Bobrovsky out again as Blue Jackets face Oilers

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One of the more intriguing aspects of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ late-season push to make the playoffs has been the handful of games in which they have not only rested starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, but have not even dressed him.

Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers will be another one of those games as he will once again not be available.

In the words of head coach John Tortorella, via Blue Jackets insider Jeff Svoboda, it is because “he’s nicked.”

Joonas Korpisalo will get the start with Keith Kinkaid serving as the backup.

There were was even more intrigue to this situation on Thursday when Kinkaid was briefly shaken up in practice following a collision with 6-3, 220-pound forward Josh Anderson, but he seems to be okay and available for backup duties on Thursday.

This will be the third time over the past month that Bobrovsky has not dressed for a game, having also been scratched against the Pittsburgh Penguins back on March 7 in what was at the time a massive game, and then again one week later against the Boston Bruins. The explanation for the scratch against Pittsburgh was so they could rest him and allow him to work on his game (he returned to start one night later at home against the same Penguins team), while the Boston scratch came just one night after he stopped 46 shots in a shutout win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

All of it together leads to a lot of speculation and questions.

Has he been “nicked” up all this time? Does that explain why the Blue Jackets felt the need to trade for Kinkaid and willingly carry three NHL caliber goalies at this point in the season? Does it help explain why Bobrovsky’s performance has dropped off this much for the season as a whole?  Or did they just simply want to keep all of their goalies fresh and give themselves some added depth? Maybe all of the above?

These are questions we probably will not get clear answers to until the end of the season (if at all), but there is definitely a lot to take in here.

Bobrovsky’s .909 save percentage is one of the worst marks of his NHL career and comes during a year in which he is playing for a big contract this summer.

He has been better lately with a .945 save percentage in his past six starts, winning four of them.

The Blue Jackets enter the night with only a one-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and are just 5-6-1 in 12 games since the NHL trade deadline when they added Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Kinkaid in an effort to make one more big run while they still have Artemi Panarin and Bobrovsky on the roster.

Given how much the Oilers have struggled lately and how tight the playoff race is, these are two points the Blue Jackets simply have to get no matter who their goalie is.

Related: Blue Jackets need to take advantage of schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blue Jackets go back to Bobrovsky for huge game against Penguins

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Under normal circumstances a team starting its No. 1 goalie in a massively important regular season game, with a playoff spot on the line, against their main rival, would not be a newsworthy event.

That is just what you expect to happen.

But the announcement that the Columbus Blue Jackets are starting Sergei Bobrovsky against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday is a pretty big deal because when these two teams met just two nights ago in Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets not only opted to not start their top goalie, they did not even dress him as the backup.

He was not an option at all for what was to that point the biggest game of the season.

It was such an eye-opening move because Bobrovsky has struggled horribly against the Penguins over the past couple of years, and the decision to go with backup Joonas Korpisalo seemed to indicate that maybe the team didn’t have faith in their starter in this particular matchup.

But with Saturday’s game taking on even more importance, especially after the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens both lost on Friday night, the Blue Jackets are going right back to their starter.

It will be a big test for him and the Blue Jackets as they look to finally break through the wall the Penguins have built in front of them.

Thursday’s 3-0 loss was the eighth consecutive time the Blue Jackets have lost to the Penguins and pushed them to four points behind them in the standings, while also keeping them on the outside of the playoff picture. Another regulation loss on Saturday would extend that deficit to six points behind the Penguins and make it almost impossible for them to catch back up down the stretch. A regulation win, however, would bring them back to within two points and, at least temporarily, put them back in a playoff position ahead of the Canadiens.

But if any of that is going to happen the Blue Jackets are going to need Bobrovsky to shake off his previous struggles against the Penguins. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, including their playoff meeting that season, Bobrovsky has a sub-.880 save percentage against them, and only a .905 mark for his career. That is one of his worst career-long performances against any team in the league.

That will level of play will not be good enough on a night like this.

