Columbus Blue Jackets (25-22-5, 55pts) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (34-16-4, 72pts)
PITTSBURGH — The Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight for a stretch of four games in six days, including back-to-back games Thursday and Friday night.
Captain Sidney Crosby will miss his 14th straight game tonight. Crosby remains back home in Nova Scotia with his family. His return is still several weeks away as the Penguins are 8-4-1 without their star forward.
The Penguins are coming off a 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon. Tonight the Penguins meet a Blue Jackets team that with 30 games left in the regular season, are fighting for their playoff lives.
Despite putting together a 5-2-2 stretch and getting back-to-back wins against Detroit and Edmonton, the Blue Jackets are 6 points out of the final playoff spot in the East but only 8 points out of the No. 4 seed in the West. Things are that tight in the West right now.
The Penguins lead the season series 1-0, defeating the Blue Jackets 7-2 in Columbus on December 4. In the win, Sidney Crosby and Paul Martin each scored twice.
Columbus is 8-2-1 against the Eastern Conference this season.
Rick Nash leads the Blue Jackets with 23 goals and 44 points this season. Pittsburgh native R.J. Umberger is putting together another solid season.
Umberger has 19 goals and 38 points on the season and a +7 rating. He is coming off a four point game on Saturday.
On a side note, Jackets coach Scott Arniel is a well known Steelers fan and reportedly some of his players were giving it to him on the Steelers losing Super Bowl XLV.
One player Pittsburgh will be looking to step up offensive as the Penguins No. 1 center is Jordan Staal (13GP-3G-5A-8pts). Staal has 1 goal in his last 8 games.
Pittsburgh remains in comfortable position in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Pittsburgh is just 3 points behind division and conference leader Philadelphia (75pts).
With no Sidney Crosby until at least March and Evgeni Malkin done for the season, the Penguins chances of catching Philadelphia are slim.
However, barring a collapse to end the season, the Penguins seem destined to finish in the top-6.
Currently sitting in the No. 4 seed, Pittsburgh has a four point advantage over No. 5 Washington (68pts) and a 7 point lead over No. 6 Montreal (65pts).
Pittsburgh has a 10 point edge over the No. 7 New York Rangers (62pts) and a 14 point lead over Carolina (58pts) and Buffalo (58pts) who are tied for the final playoff spot.
*Defenseman Ben Lovejoy will be back in the lineup tonight.
Kunitz – Jeffrey – Dupuis
Cooke – Staal – Kennedy
Rupp – Talbot – Conner
Wallace – Adams – Godard
Orpik – Letang
Martn – Michalek
Goligoski – Lovejoy
*Marc Andre Fleury (25-12-2, 2.19 GAA) will be seeking his 26th win of the season tonight.