| Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets |
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|Rick Nash |
| ||F - #61 |
|• Tallied 41 goals in just his second NHL season to tie with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk for the “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. |
• Has proven himself to be one of the league’s best snipers, tallying 27 or more goals in six of his seven NHL seasons.
• Has spent his entire career-to-date with Columbus after the team drafted him No. 1 overall in 2002, and holds the franchise records for career points (422), goals (227), power-play goals (71) and shorthanded tallies (12).
|Jakub Voracek |
| ||F - #93 |
|• The right winger tallied 50 points (16G-34A) through 81 games in just his second NHL season in 2009-10. |
• The 21-year-old Czech Republic native, drafted No. 7 overall by Columbus in 2007, posted 38 points (9G-29A) in his rookie campaign in 2008-09.
• Voracek displayed his offensive firepower when he posted 101 points (33G-68A) in 53 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Ontario Hockey League in 2007-08.
|Kris Russell |
| ||D - #10 |
|• Represented Team Canada in the 2010 World Championships, where he posted four points (1G-3A) through seven games. |
• He snapped a 24-game goalless skid and notched his first tally of the season in Columbus’ 4-3 shootout loss to Nashville on Wednesday.
• The 23-year-old set career highs in goals (seven) and points (22) last season.
|The Penguins will do battle with one of the Western Conference’s top teams on Saturday, when they travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. |
After finishing 27th overall in the league with 79 points in 2009-10, the Blue Jackets have gotten off to a strong start this season. They’ve gone 6-4-1 in their last 11 games and have recorded the fifth-most points in the West with 29.
Captain Rick Nash, the core of the team’s offense, is producing at a steady clip with a team-leading 13 goals. He’s led the Jackets in goals each of the past six seasons, and in points for four of those. Pittsburgh native RJ Umberger has also been hot as of late, setting a franchise record by extending his point streak to 10 games with two assists on Dec. 1. Antoine Vermette, acquired from Ottawa in March 4, 2009, posted 65 points (27G-38A) last season and is third on the team with 14 points (7G-7A).
Besides those veterans, it’s the team’s young forwards that have been stepping up. Derick Brassard has been brilliant up top for Columbus after notching just one assist through his first six games. The 23-year-old center has recorded a point in 14 of the last 17 contests for 16 points (6G-10A). Rounding out the offense is Jakub Voracek, 21, whose 15 points (5G-10A) rank fourth on the team.
On the blue line, Rotislav Klesla leads the NHL with a plus-17 rating through 23 games. He was the team’s No. 4 overall selection in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but played just a combined 60 games over the past two seasons due to injury. And the Blue Jackets need him, as they have lost their top producer, Marc Methot, to an upper-body injury that leaves his status as day-to-day. Methot has 10 assists to pace the team’s defensemen. Mike Commodore adds a veteran presence to the back end, while Anton Stralman and Jan Hedja round out the defensive corps.
Goaltender Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2009, when he backstopped the Blue Jackets to their first playoff berth in franchise history that season. Mason, 22, thrives off facing shots, as he is 6-3-0 when facing 30 or more in a game. He’s joined by veteran and former Penguin Mathieu Garon, who is 6-2 on the season with a 1.76 GAA and .937 save percentage.
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- The Penguins and the Blue Jackets faced off just once last season, with Pittsburgh defeating Columbus on the road, 4-3. Crosby earned the game-winner in that contest, and leads the Penguins with eight points (1G-7A) in five career games played against the Blue Jackets.
- With Thursday’s win, the Penguins now sit atop the Atlantic Division standings with 36 points. They trail the Washington Capitals by two points for tops in the Eastern Conference.
- Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak is the longest since it won eight-straight games from Dec. 23, 2007 to Jan. 10, 2008. Their 11-game unbeaten streak is its longest since a 12-game run (10-0-2) that ran from Feb. 25 to March. 20, 2009. It was part of the Penguins’ 18-3-4 finish en route to winning their third Stanley Cup.
- Pittsburgh’s streak of 32-straight kills was snapped in Thursday’s game, when Atlanta’s Bryan Little opened the scoring at the 6:21 mark of the first. The Penguins had entered the game with the best penalty kill in the NHL, having killed 90.5 percent of their opposition’s power plays until that point. Little’s PP goal was the first given up by Pittsburgh in the last 10 games, and only the 11th power-play goal allowed by the Penguins this season.
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|Spread Out the Scoring: Crosby’s display of domination against the Thrashers was impressive, but it’s been contributions from the rest of the lineup that has helped fuel the Penguins eight-game winning streak. The Penguins need continued production and energetic play from their forwards, especially their third line of Chris Conner, Mark Letestu and Tyler Kennedy. |
Take Quality Shots: If coach Scott Arniel puts Mason between the pipes for Saturday’s contest, the young netminder’s quality of play seems to increase exponentially with the number of shots he faces, holding a 6-3-0 record when facing 30-plus shots in a game. In his past five games, he has gone 3-2-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and one shutout, stopping 175-of-186 shots faced.
| ||C Jordan Staal, broken right hand (up to two weeks) |
F Mike Comrie, lower-body (4)
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| ||D Marc Methot, upper body (day-to-day) |
LW Kristian Huselius, foot (indefinitely)
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|Crosby (21) ||Nash (13) |
|Crosby (23) ||Brassard (12) |
|Crosby (44) ||Umberger (19) |
|Engelland (55) ||Dorsett (51) |
|Letang (+13) ||Klesla (+17) |
|Crosby (7) ||Brassard (3) |
|Cooke (2) |
|Umberger (2) |
|Fleury (10-6-1) ||Garon (6-1-0) |
|Johnson (2.00) ||Garon (1.76) |
|Johnson (.931) ||Garon (.937) |
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| ||Sidney Crosby - We’ve got to give the Penguins captain props for his recent performances. He extended his season-long scoring streak to 14 games when he recorded his first-career natural hat trick in a 3-2 win over Atlanta on Thursday. It was his second hat trick in three games, as he posted one on Nov. 27 in a 4-1 win over Calgary. During his 14-game streak, which is the longest current-active stretch in the NHL, Crosby has recorded 29 points (15G-14A) to climb atop the league scoring race with 44 points (21G-23A). |
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| ||RJ Umberger - Crosby’s not the only one that had a scoring streak that reached the double digits. Until Friday night in Buffalo, Umberger recorded a franchise-record 10-game scoring streak. It was the longest point streak of his career, as his previous best was a six-game streak from Mar. 23 to April 1, 2010. He leads the Blue Jackets in points with 19 (8G-11A) and has two shorthanded goals. || |
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