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Penguins-Blue Jackets Preview @NHLdotcom
Penguins-Blue Jackets Preview

GAME: Pittsburgh Penguins (11-21-9) at Columbus Blue Jackets (13-27-2).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST.

Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets has rediscovered the scoring touch that produced 41 goals in a breakout 2003-04 season.

Nash looks to score a goal in his sixth straight game as the Blue Jackets host the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins.

After missing all but three games with knee and ankle injuries, Nash returned to the lineup Dec. 17 and has responded with nine goals and three assists in 11 games.

He has six goals and three assists during his five-game scoring streak.

Nash earned a share of the league goal-scoring title in 2003-04 with Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers and Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames.

After the lockout, Columbus signed veteran defensemen Adam Foote and Bryan Berard to help compete for a playoff spot, but those hopes have all but disappeared with goaltenders Marc Denis and Pascal Leclaire struggling.

Nash extended his points streak with a goal and an assist Sunday in Columbus' 5-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, giving the Jackets their first win in Arizona in 10 tries.

The star of the show was Berard, who scored a power-play goal in each period for his first career hat trick.

"It was just one of those games where we did a good job of getting the puck back to the point," said Berard, playing in his third game after missing seven with a back injury. "Our power play since we got Nasher back, it's starting to come together."

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is a team in turmoil after losing its third straight 3-1 Tuesday to the Edmonton Oilers.

Coach Michel Therrien ripped his players after the Penguins lost for the eighth time in 11 games since he took over Dec. 15 for the fired Ed Olczyk.

"It's a pathetic performance," Therrien said of a team that has allowed a league-high 166 goals. "Half of the team doesn't care. ... They're doing the best job to be the worst defensive squad in the league.

"They turn the puck over, they have no vision. The guys don't care. They pretend to care, but I know they don't care."

The Penguins hadn't lost at home to the Oilers in eight straight games, going 6-0-2 since a home loss on Feb. 18, 1993.

The defeat also marked the end of rookie Sidney Crosby's 10-game point-scoring streak, during which he tallied eight goals and nine assists. Crosby managed just two shots against the Oilers.

With just four wins in their last 20 games, the Penguins haven't been getting much from free-agent pickups Zigmund Palffy, John LeClair and Sergei Gonchar. The trio has combined for just five goals over that 20-game stretch.

STANDINGS: Penguins - 31 points, 5th place, 29 PB, Atlantic Division. Blue Jackets - 28 points, 4th place, 31 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Penguins - Crosby, 21 goals and 48 points; Palffy, 28 assists; Crosby and Gonchar, 60 PIM. Blue Jackets - Nikolai Zherdev, 11 goals; David Vyborny, 17 assists; Zherdev, Berard and Vyborny, 24 points; Jody Shelley, 80 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Penguins - Power play: 17.7 percent (46 for 260), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.2 percent (224 for 283), 28th. Blue Jackets - Power play: 12.9 percent (31 for 240), 29th (tied). Penalty killing: 82.1 percent (239 for 291), 16th.

GOALTENDERS: Penguins - Marc-Andre Fleury (5-10-3, 0 SO, 3.16 GAA); Jocelyn Thibault (1-9-3, 0, 4.46). Blue Jackets - Denis (8-16-0, 1, 3.31); Leclaire (2-8-2, 0, 3.67).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Penguins, 1-0-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 13, 2003; Penguins, 5-3. At Pittsburgh, Tomas Surovy scored twice as the Penguins rallied. Todd Marchant had two assists for Columbus.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 5-11-4 on the road; Blue Jackets - 8-11-0 at home.

Associated Press
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