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As Blue Jackets build for future, Penguins aim for division crown

Sportsnaut
Mar 17, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA;  Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) waits for a face off against the St. Louis Blues during the third period at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

After both teams were active at Monday’s NHL trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets and host Pittsburgh Penguins will begin the home stretch of the season when they meet Tuesday.

The Blue Jackets, fifth in the Metropolitan Division and all but out of the playoff hunt, offloaded Max Domi to the Carolina Hurricanes in a three-team deal Monday afternoon. Columbus received Carolina defense prospect Aidan Hreschuk.

The Penguins, 7-2-1 in its past 10 games and in contention for the Metropolitan Division title, were buyers, not sellers.

Pittsburgh acquired forward Rickard Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forwards Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon, goaltender Calle Clang and a 2022 second-round draft pick. Anaheim will retain 35 percent of the salary for Rakell, who has totaled 16 goals and 12 assists this season.

Pittsburgh also did a minor deal to acquire defenseman Nathan Beaulieu from Winnipeg for a conditional draft pick. He won’t be playing Tuesday as he is on long-term injured reserve.

Now the Penguins will try to secure home ice for the postseason. Not that the road has been inhospitable for the Penguins, whose 21-7-4 record away from PPG Paints Arena is the best way mark in the NHL. Pittsburgh is coming off a 2-1 road trip.

“Overall, it was a pretty good trip,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who scored twice Saturday in a 4-1 win against Arizona, said. “We played the right way, and we’ve got to take that back home with us.”

One hitch in Pittsburgh’s giddy-up has been on the power play. Despite having an abundance of star power, the power play has logged just one goal in its past 24 chances. That includes failing to score during 96 seconds of a five-on-three advantage Saturday that bled over from the second to the third period.

“I think we’ve just lost a little bit of our mojo,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s not like they’re not getting opportunities to score.

“The puck will eventually go in for them if they continue to get looks. They just have to stay with it. When they get (things going), they get a certain swagger. It’s pretty easy to recognize when they have that swagger.”

Columbus may have a nearly unattainable path to the playoffs, but that isn’t stopping Blue Jackets players from working to improve — even if it it’s more about building for the future.

“I think we are building something really good here,” Blue Jackets forward Gustav Nyquist said.

Columbus has won four of its past five games, scoring 18 goals in the four wins.

“These guys should feel good about themselves, how they are playing,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said.

Nyquist and Patrik Laine are helping by developing chemistry. Each had a goal and an assist Saturday in 5-4 win against St. Louis, including a nice setup by Nyquist on Laine’s one-timer goal.

“We are getting to know each other here,” Nyquist said. “He’s a heck of a player. We just win battles, win pucks.”

Laine, the former Winnipeg star in his second season with Columbus, has 19 goals in his past 22 games.

The status of Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins remains a question mark. Merlikins left Saturday’s game because of what Larsen called tightness.

–Field Level Media