24–10–5 (53 points; .679%)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7:00 P.M. – FRIDAY, JANUARY 21
BALLY SPORTS OHIO
ESPN+ (Out Of Market)
From facing one of the coldest teams in the league to one of the hottest, the Columbus Blue Jackets are set for their second game in as many nights Friday when they face Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blue Jackets picked up a 2-1 win Thursday night in Philadelphia, sending the Flyers to their 10th straight loss. The victory put Columbus back at the .500 mark, with a record of 18-18-1.
When Columbus and Pittsburgh renew their rivalry Friday night at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets will be going up against a Penguin team that has won three in a row and 14 of their last 16.
|PACES & PROJECTIONS|
|37.8%||MONEYPUCK'S ODDS TO WIN||62.2%|
|44.0%||THE 538'S ODDS TO WIN||56.0%|
|80.7||EVOLVING HOCKEY'S POINT PROJ.||104.4|
|82.0||82-GAME POINT PACE||111.4|
Crosby's seven goals in 27 games is the fewest goals per game average in the future Hall-of-Famer's career. His average time on ice of 18:33 is just five seconds from a career low. Still, the 34-year-old remains a dangerous player. His 20 assists ranks second on the team behind defenseman Kris Letang's 31, and the Pittsburgh captain has shown this year that he still has the speed and skill to beat any defender.
If it's the scoring leaders you're seeking, the names may come as a little bit of a surprise. Jake Guentzel leads the Penguins in both goals (21) and total points (39), but it's Evan Rodrigues who — with 15 goals and 15 assists — ranks second on the team in goal-scoring and is having the best season of his career.
One name that may be near the top of that list if not for missed time is Evgeni Malkin. The 35-year-old was out for the first part of the season following a June knee surgery, returning to the lineup last week. He has three goals and two assists in his five games this season, but this will be Malkin's first back-to-back games since last spring — stamina could be a factor.
The Penguins have an adequate defense, but the goaltending of Tristan Jarry has made an average blue line look statistically spectacular. Jarry, who is almost a lock to be a Vezina Trophy finalist, stopped 39 of 43 shots from Ottawa in a win over the Senators on Thursday night, and that busy night means that Pittsburgh may be turning to Casey DeSmith in net. If that's the case, DeSmith has an .888 save percentage and 3.47 goals against average — nearly 40 points lower and over one goal higher than Jarry's season stats.
JEKYLL & HYDE
Last Thursday, the Blue Jackets had a 6-0 shutout against one of the best teams in hockey. Two nights later, they allow nine goals to the best offense in hockey. Thursday's game in Philadelphia, naturally, was an outstanding defensive showing by Columbus. The thing about young teams with talent is that you never know just which team you may get. Look for the Blue Jackets' play in the first ten minutes of the game — that'll give a good indication as to which team the 5th Line will get for the night.
AN IMPROVED PK — JUST A HOT STREAK, OR SOMETHING MORE?
In their last four games, the Blue Jackets have killed off all but one of the opposition's combined 16 power play opportunities. The 78.9% kill rate still ranks just 20th in the league, but it's a big jump (at this point in the season) compared to where they were five games ago, when that number was 76.1% — which as of Friday, would rank 26th in the league. The defense has been a bit of a patchwork job as of late, with Vladislav Gavrikov and Adam Boqvist in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. Thursday night, when the Flyers were 0-for-4 on the power play, the penalty kill responsibilities went primary to Andrew Peeke (5:28 on ice) and Zach Werenski (5:15), with Jake Bean (2:45) and Gavin Bayreuther (2:32) doing admirable on the second PK unit. No defenseman averaged more time on ice this season killing penalties than Gavrikov, so it will be interesting to see if his role changes when he returns to the lineup (as early as Sunday).
If Oliver Bjorkstrand isn't the most underrated player in the league today, he's certainly in the top five. His backhander against the Flyers broke a 0-0 tie more than halfway through the game, and it was a dandy. His offensive prowess seeps through, and despite being the team leader in goals, Bjorkstrand does not have goals in back-to-back games yet this season. He'll look to change that Friday night.
|93||Jakub Voracek||38||Boone Jenner||28||Oliver Bjorkstrand|
|14||Gus Nyquist||42||Alexandre Texier||29||Patrik Laine|
|59||Yegor Chinakhov||96||Jack Roslovic||52||Emil Bemstrom|
|50||Eric Robinson||7||Sean Kuraly||16||Max Domi|
|8||Zach Werenski||2||Andrew Peeke|
|5||Gavin Bayreuther||22||Jake Bean|
|46||Dean Kukan||32||Jake Christiansen|
|70||Joonas Korpisalo||90||Elvis Merzlikins|
*SUBJECT TO CHANGE