#2 Columbus Blue Jacketsvs.#1 Pittsburgh Penguins
Written by Chris Kubala
Pittsburgh Penguins (35-13-5-2 SU, 24-31 PL, 34-17-4 O/U) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (36-15-4-1 SU, 30-26 PL, 23-29-4 O/U)
NHL: Friday, February 17, 2017, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio, 7 pm ET
Lines: Columbus -105, Pittsburgh -105; Over/Under: 6
It’s a battle for second place in the Metropolitan Division in the Buckeye State. The Pittsburgh Penguins are on the road as they travel to face the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night. Pittsburgh was in action Thursday night as they hosted Winnipeg in an inter-conference tilt. Columbus had lost six of their last nine before beating Toronto 5-2 at home Wednesday night. The teams split two earlier meetings this season, each winning at home. Pittsburgh took a 4-3 overtime home win in the last matchup on February 3. In the last meeting here, Columbus cruised to a 7-1 win on December 22, 2016.
Pittsburgh was in action at home against Winnipeg on Thursday night. The Penguins entered Thursday tied for second place in the Metropolitan with the Blue Jackets but had a game in hand. Pittsburgh trailed Washington by seven points for the division lead. Pittsburgh is 1st in the league in goals for with 3.5 per contest. The Penguins rank 15th in goals against as they allow 2.8 a game. Pittsburgh is 5th in the league on the power play as they convert 21.9 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage. The Penguins are 24th in penalty killing as they are successful only 79.1 percent of the time shorthanded.
The Penguins came into Thursday’s game off a 4-0 whitewash of Vancouver at home Tuesday night. Pittsburgh outshot Vancouver 15-9 in the first period but the teams were scoreless after the opening 20 minutes. In the second period, the Penguins held a 10-8 edge in shots on goal and took a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes. Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring with his 23rd of the season at 5:16 of the period. Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley assisted on that marker. Pittsburgh blew the game open in the third period as they outshot Vancouver 17-12. Jake Guentzel made it 2-0 with his sixth goal of the season at the 2:37 mark to make it 2-0. Sidney Crosby and Brian Dumolin assisted on the marker. Phil Kessel made it a 3-0 game with his 20th of the season at 14:03 off assists from Malkin and Scott Wilson. Matt Cullen closed the scoring with his 9th of the year at 18:03 off assists from Nick Bonino and Kris Letang. Matt Murray stopped all 29 shots for the shutout, his third of the year.
Columbus has had a great season this year and seem poised to return to the postseason for the first time since 2013-14. The Blue Jackets were tied with the Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division entering Thursday with Pittsburgh in action. The Rangers were just two points back while Columbus trailed Washington by seven points for the division lead. Columbus enters this game 5th in the league in goals with 3.2 per contest. The Blue Jackets are 5th in goals against by allowing 2.4 per game. Columbus is 3rd in the league in power play percentage as they convert 22.8 percent of their opportunities. The Blue Jackets are 12th in penalty killing as they’ve successfully killed off 82.1 percent of their shorthanded situations.
The Blue Jackets jumped to an early lead and put away the Maple Leafs for an important two points. In a wild first period, Columbus held an 18-15 edge in shots and took a 2-0 lead to the dressing room. Josh Anderson opened the scoring with his 11th of the year at 4:30 of the opening stanza. William Karlsson and Seth Jones assisted on the goal. Later in the period, Boone Jenner had his 11th on assists from Zach Werenski and Brandon Dubinsky at 11:15 to make it a 2-0 game. In the second period, the Blue Jackets had a 12-7 edge in shots and took a 4-1 lead to the dressing room. Oliver Bjorkstrand made it a 3-0 game with his first of the year at 1:32 on assists from Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad. Nick Foligno made it 4-0 with a power play goal at 9:56 of the period. His 20th of the year was assisted by Werenski and Wennberg. In the third period, Columbus was outshot 11-5 but played even on the scoreboard. Matt Calvert scored his ninth of the year on an assist by Jones at 17:39 to close the scoring. Joonas Korpisalo had 31 saves to get the win for the Blue Jackets in net.
The Penguins are playing the second game of a back to back here and that may take a toll on the team. I’d expect Murray to be in the nets here as Fleury got the start against the Jets Thursday. Columbus put together a solid performance against Toronto to get back in the win column. The Blue Jackets are a very good team at home. The fatigue factor and being on the road works against the Penguins as Columbus gets the home win.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.