made a similar deadline push, and even the players are excited to see what kind of team will take the ice Tuesday.
"Now it's on us," captain Nick Foligno said. "Management did their job and now it's on us to go out there and play the right way. Those guys fit really well into what we're trying to do here. We're excited to have them."
Columbus will have 21 games remaining with this lineup to cement a third consecutive playoff spot for the first time in franchise history. The Jackets are just one spot above the ninth-place team in the Eastern Conference (the Penguins), and a fast finish is needed to even get in the playoffs let alone entertain thoughts of anything further.
"You're hammering the gas down and going to the finish line, and the first finish line is the end of the regular season," Duchene said. "We know where we want to be. We were talking about it the other day, we know that we're capable of in here and it's been fun to watch. I am excited to be part of that ride."
But who are we kidding? The Penguins are coming to town. A franchise that has for so long been the Jackets' measuring stick will play that role once again Tuesday night.
"I think that's an emotional and adrenaline-packed game just with who we're facing," Foligno said. "We haven't seen them much this year, so it'll be a great game, especially at home. It'll be fun to put our lineup out there against them and go from there."
Know the Foe
Blue Jackets fans don't need much of an introduction to Pittsburgh, as the Jackets know plenty about the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray and even Jack Johnson.
Pittsburgh is still one of the top scoring teams in the league, pumping in 3.42 goals per game, good for fifth in the NHL. Crosby (26-49-75), Malkin (19-44-63) and Phil Kessel (21-42-63) have combined for 201 points, while leading goal scorer Jake Guentzel (28-27-55) and defenseman Kris Letang (15-38-53) aren't far behind.
Defensively is where the struggle has happened, with the Pens giving up 3.11 goals per game, 21st in the league. The Penguins also lost Letang (upper body) and Brian Dumoulin (concussion) in the outdoor game Saturday at Philadelphia to injury, and the loss of Dumoulin is particularly huge given his 21 points and plus-27 rating. Neither is expected to play in Columbus on Tuesday, and the team acquired blueliners Erik Gudbranson and Chris Wideman at Monday's deadline.
In net, Murray (31) and Casey DeSmith (29) have pretty much split the starts. Murray is 18-10-2 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .912 save percentage, while DeSmith checks in at 14-11-5/2.86/.914.
Pittsburgh is not exactly flying into the deadline, either, as the Pens are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games.
Stopping the power play: Pittsburgh is scoring on 24.6 of its power plays, sixth in the league. It's felt like the Penguins' power play has been unstoppable when the Pens are truly flying against the Jackets; now that the Jackets have as formidable a PK, this becomes ever more crucial.
Score some goals: The Pens will enter the game without three of their regular defensemen with Dumoulin, Letang and Olli Maatta out because of injury. Columbus must take advantage.
Keep the momentum going: To make the moves the Jackets have made the past few days and then lay an egg would be a splash of cold water to the face. It feels like something is brewing, but Columbus must keep it going.
Columbus lost the opening game of the season series vs. Pittsburgh by a 4-2 score Nov. 24. The teams play a home-and-home series next Thursday and Saturday. … The Jackets are 5-2-1 in the last eight home games vs. the Pens. … Columbus has killed 51 of its last 55 power plays against. … The Blue Jackets are coming off back-to-back shutouts and have not allowed a goal in more than 126 minutes. … Columbus is 12-6-1 vs. the Metropolitan Division this year. … Josh Anderson is two points from 100 in his Blue Jackets/NHL career. … Boone Jenner is expected to play in his 400th game as a Blue Jacket.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Matt Duchene - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Ryan Dzingel - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Eric Robinson - Riley Nash - Brandon Dubinsky
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Adam McQuaid
Scratched: Alexander Wennberg, Lukas Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen, Dean Kukan, Keith Kinkaid
Roster notes: Tortorella said before the acquisition of McQuaid that Columbus would use the same lineup as the past two victories, with Dzingel swapping in along the left wing for the traded Anthony Duclair. Dzingel is expected to join the team's penalty kill as well.