Korpisalo actually played really well in place of Bobrovsky on Thursday night, giving up only two goals (one of which was a fluky play; the third Penguins goal was an empty net goal), only to get no offensive support from the skaters in front of him, something that has been a struggle for the Blue Jackets in the six games since the trade deadline.

That, too, will have to change.

There is immense pressure on the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs this season, not only because of the fact they are likely to lose Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin after this season, but because they sold off almost their entire 2019 draft class to acquire several more UFA’s at the trade deadline including Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid. Missing the playoffs with all of that happening would be a brutal pill for the Blue Jackets to swallow and would probably put everyone from the head coach to the general manager on the hot seat going into the offseason.

If they are going to avoid that it almost certainly has to start with a win on Saturday. For that to happen they are going to need their starter to play like the top-tier, two-time Vezina Trophy winning goalie that he is.

Push for the Playoffs: Another chance for the Blue Jackets

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blue Jackets’ offense shut down again in big loss to Penguins

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PITTSBURGH — John Tortorella raised quite a few eyebrows on Thursday when he not only decided to start backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo for what was, to this point, his team’s biggest game of the regular season, but also decided to not even dress his regular starter, Sergei Bobrovsky.

The official explanation was for Bobrovsky to get some additional rest and work on his game, and not because of his career-long struggles against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Given the importance of the game, the dire situation Columbus is in when it comes to the Eastern Conference playoff race, and the fact Bobrovsky is supposed to be their starting goalie that explanation doesn’t really fly.

This is not the time to “rest” your starter. This is the time you lean on him. So in that sense, it was a pretty bold decision. Actually, it probably isn’t even fair to call it bold because it is too much of an understatement.

[Related: Blue Jackets sit Bobrovsky versus Penguins]

Having said all of that, Tortorella’s decision wasn’t really the difference in the end because it doesn’t matter who your goalie is if you can’t score any goals. And that is exactly what happened to the Blue Jackets on Thursday night. They did nothing.

The Blue Jackets dropped their eighth consecutive game to the Penguins, fell four points behind them in the standings, and continued their post-trade deadline struggles in what could be a massive 3-0 loss. The two teams meet again on Saturday night in Columbus in what figures to be a must-win game for the Blue Jackets if they have any hope of catching the Penguins in the standings. A regulation win would at least bring them back to within two points; but a regulation loss would push them six points back with less than a month to play in the regular season. That gap would almost impossible to make up, especially no more remaining head-to-head meetings after Saturday.

There are a couple of issues here for the Blue Jackets.

First, what does it say about your confidence in your starting goalie if you can’t start him in this game against this team?

Second, and perhaps more importantly, after going all in at the trade deadline and trading away almost every draft pick they have in 2019 (as well as a couple of prospects) to get Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid, the Blue Jackets are now in a situation where they are not even close to a guarantee to make the playoffs.

They are just 2-4-0 since the trade deadline, with none of those wins coming in regulation. They needed overtime to beat a Philadelphia Flyers team that is not going to make the playoffs and barely outlasted a depleted New Jersey roster that is among the worst in the league in a shootout on Tuesday night. They have scored just nine goals in the six games, have been shutout twice (once to Edmonton) and been beaten twice by the Penguins in two huge head-to-head games.

That is obviously not what they had in mind when they went all in at the trade deadline to try and take advantage of the remaining months they have with Artemi Panarin and Bobrovsky before they inevitably leave in free agency.

For as bad as the situation looks right now the Blue Jackets are definitely not out of this thing yet. Even though Saturday’s game against the Penguins is huge when it comes to their chances of catching them, the Penguins are not the only team the Blue Jackets are competing with in this race. Even with all of their recent struggles they are still only two points back of the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes, so they are well within reach. They are not going to get there though if they can not start to find some consistent and sustained offense.

As for the Penguins on Thursday, Phil Kessel started the scoring with an early power play goal to snap what had been a 16-game goal-less drought, while Nick Bjugstad and Sidney Crosby also scored in the win.

Matt Murray stopped all 25 shots he faced to record his fourth shutout of the season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Blue Jackets visit Penguins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This game is the start of a home-and-home that will wrap up the season series between Columbus and Pittsburgh. The Penguins have won both meetings so far, including their game last week in Columbus. Overall, the Pens have won seven in a row in the regular season vs. the Blue Jackets.

