Dead on Arrival: A Blue Jackets and Penguins Rivalry Isn’t Ready Yet

In the 13 year history of the Columbus Blue Jackets, one team has constantly been their nemesis. Winning games just by showing up, it seems, and even taking the Blue Jackets down 4-0 in their only playoff series in franchise history. Of course we’re talking about the Detroit Red Wings and their command of one of the few rivalries that the Blue Jackets have had in their existence.

With the two cities separated by only a 3 hour drive, Columbus fans quickly developed a hatred for the Wings – a team with a far-reaching fan base that at times even dominated Nationwide Arena. Hockey fans in Columbus even had a hard time jumping on the Blue Jackets bandwagon because of the popularity of the Wings franchise and proximity to Columbus, and never switched allegiances from Detroit to Columbus. Why would you when the Red Wings own a 55-23-1 record (including playoffs) all-time against Columbus?

Jimmy Howard goalie red wings
The Red Wings have been the Blue Jacket’s nemesis for over a decade (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

But with the reshuffling of the conferences and divisions, Detroit and Columbus have been torn apart. Although they remain in the same conference, the two teams will no longer be division rivals with the Wings being shipped into the Atlantic division and Columbus joining the Metropolitain division. While the two teams will play each other 3 times during the 2013-14 season, gone are the 5+ face-offs that fans both adored and despised.

With the new season now underway, however, it is clear that it didn’t take long for a replacement to emerge to take the Wings place. Having played 2 preseason games and 4 regular season games already this year, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins have now received that most-hated label from Blue Jackets fans.

Staggering Statistics

As the old adage says, numbers don’t lie. Here are some interesting facts about this budding “rivalry.”

First of all, the Penguins are 4-0 against the Jackets this season with 1 matchup remaining (March 28th in Columbus). The 4 game scores have been 4-2, 3-0, 2-1 and 5-3. That’s 14-6 in total scoring, obviously favoring the Penguins.

The Penguins are 13-4-0-1 against the Jackets all-time. (Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports)
The Penguins are 13-4-0-1 against the Jackets all-time. (Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports)

Not surprisingly, attendance is up for the games against Pittsburgh. Both games between the two teams in Nationwide arena have been sellouts for the Blue Jackets. According to Hockey Attendance, 18,634 saw the 3-0 Penguins win on November 2nd and 18,871 watched the 5-3 Penguins win on December 29th. When Pittsburgh comes to town, that’s an average of 18,753 butts in seats, or 103.4% of capacity (which is listed at 18,144). But when Columbus plays ANY other team, they are averaging 13,036 butts in seats – around 71.8% of capacity over the other 18 home dates thus far. The only other sellout on the season was opening night against the Calgary Flames.

There are 2 main reasons for the attenance increase. First of all, would you want to go see the Blue Jackets play Anaheim? Tampa? Minnesota? Winnipeg? In the three games against those teams, the Jackets drew 10,542, 10,223, 11,319 and 11,448 respectively, and these are the 4 lowest attended games in Columbus so far this season.

The second reason? Just as Detroit, Nashville and even Chicago fans experience, proximity plays a big factor. Detroit consistently sent fans to Columbus, likely because of the low ticket prices (I have found tickets as low as $6 for games this year, and as low as $4 in the past). Chicago fans usually show up in droves largely due to the fact that they can’t get seats in the United Center. A quick 6 hour drive to Columbus (including cheap tickets and hotels) gets you in to see the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

And finally, perhaps the most telling of statistics. Playing with the lead isn’t exactly something Columbus does against the Penguins. In total over the first 4 meetings this year (240 total minutes):

  • Pittsburgh has held the lead for 136 minutes 4 seconds.
  • The teams have been tied for 103 minutes.
  • Columbus has held the lead for 56 SECONDS.

No, that’s not a typo. Columbus had the lead in the 4th matchup early in the first period, and held it for less than a minute. This was the most competitive of the 4 games to date, but Pittsburgh’s James Neal had a hat trick and the Penguins scored 3 power play goals en route to the 5-3 win.

Much Ado About Nothing?

Right now, the Blue Jackets vs Penguins games are just that. 2 points are on the line just like any other game. They are 2 important divisional points, but Pittsburgh is like a parent who hides the cookies on a shelf their kids can’t reach. Constantly taunting and pulling you along, all the while knowing you’ll never get there.

Artem Anisimov Blue Jackets
Another of the Blue Jackets’ rivals is the Nashville Predators, who hold a 51-23-1 edge over the CBJs. (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s not like Columbus minds the full arena. If there are 18,000+ in the stands, I’m certain 5,000 are cheering for the opposition when Pittsburgh comes to town. It’s certainly not as bad as Nashville thinks it is when they try to “keep the red out” during games against the Blackhawks. Those extra seats sold will help Columbus bring in the Nathan Hortons, Marian Gaboriks and Brandon Dubinskys of the NHL and will only make this team better.

So as we head into the second half of the season, at least one thing will remain: the Blue Jackets don’t yet match up to the Pittsburgh Penguins on the ice. A rivalry, as much as the Blue Jackets want it, doesn’t exist yet, and the Penguins maintain a 14-4-0 record over Columbus all-time. The Jackets have some growing to do, and why not model yourselves after a franchise that has had recent and sustained success? It seems as though Pittsburgh is the older brother that keeps beating you up AND a great role model all in one.