BLUE JACKETS (25-27-3) at PENGUINS (32-16-9)
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PITTSBURGH -- One of the Columbus Blue Jackets' more lethal weapons could return against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.
Forward Nick Foligno, who did not play in a 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday with a lower-body injury, could suit up against Pittsburgh. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said Foligno will take part in pregame warm-ups with the intention to play.
"I was a super fan watching the game [on Tuesday]," Foligno said. "So I'm not good watching. Hopefully I can get back in there tonight. … I feel a lot better today. I was pretty sore the past couple days, but I'm getting the swelling down and felt I could get my foot in the skates."
Foligno, who skated alongside forwards Marko Dano and Artem Anisimov on Thursday morning, is tied with forward Ryan Johansen for the team lead in points (52 each) and leads Columbus with 22 goals. Prior to his injury, he had at least one point in five consecutive games, scoring four goals during that stretch.
The Blue Jackets could use his scoring touch against the Penguins, who Richards thinks remains a potent offensive team, despite failing to convert on 18 consecutive power plays.
"There's worry," Richards said. "It's not about our guys not being ready, it's just the opposition. … It's a dangerous power play. Lots of different elements, lots of different things that they do that can hurt you. So I don't look at it as a team that's struggling. They can still create momentum off the power play. They're still doing the right things, it's just, maybe at times it's just not going in.
"We'd like to continue that one more game."
Despite the Blue Jackets' place among the bottom half of the Metropolitan Division, Pittsburgh is not taking them lightly and believes a win would be necessary for morale. The Penguins have gone 7-10-4 against division opponents, including 2-7-2 against the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.
Wins against division opponents are becoming increasingly important as the season enters its final stretch, since it is likely Pittsburgh will face at least one Metropolitan team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if it expects to make a deep run. Columbus will likely not be one of those teams, but a win against any division opponent could help the Penguins mentally.
"For whatever reason, we haven't found a way to be successful [against the Metropolitan Division]," forward Sidney Crosby said. "So I think just consistency in our game is important. We've had a few games where we didn't really give ourselves a chance against divisional opponents, but I think lately we've been playing a little bit better.
"Hopefully that translates into more wins."
Here are the projected lineups:
Scott Hartnell – Ryan Johansen – Corey Tropp
Matt Calvert – Brandon Dubinsky – Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno – Artem Anisimov – Marko Dano
Jack Skille – Mark Letestu – Jared Boll
Jack Johnson – David Savard
Kevin Connauton – James Wisniewski
Fedor Tyutin – Cody Goloubef
Scratched: Jordan Leopold, Alexander Wennberg
Injured: Nathan Horton (back), Boone Jenner (stress fracture in back), Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), Jeremy Morin (upper body), Ryan Murray (high ankle sprain), Dalton Prout (upper body)
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – David Perron
Blake Comeau – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Beau Bennett
Craig Adams – Maxim Lapierre – Steve Downie
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Derrick Pouliot – Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Zach Sill
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion protocol), Olli Maatta (upper body)
Status report: Johnston said Wednesday that Ehrhoff could be expected to return a few days after beginning to take contact in practice. There is no specific timetable for when he will begin to take contact. … Bobrovsky, who has missed 10 games with a groin injury, participated in the morning skate. He remained on the ice with Columbus goalie coach Ian Clark afterward.
Who's hot: Letang assisted on the Penguins' lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. He is second in NHL scoring with 23 points, three behind Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, since Jan. 10. … Johansen had a goal and an assist against the Flyers on Tuesday. His 21 goals have him one behind Foligno for the Blue Jackets lead.