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Penguins Report: Native Son Returns to Pittsburgh...Again

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh native R.J. Umberger returns to his hometown when his Columbus Blue Jackets take on the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m.

Umberger has made several appearances at Mellon Arena during his career, particularly when he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. However, this will be his only game in Pittsburgh this season because of the infrequency of matchups between the Penguins and Blue Jackets.

“It’s the same song and dance,” Umberger said after Columbus’ morning skate. “There will be tons of people here. It’s only once a year now so I think everybody is trying to make it to this game.”

Something else will be different. He won’t be visiting as a member of the hated Philadelphia Flyers…which is not necessarily a bad thing.

“The hostility is not the same,” Umberger said. “I think my family and friends can sit in the stands and sit in peace this time. I think they’re going to enjoy that.”

Umberger, who signed with Columbus in the past offseason, has helped lead the Blue Jackets to within one point of the eighth seed in the Western Conference as of Wednesday afternoon.

This is the team I grew up idolizing. They’re the reason why I play hockey. It’s just fun to go out there and see their uniforms, play against them and be in this arena with a lot of history. Hopefully it’s a good game for us. - R.J. Umberger
“There’s a buzz going on (in Columbus) right now,” he said. “This city is so anxious for a playoff team. I don’t think they really know what it is and if it happens I think it will take us to the next level.”

Umberger, who is third on the team with 27 points on 16 goals and 11 assists, has become a veteran mentor for a young Columbus team.

“I’ve been here for the guidance of some of the younger players,” Umberger said. “I’ve played alongside (Jakub) Voracek a lot this year and helped him out. They’re going to be the future. They’ve done a great job. They’ve played better than we thought they would right away. It’s been a big part of our success so far and us getting close to the playoffs.”

Umberger has had success against the Penguins in the past. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound forward has eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points in 23 career games against Pittsburgh.

“We have to make sure that we’re aware of that and he’s from the area, so he’s always got something to play for when he’s playing here,” Sidney Crosby said. “He’s doing well. He’s a guy that’s going to go to the net hard and he’s a pretty big body. He’ll create some space in front of the net. He’s going to take advantage of chances.”

“I hope my good play continues against this team,” Umberger said. “It’s always fun. It’s emotional for me. It gives you an extra jump and you want to play well. This is the team I grew up idolizing. They’re the reason why I play hockey. It’s just fun to go out there and see their uniforms, play against them and be in this arena with a lot of history. Hopefully it’s a good game for us.”

> The Penguins’ line combinations at Friday’s morning skate were: Pascal Dupuis-Crosby-Tyler Kennedy; Matt Cooke-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora; Luca Caputi-Jordan Staal-Miroslav Satan; Alex Goligoski-Maxime Talbot-Bill Thomas/Eric Godard (game-time decision).


The defensive pairings were: Hal Gill-Rob Scuderi; Mark Eaton-Kris Letang; Brooks Orpik-Ryan Whitney.

Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal for the Penguins. The Blue Jackets will counter with Wade Dubielewicz. Steve Mason currently is stricken with mono while Pascal Leclaire is out for the season with an ankle injury.

> Satan will be honored by the National Hockey League for playing in his 1,000th-career game. Satan hit the milestone Wednesday night in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime win against Tampa Bay.

“It doesn’t happen every day,” Satan said. “I’m thankful that I was able to be lucky and stay healthy and stay in the league for so long that I could reach 1,000. So it’s definitely something I’ll remember.”

During his career, Satan has tallied 351 goals, 365 assists and 716 points. He became the ninth Penguin player to hit the 1,000 plateau. With a career full of memories, Satan said that his first game is the one he’ll never forget.

“You always remember your first game,” Satan said. “It was in the old Philly Spectrum. We lost the game 7-1 and I had an assist on the one goal. I remember that one. There are a handful of others but you always remember your first one.”

> The Penguins defense will have the unenviable task of shutting down Blue Jackets’ stud Rick Nash. The 2002 first-overall pick has matured into one of the best power forwards in the league.

“He’s a great player, all-around player,” Crosby said.  “He’s a big part of their team. A big leader and a guy you have to be aware of out there. He’s got tremendous speed. You have to be aware of him at all times for sure.”

Nash has tremendous speed and skating ability for a guy that is 6-foot-4 and 218-pounds. But he also likes to play physical, take the body and get to the front of the net.

“He’s a big, strong guy,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “Taking his time and space away is the biggest thing. If you give him any room and he gets a step on you, he uses his body to outmuscle you. Being physical on him and taking his space away in the neutral zone, we can’t let him get his good speed going.”
“He’s the typical power forward that every team would love to have,” head coach Michel Therrien said. “He’s a tough guy to contain. I think it’s tough to have one unit playing against a guy like that.”

Therrien plans on matching up the Orpik-Ryan Whitney pairing and the Hal Gill-Rob Scuderi unit on Nash to try and contain the gifted forward, who leads Columbus with 47 points (22G-24A) this season.

“I think you need two units,” Therrien said. “Hal Gill does a great job against power forwards like this. Brooks Orpik can do a great job too as well. I don’t believe that one unit can shut guys like that down. You have to have to be on your toes and make sure you have two units, depending on the ice time and depending on the line juggling, that’s got to be ready to contain that guy.”

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