Some thoughts from the Penguins’ 5-4 exhibition win at Columbus:
= The difference between covering a preseason game and a regular-season game: RW TOMAS KUBALIK recorded a hat trick for Columbus and that merited a sentence in my story. (This is the part where a reader says, “But Rossi, you’d only give him a graf or two in a regular-season story.” This is the part where I’d tell the reader, “Yep.”)
= If reports are true best of luck to all my friends at ESPN Radio 1250 in Pittsburgh. May work be found quickly.
= HC DAN BYLSMA said he’d like for back G BRENT JOHNSON to be “used a little more (and) different – in the beginning half of the season.” Johnson made 23 appearances last season, and Bylsma said six more would be ideal for the upcoming campaign. I’m thinking that he was referring to Johnson starts, as he made only 15 last season. I’ve heard the Penguins would like to keep starting G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY at around 60 regular-season starts. “The last half of the season would largely been in Flower’s favor,” Bylsma said.
Johnson stopped 18 of 21 shots at Columbus. His backup for the game, JOHN CURRY, made 15 saves in the final period. Goalie coach GILLES MELOCHE said of Curry’s performance: “Really good for him, especially after the way last year finished.”
Curry, who a year ago was perhaps the top contender to become Fleury’s long-term backup, must re-establish himself this season. He went 23-19-2 at the AHL last season, but his .891 save percentage alarming.
= Since the NHL is all about good ideas these days – yes, I’m on board with the HBO series, though I’ll probably need constant reminders to watch my dressing-room language when chatting up players – how about figuring out how to get the Blue Jackets into the Eastern Conference and a division with the Penguins? If that means moving Toronto back to the Western Conference, so be it.
The Blue Jackets don’t have a natural rival in the West. Sorry, Detroit doesn’t cut it. A Columbus reporter opined before this game, “Nobody hates (the Blue Jackets), and (Columbus’ fans) don’t have anybody to hate).” The Penguins could be that team for this market, which I predict would thrive with a move to the East. People in Columbus shouldn’t have to stay up late to watch a good chunk of their hockey club’s games. (Neither should people in Detroit or Toronto, but those markets have history; Columbus needs more help, understandably.)
Penguins fans would turn two or three games every season at Columbus into neutral-site games, but eventually a strong and bitter rivalry will build. Those rivalries are important for nontraditional markets. Penguins fans should remember that games against the Flyers and Rangers drew well even when the local club was a bottom-feeder for about five years in the previous decade.
Hate sells in the NHL. That is a big reason the Penguins and Capitals are playing in the Winter Classic, and a big reason HBO is interested. Penguins-Capitals is to the NHL what Steelers-Raves is to the NFL: pure, scathing hatred. The Blue Jackets need to ice a competitive club – though, moving to the top-heavy East would help them there – but once they do there would be a nice bit of nasty between them and the Penguins, and fans in both cities would eat it up.
Playing in the Western Conference I’m not sure the Blue Jackets are set up best for off-ice success, and from what I can tell after covering some games here there is enough support to make this a strong NHL city if the NHL will help a little by putting the Club where it belongs.
Bottom line: If a guy can drive to an NHL city from Pittsburgh within 3 hours, that city should be in the same conference as Pittsburgh’s team. End of discussion.
= The “Ultimate” home game is Saturday night. I predict it will be quite an environment. I’m hoping to hear from anybody about what getting into the Consol Energy Center for free meant to them: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers from Columbus,