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The Week Ahead: Pittsburgh

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets


The 2013-14 NHL season is only a month old but that doesn't mean the games don't have added significance.

When the NHL and NHLPA approved the league's realignment plan last spring, the Blue Jackets not only moved to the Eastern Conference but moved into a new division with loads of potential in terms of natural, geographic rivalries. At the top of that list was the Pittsburgh Penguins, among the NHL's elite organizations in a city Columbus could call its neighbor at a mere three-hour drive east.


Aside from the geographic element, these two teams have played some classic games over the years and throughout this week, we'll share some of them leading up to a home-and-home series that begins Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Columbus and Pittsburgh will play the first two of five meetings this season, and what better way to kick off the season series between two Metropolitan Division opponents? All week long, we'll update you on everything Jackets-Penguins, including interviews, classic highlights, thoughts from the Penguins side of things and much more.

In case you missed last night's edition of "The Inside Edge" with Bob McElligott and Jody Shelley, we're here to back you up. Bobby Mac got into the Halloween spirit - and showed off his musical prowess - with his rendition of a classic...just in time for this weekend's series against Pittsburgh.

In all of its glory, we present you with The Penguins Mash. It's a must-listen.

Are you planning on heading to Nationwide Arena early on Saturday to snag CBJ Student Rush tickets, presented by our good friends at Papa John's? You're in for a special treat: Jackets forward Matt Calvert will be passing out FREE pizza starting at 5:45 p.m.

We'll see you here on Saturday afternoon - bring your appetite! 

Michelle Crechiolo from shares her perspective and offers three key story lines as the Jackets and Penguins begin their season series…

For a rivalry to actually be a rivalry – a real heated one – there needs to be dislike and animosity between the teams that’s driving it. I believe there is already some existing hostility between the Penguins and the Blue Jackets, and that should only continue to grow now that the teams are in the same division.

I think it stems from there being a number of players on Columbus’ roster the Pens are familiar with from their time together in the Atlantic Division, like former Rangers Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky and former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky (and we can’t forget former Penguin Mark Letestu). In addition, Dubinsky and former Senator Nick Foligno have histories with Penguins superstars. When he was with the Rangers, Dubinsky would match up with Evgeni Malkin and do everything he could to get him off his game – while Foligno and Sidney Crosby haven’t exactly gotten along in the past.

On the Pens’ side, they have players like Tanner Glass, Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo who don’t shy away from getting in their opponents’ faces and mixing it up – which should help the ill will keep festering. But we’ll see how old match-ups play out and what new ones develop throughout the series.

I know it was only the preseason, but seeing as the Pens and the Jackets combined for 16 goals in just two exhibition games, their upcoming match-ups have the potential to be high scoring. Columbus will have to be ready for the potent Penguins, who led the NHL in goals for each of the past two regular seasons and currently rank among the leaders again this year. Captain Sidney Crosby has been a huge factor in that success with his career-best start to the season He’s currently the NHL’s leading scorer, and his line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis is tough to play against with the way they read off each other in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see the Blue Jackets’ defensive approach under coach Todd Richards. Bobrovsky, who was tremendous against Pittsburgh when he was with their division rival Philadelphia, will certainly be key. It’s been a long time since the former Flyer has faced the Pens, and we’ll see if he still has that ability to steal games for his team. And of course, the Jackets have their own arsenal of offensive weapons as they showed in the preseason – so they’ll be a big challenge in that regard for the Pens.

Speaking of Todd Richards, he actually coached in the Penguins organization for two seasons. He was head coach of the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins from 2006-08, compiling a 98-49-13 record and leading the club to the 2008 Calder Cup Final. And guess who his assistant coach was during that time? Now-Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. With Bylsma having learned under Richards those two seasons, it will be interesting to see the two of them go head-to-head for the first time in a long time this season.

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, who spent two seasons in the Penguins organization as the head coach of their AHL affiliate (Wilkes-Barre), spoke about this weekend's home-and-home with Pittsburgh after practice on Wednesday morning. 

On the difference between respecting an elite team and trying to get them off their game...
"You respect every opponent, but you can't go in fearing your opponent, either. The one thing that's impressive for me with the elite teams, it could be baseball, football - the Denver Broncos for example: whoever the Broncos are going to play this week, it's that team's biggest game of the year because they're the Denver Broncos. For them to continue to play at a high level and win games is impressive, because you know every team that plays against them (is playing a big game). It's no different for Pittsburgh; you have other teams around the league like the Boston Bruins, they're the same way. They have a winning culture, a winning tradition, and you know when you're lining up against them what type of game you're going to get."

"A lot of times, the Bruins and the Penguins are getting other teams' best games."

In honor of this national holiday (it's today, who knew?) we're firing up a special contest - and you can win signed pucks from your favorite Blue Jackets players! Judging by our Twitter feed, you guys are pretty good at Photoshop so here are the ground rules for this contest...

