Good afternoon hockey fans. Tonight the Pens will host head coach John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Pens are coming off of a big come-from-behind shootout victory against Montreal, while the Jackets have lost two straight and were bag skated hard by Tortorella at Thursday’s practice. So look for Columbus to respond.
MORNING SKATE The Pens held an optional morning skate. Those that took the morning off were Rob Scuderi, Pascal Dupuis, David Perron, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Head coach Mike Johnston did say that the team will use the same forward combinations from the previous game, though they did change up the defensive pairings at Thursday’s practice.
GRIND LINE Since the Pens are maintaining their same forward combinations for tonight, that means Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Patric Hornqvist will remain a trio. With the physical style of Kunitz and Hornqvist matched with the defensively responsible Bonino, the Pens’ now have a more traditional “checking” or “defensive” third line.
“I hope it means we are responsible in our own end, tough to play against, can play against anyone,” Bonino said. “We’ve had so many chances to score, hopefully we start putting pucks in.”
D CHANGE The Pens are switching their defensive pairs for tonight’s game (as noted above). Ian Cole and Olli Maatta were flipped. Michelle Crechiolo talked to Kris Letang and Maatta yesterday. Here’s what Cole had to say about the new setup.
“We’re the last people to find out what’s going on,” Cole said. “Whatever the case may be, whatever we’ve done this far hasn’t been good enough. So obviously we’re looking to turn it around right away.”
ON THE JACKETS The Blue Jackets limped out of the gate by losing their first 8 games, the worst start in the last 72 years in the NHL. The Jackets are 4-5 since the hiring of Tortorella as head coach, but have a long way to go to find their game.
“They got off to an unfortunate start this year where I thought a lot of what was happening to them was pressure,” Johnston said. “They were feeling the pressure, feeling the heat, squeezing their sticks.
“They’ve got a very good hockey team. Now they’re playing the way you would expect them to play.”
Defenseman Ryan Murray, the second-overall pick in the 2012 draft, will not play tonight. Tortorella is sitting him. “Think he’s struggled a bit the last couple of games. Could be good for him to watch and fresh,” he told Rob Mixer of the Blue Jackets.
GAME INFO Where: CONSOL Energy Center When: 7 p.m. TV: ROOT Sports Radio: 105.9 the X, the Penguins Radio Network Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop