ShareThis Page
Heading into critical home-and-home series, Penguins have Blue Jackets’ number | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Heading into critical home-and-home series, Penguins have Blue Jackets’ number

Jonathan Bombulie
842376_web1_AP_19058100739405
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin, center, of Russia, skates between Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nick Foligno, left, and Boone Jenner during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. The Penguins beat the Blue Jackets 5-2.
842376_web1_824166-03596630d61b4abbb7a8f761591c6e3f
AP
842376_web1_842376-f59902d7a1fb437f8d2c85d2a29f93a7
AP

There’s a big home-and-home series that could have a massive impact on the Eastern Conference playoff race coming up in the next few days.

On Thursday, the hammer hosts the nail. On Saturday, the windshield visits the bug.

OK, that’s not what it says on the official NHL schedule. It says the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, and the teams will play again in Ohio’s capital two days later. But given the recent results between the clubs, it’s easy to frame it that way.

The Penguins have won seven straight meetings against the Blue Jackets, including a pair of victories by a combined score of 9-4 this season.

“We knew if we wanted to advance in the playoffs, we were going to have to beat these guys. We had two playoff series against them that didn’t go well,” said defenseman Jack Johnson, who signed with the Penguins in July after spending the previous six-plus seasons with the Blue Jackets. “But I don’t know what their mindset is now, and I don’t care.”

It’s possible the Penguins have had the Blue Jackets’ number over the last few seasons because of a style matchup. When it comes down to crunch time, the Penguins’ speed-based attack has finished more chances than the Blue Jackets, who focus a little more on grit and physicality.

Johnson isn’t so sure of that, though.

“Everyone plays a pretty similar style of play. No one’s reinventing the wheel. It’s a copycat league, pretty much,” Johnson said. “It really just comes down to the individuals executing the plays.”

There’s no doubt that’s true.

Jake Guentzel, for example, owns the Blue Jackets. Counting regular season and playoffs, he has 12 goals and 17 points in 14 career games against them.

“I just think you know it’s going to be a battle between two teams that don’t like each other, and it’s going to be a hard-fought game,” Guentzel said. “We’re both fighting in the standings right by each other. It’s going to be a hostile game. As a player, this is a game you want to be a part of.”

Then there’s the matter of goaltending.

The Penguins have tortured Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky relentlessly over the past two seasons. He’s 0-2-3 with a .882 save percentage against them. When facing the rest of the league over the same span, his save percentage is .916.

The numbers sure paint the picture that the Penguins have Bobrovsky’s number, though Matt Murray isn’t sure the idea of one team having a hex on a particular goaltender is a real thing.

“You see so many different plays and so many different shots,” Murray said. “You’re not seeing anything you haven’t seen before. I don’t think it makes a difference.”

Whether it’s a real thing or a small-sample size phenomenon, Columbus coach John Tortorella has a serious goaltending decision on his hands.

The Blue Jackets picked up Keith Kinkaid from New Jersey at the trade deadline, and he’s 6-1-1 with a .925 save percentage against the Penguins over the past two seasons.

Starting Kinkaid on Thursday and/or Saturday would be tantamount to publicly admitting his No. 1 goalie has a Penguins problem, even if it gives his team a better chance to win.

At the risk of over-dramatizing the decision, the fortunes of two teams hang in the balance.

The Penguins, Carolina and Montreal are the last teams in the Eastern Conference playoff field at the moment, tied with 79 points. The Blue Jackets are two points out.

“This time of year, you’ve got to trust your habits and trust what you do out there, regardless of who’s playing in net,” Crosby said. “You’re always aware of tendencies and things like that, but at this point in the year, you’ve got to believe in what you do and what gives you success.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.