1. Find a cat, take its picture. It can be your cat, a friend's cat, a stray cat (just don't get too close)...or a cat picture from the internet if you can find something so rare. 

2. Dress the picture up in your best CBJ-themed ambiance. 

3. Tweet it to us at @BlueJacketsNHL using #CBJvsPens. 

We'll pick our three favorites by tomorrow at noon - good luck! #meow

We test you every week on your Blue Jackets trivia - but this week, we're kicking it up a notch as the home-and-home series with Pittsburgh approaches. Here's your latest chance to win a replica stick signed by the Blue Jackets...

Click HERE to play Trivia Tuesday.

CBJ REWIND: FEB. 8, 2011
The Blue Jackets started the 2010-11 season (their first under coach Scott Arniel) with a 14-6-0 record but things started to unravel shortly after Thanksgiving. 

Once in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt, the postseason quickly became a long shot and nothing seemed to be going right. But down the stretch, there were some solid performances by a young Jackets team and one of them came at the shiny new CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Their bounce-back months in February and March helped the Jackets back into playoff contention, and this Feb. 8 victory was a lage part of it.

Two months after a Pittsburgh rout of the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, Columbus had a chance for redemption on the road and though the Penguins were without their two big stars (injuries), the home team had still been playing solid hockey in their absence. But the Blue Jackets didn't care who was in or out of the lineup; they were focused on re-establishing their game amidst a tough stretch, and bouncing back from that tough loss on home ice to the same Penguins club.

The Blue Jackets got a pair of really nice goals from Rick Nash (thanks to a sublime cross-ice feed by Derick Brassard) and Jakub Voracek (a ridiculous alley-oop pass that went 150 feet), and also got offensive contributions from secondary sources; Antoine Vermette and Sammy Pahlsson chipped in to make this a no-doubter for Columbus.

Down the stretch of that 2010-11 season, the Jackets hung tough and were in the mix for a playoff spot into mid-March. They made a deadline deal which brought Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto to Columbus in exchange for Rusty Klesla, but it wasn't enough to push them above the bar and into the eight-team Stanley Cup playoff field. This game in Pittsburgh, however, was one of the highlights; it was the Blue Jackets' third straight win and it came at a good time - it was also their fourth straight win on the road.

As we approach Friday night and the first-ever Metropolitan Division showdown between the Jackets and Penguins, it's always fun to re-live the previous meetings between these two teams. In the highlights below of the Mar. 12, 2009 game at Nationwide Arena, Penguins TV analyst Bob Errey openly wonders why Columbus and Pittsburgh aren't in the same division and talks about how great it would be if it ever came to fruition. 

Gotta love those predictions/out-loud thoughts that come true!


Speaking of the Penguins side of things, here's a story from Rob Mixer that was published shortly after the NHL's realignment plan was approved in March. Rob spoke with Michelle Crechiolo, who covers the Penguins for the team's official website. Here's what she had to say about the potential of a Jackets-Penguins rivalry...

"I think the relatively short distance between Columbus and Pittsburgh is a huge reason why this matchup could become something special. It’s only about a three-hour drive between the cities, which makes it easy for fans to jump in their vehicles and make the drive to support their team in a road city. It’s always a blast taking a trip into enemy territory to see a hockey game, and I think Penguins and Blue Jackets fans enjoy that aspect of playing each other.

"In addition, the Blue Jackets have a tough, gritty team. They have players that are expert at agitating, like Brandon Dubinsky. The Penguins saw a lot of Dubinsky when he was with Atlantic Division rival New York Rangers, who tried to match him up with Evgeni Malkin. Nick Foligno is someone else who’s mixed it up with a Penguins star, as he and captain Sidney Crosby mixed it up last season. I think the games between these clubs can get chippy and physical, which adds to the matchup. Finally, Columbus has a promising young blue line with size and skill that will be a challenge for Pittsburgh and its talented offense when realignment begins."

Read the story in its entirety by clicking here

Ok, it was *only* a preseason game, but how much fun was that preseason game in Pittsburgh? Boone Jenner was all over the ice and played very well alongside Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik. Looking back, it was a performance that went a long way toward securing Jenner a roster spot to start the 2013-14 season.

How about these highlights?

March 12, 2009

The Blue Jackets were in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and Nationwide Arena was rocking for this Friday night showdown - a rare inter-conference match-up late in the season. Pittsburgh was in transition mode at the time and just over a month removed from Dan Bylsma taking over coaching duties from Michel Therrien.

Columbus jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals from Kristian Huselius, Jason Williams and Antoine Vermette, but the Penguins wouldn't go away quietly. The visitors scored three times in the final 12 minutes of regulation to force overtime, but Huselius scored the lone shootout goal to give the Jackets two huge points.

Rewind and relive, Blue Jackets fans...

PHOTO GALLERY: We dug deep into the archives to find the best shots from Blue Jackets-Penguins clashes over the years. Remember this PPG from Rick Nash, who scored from his knees after he was cross-checked in front of the net? Great photo from a great moment.

Click HERE to see the full gallery.

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