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Preview: Penguins at Blue Jackets

Columbus goes for 11th straight win; Pittsburgh looks to hold Metropolitan Division lead

by Craig Merz / NHL.com Correspondent

PENGUINS (21-7-5) at BLUE JACKETS (21-5-4)

(7 p.m. ET; FS-O, ROOT, NHL.TV) 

 

Penguins team scope

The Pittsburgh Penguins have points in 10 straight games (8-0-2) but haven't been able to separate themselves in the Metropolitan Division from the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won a franchise record 10 consecutive games. That puts added emphasis on the first game between the two this season Thursday. The Penguins and idle New York Rangers have 47 points, one more than the Blue Jackets, who can move into the division lead with a victory. "We're excited. This is a real good team we're playing," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I know our players are well aware of it. It's two of the teams that have the better records in the League so far. They just happen to be in the same division." The Penguins are coming off a 7-2 victory against the Rangers on Tuesday and count the Philadelphia Flyers as their top rival, but the games with Columbus usually have a gritty tone of their own. "Anytime we come in here it's intense," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "You always look at games like this, within the division, against a team that's usually pretty physical and intense; I think you have all the motivation there." The Penguins are the top scoring team in the NHL (3.46 goals per game) and the Blue Jackets are second at 3.30. "It's a good measuring stick for both teams, so it should be a playoff-type game," Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz said.

 

Blue Jackets team scope

Blue Jackets leading scorer Cam Atkinson will play Thursday after he injured his foot blocking a shot during a 3-2 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. He scored twice and also had a shootout goal when the Blue Jackets set the Columbus record for consecutive wins. The Blues Jackets did not skate Thursday morning; coach John Tortorella will have an update when he meets the media before the game. Atkinson told the Columbus Dispatch he was wearing a walking boot on his left foot Wednesday for precautionary reasons and X-rays showed no break. He has 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 30 games this season and has 12 points (six goals, six assists) during a seven-game point streak. Tortorella said he's trying to clamp down on expectations for the game being a barometer for what the Blue Jackets have accomplished. "It's another game," he said Thursday. "It's on the schedule. We're approaching it as we have all year long. You're trying to build something up here. I'm sorry, I can't buy into it. I need to worry about a team about to play their next game, which is game 31 in our regular season. We're a team trying to gain respect in our League. I think we're doing that in our first 30 games." The Blue Jackets are 11-0-1 in their past 12 games, which is their second-longest point streak since they went 12-0-1 to end the 2014-15 season. They're also 11-1-1 in their past 13 games at Nationwide Arena.

 

Penguins projected lineup

Conor Sheary -- Sidney Crosby -- Bryan Rust

Chris Kunitz -- Evgeni Malkin -- Patric Hornqvist

Carl Hagelin -- Nick Bonino -- Phil Kessel

Scott Wilson -- Matt Cullen -- Eric Fehr

Ian Cole -- Justin Schultz

Brian Dumoulin -- Derrick Pouliot

Olli Maatta -- Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratched: Steve Oleksy

Injured: Kris Letang (lower body), Trevor Daley (upper body), Tom Kuhnhackl (lower body)

 

Blue Jackets projected lineup

Brandon Saad -- Alexander Wennberg -- Nick Foligno

Boone Jenner -- Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson

Matt Calvert -- William Karlsson -- Josh Anderson

Scott Hartnell -- Lukas Sedlak - Sam Gagner

Zach Werenski -- Seth Jones

Jack Johnson -- David Savard

Markus Nutivaara -- Ryan Murray

Sergei Bobrovsky

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Scott Harrington, Oliver Bjorkstrand

Injured: David Clarkson (lower body),

 

Status report

Bobrovsky, who started 26 of the Blue Jackets' first 29 games, will start after McElhinney made 44 saves against the Kings.

 

Who's hot

Crosby has 20 goals (10 goals, 10 assists) in his past 14 games and leads the NHL with 22 goals. … Malkin has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in his past 13 games. … Schultz has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in his past 11 games. … Murray is 6-0-1 and has allowed 11 goals in his past eight games. … Bobrovsky has won eight straight starts, allowing 12 goals in that span. … Gagner has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his past seven games. … The Penguins have converted 11 of their past 27 power plays (41 percent).

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