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Game Preview: Blue Jackets, Penguins set for first clash of the season

by Katie Foglia / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Pittsburgh Penguins (10-5-0) hosted the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center, picking up a 4-3 shootout win to keep them surging up the standings.

But things didn’t start out so well for head coach Mike Johnston's team. Although the Penguins dropped their first three games of the season, they've since found their groove, winning 10 of their last 12 games to make up some serious ground.

GM Jim Rutherford had a busy offseason bolstering both the offense and defense. Pittsburgh locked down a few key players, including forward Beau Bennett and defensemen Ian Cole and Brian Dumoulin. They also signed former Washington Capitals forward Eric Fehr, traded for Nick Bonino from Vancouver and signed veteran center Matt Cullen to add depth to their bottom-six group of forwards.

Rookie Daniel Sprong, the Penguins' second-round pick in 2015, made the team out of training camp and appears to be sticking around for the balance of the season. The team signed Sprong to a three-year entry level contract in August and he's scored two goals in 11 games so far.

But the biggest news surrounding the Penguins this summer was the blockbuster deal that brought forward Phil Kessel over from the Toronto Maple Leafs. A five-time 30-goal scorer and still only 28 years old, Kessel was thought to be the perfect add to captain Sidney Crosby's wing, but the real fit (in the early going) has been with Evgeni Malkin. Kessel has six goals and 11 points in his first 15 games.

A quick note: forward Pascal Dupuis returned the lineup against the Canadiens after missing the previous two games due to blood clot-like symptoms.

The last time these two teams faced each other was Apr. 4, 2015, a Saturday afternoon game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

Nick Foligno’s hat trick helped the Blue Jackets push past the Penguins, 5-3, and set a new franchise record win streak with their ninth win in a row.

Crosby opened the scoring in the first, and Brandon Sutter added another just over halfway through the second period, making it a 2-0 game in favor of the visiting team. Despite a less than desirable start, the Jackets turned things around in front of a sold-out, standing room only crowd in Columbus.

The Blue Jackets erased their early deficit with two goals in 2:03 late in the second period; first Brandon Dubinsky and then Matt Calvert, sending the game into the third period tied 2-2.

At 6:46 into the third, Foligno notched his second goal of the game off a rebound from Dubinsky and gave the Jackets a 3-2 lead. The Jackets held the lead from there on out.

Foligno’s first career hat trick was completed with an empty net goal in the final minute of the third period, securing the 5-3 win.

Phil Kessel was a staple on the Maple Leafs roster for the previous six seasons, and is now making his mark on a new team. As mentioned above, he's off to a fast start with six goals and added five assists for a total of 11 points in 15 games played with the Penguins.

A native of Madison, Wisc., Kessel has suited up for a total of 10 NHL seasons. The right winger was selected by the Boston Bruins in the first round (No. 5 overall) in 2006, and spent his first three NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins before being traded to Toronto.

Kessel has scored a total of 253 goals and added 278 assists in 683 games, and in three playoff appearances, he's added 13 goals and eight assists in 22 games.

Kessel has been skating on a line with Malkin at center and the shifty David Perron on the left side, and together, those three have formed one of the Penguins' most consistent scoring threats in the early part of the season.

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