Greetings from Consol, hockey fans.
NBC Sports Network made quite a push on Wednesday to turn the Penguins and Bruins into big rivals. Tonight’s game might offer a more organic feel.
The Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets play tonight for the first time as division rivals, and players from both sides indicated that they believe this has the potential to turn into a special rivalry. Proximity has something to do with it – one can get to Columbus to Pittsburgh in less than three hours, should they drive at a reasonable rate of speed – and the general improvement of the Blue Jackets from annual doormat to legitimate playoff contender doesn’t hurt, either.
This is the first of two games in two nights for these teams. Should be fun.
Tonight’s probable lines and defense pairings:
Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen-Evgeni Malkin-Jayson Megna
Dustin Jeffrey-Brandon Sutter-Craig Adams
Tanner Glass-Joe Vitale-Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen-Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin
Olli Maatta-Robert Bortuzzo
A quick note: For the second straight game, the Penguins did not reveal their line combinations in their morning skate. This is highly unusual for them, so guessing the lineup – as opposed to actually seeing it a few hours in advance – is the best thing I can provide. I wouldn’t expect too many changes from the lineup that we saw against Boston, given that the Penguins coaching staff was especially pleased with that performance.
Expect forward Beau Bennett to return to practice early next week. He skated again before practice and looked fine, intensifying his skating on a daily basis this week. There is a good chance he will practice with the Penguins early next week. The team’s next scheduled practice is Monday, and it looks likely that Bennett will skate then and could be eligible to play next Wednesday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden or next Saturday in St. Louis.
Otherwise, injured players like James Neal and Chuck Kobasew – and Rob Scuderi, of course – weren’t on the ice and won’t be ready for quite some time.
Watch For This N’ At
= Mark Letestu has turned into a nice NHL player with Columbus and acknowledged that being traded from the Penguins to Ohio two years ago was probably the best thing for his career. He’ll be centering the Blue Jackets’ second line tonight.
= Evgeni Malkin is going to start scoring goals soon, right? He was, for my money, the best player on the ice against Boston. His performance in the first period was striking. I’m thinking he lights the lamp this weekend. It’s time.
= I don’t expect more than a handful of Columbus fans in attendance tonight. But I’m also expecting the Pens fan invasion to take place on Saturday, as it always does in Columbus. The Penguins are expecting it too. Said Joe Vitale: “We always notice when we have a lot of fans on the road. It’s awesome.”
= It’s always nice for Plum High School graduate R.J. Umberger to come home. And now that the Blue Jackets are in the Metropolitan Division, he’ll be coming to Pittsburgh more regularly. Boo him because he plays for the other team if you’d like, but I promise you Umberger represents our city with total class. Just a great guy.
Rob Rossi with a good piece on a lifestyle change for the Penguins’ goalies: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/4962425-74/shots-penguins-fleury#axzz2jPwpH3x9
Dejan Kovacevic takes a look at Pascal Dupuis, who is happy to still be in Pittsburgh: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/4962435-74/dupuis-game-kovacevic#axzz2jPwpH3x9
I’ll be joining Steve Kolbe of Pens Live at 3:40 p.m.
Rossi joines Brian Metzer on Penguins Live at 5:20 p.m. for his usual pregame hit (http://sportstalk.triblive.com), and he will join Stan Savran for a TV appearance on Root Sports Pittsburgh (6:45 p.m.).
Enjoy the Pens games this weekend, because the schedule is hitting a bit of a lull. After the back-to-back games this weekend, the Penguins only play twice in a two-day span. But, first things first: This weekend is a big opportunity for the Blue Jackets to show they belong. It’s also a big opportunity for the Penguins to expand an already imposing lead.