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Blue Jackets try to cool off Malkin and Penguins

by John Kreiser
BLUE JACKETS (18-36-7) at PENGUINS (35-21-5)

TV: FS-Ohio; ROOT (HD)

LAST 10: Columbus 5-4-1; Pittsburgh 6-3-1

Season Series: It's the only meeting of the season between two of the NHL's closest interconference rivals. The teams split two games last season, with the Jackets winning 4-1 at Consol Energy Center on Feb. 8 after the Penguins routed them 7-2 in Columbus on Dec. 4.

Big Story: Talk about a battle between polar opposites. The Blue Jackets come to Consol Energy Center with an NHL-low 43 points after being blitzed 5-0 at home by Colorado on Friday. Meanwhile, the surging Penguins have won their last two games to move into fourth place in the East and come off Saturday's 8-1 rout of Tampa Bay.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: The best news for the Jackets and their fans is that defenseman Jack Johnson will be wearing a Columbus uniform for the first time. Johnson, who came from Los Angeles in Thursday's trade that sent center Jeff Carter to L.A., is an Indianapolis native who says he's excited to be coming to a team that wants him.

"When a trade happens, it means a team wants you," Johnson said. "It's a great feeling to come into a place where they want you. I'm looking forward to giving everything I have to offer.

"I'm just anxious to get out there with the guys."

Penguins: If there was a lesson for the rest of the NHL in Saturday's wipeout of Tampa Bay, it was this: Don't get Evgeni Malkin mad.

Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson did just that Saturday when he gave Malkin a second-period face wash. Malkin responded by scoring three goals, including a brilliant individual rush in which he went through the entire team, and added an assist in an 8-1 victory.

Malkin admitted after the game that Roloson's actions fired him up.

"I try, yeah," Malkin said with a grim when asked whether he tried to score because of the altercation. "I'm a little bit mad because it's not my fault. I'm trying to control the puck and the defenseman cross-checked my back. I lost my balance and punched (Roloson's) arm a little bit. I don't know why he punched me."

The four points gave Malkin 77 and moved him back in front in the NHL scoring race. He had been tied with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who was held off the scoresheet.

"I'm trying not to think about my points, when you start to think it's a little bit too much in your head," said Malkin, the Art Ross Trophy winner in 2009. "I just think about my game, what I do right and not."

Who's Hot: Malkin has 21 goals in his last 22 games. Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 33 saves on Saturday, is 13-2-1 in his last 16 starts.

Injury Report: Columbus expects goaltender Curtis Sanford (back) to be ready for Sunday. The Jackets are still without forwards Jared Boll (foot) and Kristian Huselius (groin). Defensemen Marc Methot and Radek Martinek are gone for the season. … The Penguins still have no idea when Sidney Crosby (concussion) will be able to play again. Forward Tyler Kennedy is out with a high ankle sprain, and backup goaltender Brent Johnson sat out Saturday after he "tweaked something" at practice earlier in the week, according to coach Dan Bylsma.

Stat Pack: Pittsburgh killed off five of six Tampa Bay power plays and leads the NHL in penalty-killing at home with 89.9 percent (80 of 89). … Malkin has 13 goals and eight assists in his last 11 home games.

Puck Drop: With back-to-back games and his backup goaltender hurting, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma may give Brad Thiessen his first NHL start. Thiessen backed up Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday, and Bylsma said he may opt to play the rookie and give his starter the day off against the NHL's worst team.

"It's certainly a possibility," he said. "We'll see how the situation (is) with Brent and Marc after (Saturday)."

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