This home-and-home series figures to have massive implications on the playoff race. Entering this game, just two points separate third in the Metro from being outside of the playoffs entirely.

Columbus picked up a much-needed two points on Tuesday with their 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey. The Jackets had been 1-3-0 since the trade deadline, so the win was a tangible measure of progress to keep them right in the playoff mix. However, the reaction in the locker room afterwards was hardly celebratory. The Jackets played very poorly, mustering only 18 shots on goal (a season-low) against a Devils team that had nearly half of its regular lineup out due to injury.

Pittsburgh also went past regulation on Tuesday, defeating Florida 3-2 in OT, thanks to Jake Guentzel’s second goal of the game. He now has 33 goals this season. Sidney Crosby had three points to surpass the 1,200-point threshold.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Thursday, March 7, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUE JACKETS
Artemi PanarinPierre-Luc DuboisJosh Anderson
Nick FolignoMatt DucheneCam Atkinson
Ryan DzingelAlex WennbergOliver Bjorkstrand
Brandon DubinskyBoone JennerRiley Nash

Zach WerenskiSeth Jones
Markus NutivaaraDavid Savard
Scott HarringtonAdam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Joonas Korpisalo

PENGUINS
Jared McCann – Sidney Crosby – Jake Guentzel
Zach Aston-ReeseEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Dominik SimonNick BjugstadPatric Hornqvist
Teddy BluegerMatt CullenGarrett Wilson

Brian Dumoulin – Zach Trotman
Jack JohnsonJustin Schultz
Marcus PetterssonErik Gudbranson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Pittsburgh. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Mike Johnson.

NHL on NBCSN: Blue Jackets, Penguins kick off critical home-and-home series

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Talk about a game with massive playoff implications.

The Metropolitan Division is so tight that the difference between third place (Carolina, 79 points) and not being in a playoff spot at all (Columbus, 77 points) is separated by two points.

It’s with this that we can understand the magnitude of Thursday’s game between the Penguins and the visiting Blue Jackets — the start of a pivotal home-and-home series between the two clubs.

The Blue Jackets are coming off a much-needed win on Tuesday after going 1-3-0 since the trade deadline when they sold the farm for Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Adam McQuaid. But even the win wasn’t impressive, putting up a season-low 18 shots against a bad New Jersey Devils team that should have been a cakewalk.

“Guys are panicking for some reason. We have a lot of skill players, and guys are afraid to make five-foot passes, or tape-to-tape passes,” said forward Cam Atkinson. “Guys are running around, not in position and we’re just throwing the puck off the glass and not helping our ‘D’ out.

“We’re a blue-collar team. Where we thrive is off our forecheck and banging and creating turnovers. That’s where we get our goals. For whatever reason, we think we’re a highly-skilled team that’s just going to out-skill every team. We have to get back to good habits and working hard.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Atkinson then laid it out pretty straight.

“We just have to figure it the f— out,” he said.

The Blue Jackets could use quite a bit more from the guys they traded for. Duchene has three points in seven games, Dzingel has two in five, and McQuaid, well, he’s been riding the press box express.

The Penguins eeked out an overtime win of their own on Tuesday, downing the Florida Panthers 3-2.

Unlike Columbus, however, the Penguins are surging at the right time with points in their past five games (3-0-2).

“Now is the true test. We probably shouldn’t be in this position with the team we have, but we are,” said general manager Jim Rutherford. “In some ways, it may come at a good time, because if this can come together like it should and everybody plays the way they’re capable of, the momentum will be on our side going into the playoffs.”

The Penguins were boosted Tuesday by the return of Brian Dumoulin. A concussion had kept him out of the lineup since their loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stadium series.

His return couldn’t have come at a better time as the Pens are reeling on the backend with Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Chad Ruhwedel all missing because of injury. Dumoulin wasn’t nursed back into the lineup, either, playing 21:42.

John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Pittsburgh. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Mike Johnson.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck