Columbus hasn’t played since Sunday, plenty of time to prepare for a home-and-home series against the Penguins on back-to-back days, starting with a game tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, though, wonders if some of his players will fall a little short in one area of preparation.
“How many guys on our team are going to go out on the ice Friday night and be in awe of Sidney Crosby and stand and watch instead of playing against Sidney Crosby?” Richards told the Columbus Dispatch of the Penguins’ star center and, going into the Thursday games, the NHL’s leading scorer with 21 points in 13 games.
“That’s one of the things you have to guard against.”
Although the Penguins and Blue Jackets have played preseason games in recent years, there have been only seven regular-season games between them over the past decade, the most recent one Feb. 26, 2012, a 4-2 Penguins win at home.
They did not play last season, when Columbus was in the Western Conference and there was no interconference play because of a lockout-shortened schedule.
Under realignment, the teams are now in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division.
Seven players on the Blue Jackets roster were born in the 1990s.
So, while veterans such as Plum native R.J. Umberger and former Penguins center Mark Letestu are familiar with Crosby — and other Penguins luminaries such as center Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury — many are not, beyond perhaps watching them on TV.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has seen the awestruck look before.
“There’s no question that that does happen,” Bylsma said.
“You are looking across the ice whenever you play someone that’s the highest caliber in the league, a great player. So, for a young team, a young player, your first time against Sidney Crosby … you’re going to be looking.
“That doesn’t mean they’re going to be staring at him like a deer in the headlights, but you can’t help it when you get on the ice against them [for] the first time.”
Malkin raises his game
Malkin had three shots but no points Wednesday in the 3-2 victory against Boston.
What didn’t show up on the scoresheet was what had Bylsma gushing over Malkin, who has performed most of the season a little under the usual standard for a former NHL scoring champion and MVP.
“That was Evgeni’s best game of the year,” Bylsma said. “He was dominant. He stripped pucks, got great chances. He was great down low. He set up [linemates] Jayson Megna and Jussi [Jokinen] about four or five times.
“I thought he was exceptional, and physical in the game as well. I thought he kept his cool as well when they came after him a couple of times and [was] real focused in how he played the game.
“I was looking for him to break through with one or two chances.”
Malkin has three goals, 10 points in 13 games. He has taken six minor penalties, none against the Bruins.
Eight Penguins participated in an optional practice Thursday at Consol Energy Center: forwards Megna, Dustin Jeffrey and Matt D’Agostini, defensemen Olli Maatta, Robert Bortuzzo and Deryk Engelland and goaltenders Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff. … After playing in two games following a long-term, undisclosed injury, D’Agostini was scratched against Boston. Bylsma said that was a lineup decision, not a precaution or indication that D’Agostini is reinjured. … Winger Beau Bennett, who has missed the past eight games because of an undisclosed injury, skated before practice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar for the third day in a row. Bylsma said with morning skates today and tomorrow, Bennett won’t return to practice until next week at the earliest. … Winger Chuck Kobasew, injured Monday in the game at Carolina, is wearing an orthopedic boot on his left foot. … Three others have long-term injuries: winger James Neal (undisclosed), defenseman Rob Scuderi (ankle surgery) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clot/blood thinners).
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.