"Status quo" is probably the best way to describe the Blue Jackets' injury situation as they embark on this weekend's home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Derek MacKenzie skated on his own on Wednesday as his teammates returned to full practice at Nationwide Arena, but coach Todd Richards was non-committal as to whether he would be available for this weekend's games. Boone Jenner, out with a leg injury sustained last week against Toronto, is still looking at a 10-day or more timetable for a return. If all holds as-is, the Blue Jackets are likely to have Michael Chaput in the lineup for a second straight game and Mark Letestu will hop up into the top six.
As for the goaltender, it appears likely that Sergei Bobrovsky will start Friday's game at CONSOL Energy Center. Depending on how the game goes, Richards said Bobrovsky could also start Saturday in Columbus. With two days off until their next game (Tuesday at home against Ottawa), the Blue Jackets aren't concerned about Bobrovsky's workload if he plays both games against the Penguins.
Is it a benefit or a burden to have four days off between games?
This is the second time in four weks that the Blue Jackets have had a four-day break between games; the last such stretch was Oct. 6-9, the time between Columbus' 3-2 shootout win on Long Island and a 4-1 win in Buffalo.
Were they a bit rusty when the puck dropped in western New York? Sure, but it didn't seem to have a lingering effect on their game. In fact, some players said they didn't mind the long break because it gave them a chance to rest some bumps and bruises after a back-to-back opening weekend.
Call it a new chapter, call it whatever you want: the layoff which ends Friday morning carries some added weight for the Blue Jackets. They begin a five-game season series with the Penguins, one of their newly-minted rivals in the Metropolitan Division, in the Steel City on Friday and it's the first of two meetings in 24 hours; both teams will reconvene at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night. The calendar has only just turned to November, but there's a lot on the line when these two teams get together in a couple days' time.
After a win on Wednesday night over the Boston Bruins, the Penguins (18 points) are atop the division but no team has firmly separated itself from the pack. The Blue Jackets could chip away at Pittsburgh's points lead with a productive weekend, but right now, they're only focused on Friday night's game and playing a calculated-yet-aggressive game against one of the NHL's premier teams.
How do the Blue Jackets plan to approach the weekend, starting with Friday's game? They have to do what they do best, which is playing a hard, physical brand of defense against Pittsburgh's top players.
Many of the Blue Jackets' veteran leaders have spent time in the Eastern Conference prior to arriving in Columbus, and have plenty of experience against the Penguins both in the regular season and the playoffs - without question, that group will be leaned on for helpful pieces of information.
Brandon Dubinsky was a go-to guy for the Rangers when they needed to shut down the Penguins' top players, and similarly, Nick Foligno played a key role in getting Sidney Crosby off his game in the playoffs a few years ago. As Dubinsky said earlier this week, rivalries don't "just happen" but over time, and with spirited match-ups along the way, well, you know what they say about familiarity.
WHAT'S ON TAP?
vs. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
SATURDAY, 7 P.M.
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