COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Penguins were, of course, in no position to have another player injured.
Not when they already had lost 455 man-games to injury and illness before facing Columbus Friday night at Nationwide Arena.
Still, news that center Marcel Goc, who suffered a gruesome looking injury to his left foot or ankle when he was knocked into the boards by Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin in the Kings’ 3-2 victory Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, will miss only about three weeks was almost welcomed by a team that had been braced for a much more extended absence.
“I hate to say when you get an injury report and it’s like this that it’s good news, but it could have been a worse prognosis for him,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “It was probably good news that it’s just three weeks at this point.”
Bylsma confirmed the location of Goc’s injury, although he did not specify which foot.
Winger Beau Bennett, who missed the previous 50 games while recovering from a hand/wrist injury that required surgery, stepped into Goc’s spot.
Bylsma also made rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, whose play has slipped considerably in recent weeks, a healthy scratch, inserting Simon Despres into his place.
Blue Jackets eye playoffs
For the Penguins, the Stanley Cup playoffs have become a fairly automatic extension of the regular season.
They entered their game Friday night needing one point to lock up a spot in the postseason for the eighth year in a row.
But, for other clubs, including the Blue Jackets, getting into the playoffs with any sort of regularity has proven to be nearly impossible.
Columbus, for example, has qualified once since entering the NHL in 2000, and Detroit swept the Blue Jackets in an opening-round series in 2009. But Columbus entered the game Friday night as one of four Eastern Conference clubs with 80 points, and all are competing for the two Eastern wild-card berths.
While the Blue Jackets clearly are on an upward trajectory, getting into the playoffs this spring would validate management’s efforts to building a competitive team while giving players and fans a major infusion of confidence.
“It’s pretty critical for us, our organization,” said forward R.J. Umberger, a Plum native. “We’ve only been there one time so far. We’re at the point where we have to start getting there if we want to gain respect around the league.”
The potential value of reaching the playoffs was underscored by a front-page story Friday in the Columbus Dispatch.
It noted that, while the Blue Jackets are on pace to enjoy unrivaled on-ice success this season, setting franchise records in numerous statistical categories, they weren’t doing nearly as well in some other areas.
Columbus ranked 29th among the 30 NHL teams in attendance, ahead of only Phoenix, attracting an average of 14,347 to games at Nationwide Arena.
What’s more, the Blue Jackets had drawn just four sellouts (two of which came on previous visits by the Penguins) in their first 36 home dates.
The article also cited a Sports Business Journal article that ranked the Blue Jackets’ TV viewership as the NHL’s second-lowest. It said Columbus games on Fox Sports Ohio are drawing an average audience of 6,000, down from 9,000 last season.
Umberger bounces back
Umberger, one of the Blue Jackets’ core players since being acquired from Philadelphia in 2008, was a healthy scratch for games March 20 and 21, after coach Todd Richards concluded other players were having a greater impact.
The game against the Penguins was Umberger’s third since being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career, and Richards praised his performance after spending those two nights in the press box.
“The one thing you always look for when tough circumstances arise for players is how they’re going to respond, how they’re going to react to it,” he said.
“[Umberger] worked really hard in practice — even when he stayed out and had to do extra, he worked really hard there with the goaltenders — and then when he came back into the lineup, he did a good job.”
Umberger entered the game against the Penguins tied for sixth in the Blue Jackets’ scoring race, with 18 goals, 15 assists in 70 games.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.