COLUMBUS -- Even though the Pittsburgh Penguins have 11 more wins and 19 more points than the Columbus Blue Jackets, the new Metropolitan Division rivals are similar in one regard heading into the game Sunday at Nationwide Arena: Each has had to deal with injuries to key players.
The Penguins (28-11-1) sit atop the Eastern Conference but have been without forward Evgeni Malkin (lower body) the past six games, lost backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) before the season and have had their top four defensemen injured at various points of the season among the 219 man-games lost.
Columbus is minus forwards Marian Gaborik and Matt Calvert and is awaiting the first game for offseason free-agent signee Nathan Horton, who underwent shoulder surgery in July but could debut during the upcoming four-game trip.
The Blue Jackets (17-17-4) have 162 man-games lost and counting, but have won three straight and are 7-3-1 since 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky went on the injured reserve list with a groin injury.
"It says a lot about the guys stepping in, especially [the Penguins]," Blue Jackets forward and Pittsburgh native RJ Umberger said. "They've had a lot of injuries, probably the most, and they continue to win. That shows the type of organization they have and how they teach their young guys.
"They have a system and they all buy into it and they get results from it. That's what we're trying to do here. It doesn't matter who's in the lineup, we want to play the same way every game."
Columbus might face the Penguins without one of its grittier players, forward Derek MacKenzie. He did not participate in the morning skate, and although coach Todd Richards expects him to play, the Blue Jackets recalled forward Ryan Craig from the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League as a precautionary measure.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has some game-time decisions as well, most notably the possibility of defenseman Rob Scuderi returning after missing 29 games due to a broken ankle.
"I've told the coaches I'm ready to play," Scuderi said Sunday morning. "It's their decision but I certainly feel that I'm at the point now where the only way I'm going to get back into it is playing games."
Bylsma was noncommittal when he talked to the media a few minutes later but said Scuderi's comeback is imminent.
"The last three or four practices he's been able to get some contact and some 1-on-1s and different battles," he said. "Rob's gotten really close, almost close after the [holiday] break, and he's in that spot right now where he's ready to come back mentally."
Bylsma said backup rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff will start for Marc-Andre Fleury. Zatkoff stopped 19 shots Nov. 2 in Nationwide Arena for his first NHL victory, 3-0.
"They did a number to us the last time they played in this building," Richards said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Joe Vitale
Chris Conner - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Brian Gibbons - Brandon Sutter - Chuck Kobasew
Tanner Glass - Zach Sill - Craig Adams
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta
Rob Scuderi - Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Brian Dumoulin, Harry Zolnierczyk, Simon Despres
Injured: Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), Kris Letang (elbow), Paul Martin (leg), Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Pascal Dupuis (knee), Andrew Ebbett (ankle), Jayson Megna (lower body), Beau Bennett (wrist)
Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - RJ Umberger
Blake Comeau - Derek MacKenzie - Jack Skille
Boone Jenner - Mark Letestu - Corey Tropp
Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson
Ryan Murray - James Wisniewski
Nikita Nikitin - David Savard
Scratched: Tim Erixon, Ryan Craig
Injured: Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), Dalton Prout (upper body), Marian Gaborik (collarbone) Nathan Horton (left shoulder), Jared Boll (left foot), Matt Calvert (shoulder)