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Jackets shoot for third straight as they face Pens

by Adam Kimelman /
BLUE JACKETS (25-22-5) at PENGUINS (34-16-4)

TV -- FS-O (HD), FS-P (HD)  

Last 10 --
Columbus 5-3-2; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season series -- This is the second and final meeting between the teams this season. On Dec. 4, Sidney Crosby and Paul Martin each scored a pair of goals in a 7-2 Penguins win in Columbus.

Big story -- Despite Sunday's loss, the Penguins have somehow remained within striking distance of the top spot in the Eastern Conference even without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And could the Blue Jackets be heating up? They've won two straight and are just five points out of a playoff spot.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets -- Could Andrew Murray be the Blue Jackets' most valuable player? It's hard to believe, but look at the numbers -- the Jackets are 12-6-2 with the fourth-year forward in the lineup, 13-16-3 without him.

In 20 games, Murray has 4 goals, 8 points and a plus-5 rating, and he averages barely more than 11 minutes per game when he does get in the lineup. But he had a goal and an assist in Friday's win against the Red Wings, and he had six hits in 14:51 in Sunday's win against the Oilers.

"I've told Andrew I can't guarantee he will play every night," coach Scott Arniel told the Columbus Dispatch, "but to be prepared when he does go in. He's got a good mindset. If he's not playing, he doesn't hang his head. He's an upbeat kid. I just like the fact that he understands his role and plays it to a T."

Penguins -- No one can claim the Pens are just a two-man team any more. Since Crosby went out with a concussion, they're 8-4-1, and when Evgeni Malkin missed five games recently with a knee injury and a sinus infection, they went 4-1-0.

Now that Malkin likely is out for the season with two torn knee ligaments, the Pens don't plan on canceling the season. They'll just keep marching forward.

"They're our two best players," defenseman Zbynek Michalek told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We miss them. But we've shown we can play well without them."

Who's hot --
Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger had his best game of the season Sunday, scoring twice and adding 2 assists. In his last nine games, he has 5 goals and 9 points. … Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy has 2 goals in his last three games after scoring 2 goals in his 23 previous games.

Injury report -- Blue Jackets defenseman Rostislav Klesla is questionable with a lower-body injury, and forward Chris Clark is questionable with an undisclosed injury. … Besides the Penguins' copious long-term injuries, forward Arron Asham remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Stat pack -- The Penguins lead the League with an 88.9-percent success rate on the penalty kill. If they can maintain that number through the end of the regular season, it would be the best result since the 1999-2000 Dallas Stars had an 89.2-percent efficiency.

Puck drop -- Blue Jackets forward Kristian Huselius returned from a one-game benching to score 2 goals and add an assist in Sunday's defeat of the Oilers. He had just 1 goal in 13 games before Sunday.

"Sometimes it's nice to clear your mind and you get away with it," Huselius told reporters after the game. "And it helps sometimes. Most everybody wants to play. … It doesn't really matter. It's nice to get the win, and that's the most important thing."

"He was outstanding," Arniel said. "He held onto pucks, had patience and made plays. I'm glad the way he responded. He took control of the situation and was upset about (Saturday) and was a big difference in the hockey game."

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