(7-2-1 in last 10 games)
SINCE WE LAST MET (ON NOVEMBER 2):
The Penguins have been on a roll indicative of their place as a prohibitive Stanley Cup finals participant, plain and simple. They hit a brief, three-game, slide immediately following their 3-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the beginning of November but have since rebounded with winning nine out of their next 13. Truth be told, the only team that they’re having trouble with is the Boston Bruins (Boston had the upper hand in an overtime winner on November 25 and in regulation this past weekend). Outside of that, they have the periodic off night that happens in an 82-game season…but not much more.
What does that mean? To me, it means that that Blue Jackets are basically in for an evening at the Consol Energy Center with an opponent that is sixth in the NHL in goals for and fifth in goals against.
The Pens’ current top scorers are:
- Forward Sidney Crosby (15 goals, 27 assists, 42 points)
- Forward Evgeni Malkin (7 G, 30 A, 37 pts)
- Forward Chris Kunitz (17 G, 14 A, 31 pts)
- Forward James Neal (10 G, 10 A, 20 pts)
- Forward Jussi Jokinen (9 G, 9 A, 18 pts)
In net, Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start and look to build upon his 16-8-1 record in 26 starts (.920 save percentage).
THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW
From a FOX Sports Ohio point of view, the most important thing to know is that the game won’t be on FOX Sports Ohio tonight. It’s a “national” game, meaning that NBC Sports Network will be carrying it across the United States. And our FSO team of Jeff, Bill, Brian, Dan and Dave get a well-deserved night off.
The national aspect of this game, combined with the opponent, makes for an interesting dynamic considering the thuggery that took place by both sides in Boston between the Bruins and Pens.
(To be clear, I’m not posting the NESN broadcast because I buy the NESN line. It just is a feed of the James Neal knee to Brad Marchand’s head followed by Shawn Thorton’s slewfoot/knockout of Brooks Orpik.)
There is no need, nor in my opinion, should there be a place in hockey for either cowardly act: That of Neal on Marchand, and that of Thorton on Orpik. Neal will be serving the first of a five-game suspension tonight. Thorton has his hearing in the league offices tomorrow, and expect the hammer to come down because Orpik was blindsided and then knocked unconscious after he was down on the ice. In both cases, there are so many egregious violations of “Codes”, rules and perhaps laws that my head is spinning.
Orpik won’t be playing tonight. That’s relevant, seeing as he’s a top-pairing defender for the Pens.
Surely, the announcers will have something to say about this – before, during and after the game. The question I have related to tonight’s game, however, is whether the Penguins can shake off the trauma of being on both the giving and receiving ends of such ugly on-ice behavior.
As the loss of both Neal and Orpik clearly demonstrate, there are no winners in hockey thuggery.
WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR
First and foremost, there’s the question of whether the Blue Jackets can capitalize on the moment. Clearly the Penguins will have the Boston game and its fallout on their minds. Will it be enough to distract them from the game at hand?
The Blue Jackets had no part in the weekend’s craziness, though, so let’s put that behind us.
The CBJ are still playing one of the most potent teams in the league, and Evgeni Malkin appears to be a “go” to play tonight. This won’t be a cakewalk, even with Neal and Orpik’s absence. Can the Blue Jackets play the type of simple, straightforward, tough (but not stupid) game that gave them the 4-0 shutout of the Minnesota Wild? Remember, the Wild have a better goals against ranking than the Penguins…and the CBJ dropped four on Minnesota. We’re not talking about a pipe dream here.
So I’m thinking it’ll come down to the CBJ’s top shooters – remember that list I compiled for the Tampa game? Jack Skille’s back in on the farm in Springfield, but Nick Foligno, Ryan Murray, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Johansen and R.J. Umberger look to be my guys to drive to the goal and slip a couple past Fleury.
Don’t forget that Sergei Bobrovsky is still out with injury. I would presume that, had he been healthy, Bob would get the start tonight. Instead, Curtis McElhinney continues to hold down the fort. Considering that McElhinney is riding a 75+ minute string of shutout goalie minutes, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION
Again, there’s no FSO coverage tonight. The game starts at 7:30 on NBC Sports Network.
Enjoy the game! Go Jackets!