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Pens-Jackets Preview

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (28-11-1) at BLUE JACKETS (17-17-4
  WHEN: December 29, 2013 - 7:00 p.m.  |  WHERE: Nationwide Arena
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

Last 10:
Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Columbus 6-3-1

Season series: These Metropolitan Division rivals separated by 185 miles meet for the fourth time. The Pittsburgh Penguins have beaten the Columbus Blue Jackets in all three games so far by a combined score of 9-3. They haven't lost to Columbus since Feb. 8, 2011.

Big story: Pittsburgh has been running away with the division so far, holding a 13-point lead over the second-place Washington Capitals, who have two games in hand. After starting November with a 2-5-3 record, Columbus sat in last place by Nov. 20. Despite losing No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on Dec. 3 to a lower-body injury, Columbus has risen up the standings to get back in contention for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

Team Scope:

Penguins: The Blue Jackets may have lost their franchise goalie, but the Penguins have suffered an unfathomable amount of injuries over the past month. They've included ailments to each of their top-four defensemen as well as an injury to center Evgeni Malkin. Through it all, they've continued to win, posting victories in 13 of their past 15 games.

The latest addition to the walking wounded is first-line winger Pascal Dupuis, who was hurt Monday against the Ottawa Senators and will require ACL surgery, which could sideline him the remainder of the season.

Joe Vitale assumed Dupuis' spot alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes, although James Neal also saw time on Pittsburgh's top line. On the road, Deryk Engelland gave Pittsburgh a late 3-2 lead before Drayson Bowman tied the game with 2:29 left in regulation. Neal only needed 63 seconds of extra time to give the Penguins a 4-3 win, improving their overtime record to 5-1.

For a moment, it appeared the Penguins might suffer another injury when goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury took a puck to the throat during overtime. He appeared shaken on the play but remained in the game.

"I lost my breath for a little bit, but it was fine," Fleury said.

The game was a victory on and off the score sheet as Pittsburgh welcomed back Engelland and fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik, who missed eight games with a concussion.

Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets have also enjoyed success of late despite some major injuries of their own. Since losing Bobrovsky in the third period of their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 3, Columbus has gone 7-3-1. They've done it despite briefly losing backup Curtis McElhinney to a lower-body injury as well as prolonged absences from all-star Marian Gaborik and wing Nathan Horton, who has yet to play after signing a seven-year contract with the team over the summer.

But after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Horton has recently been practicing without a red no-contact jersey and is expected to make his Columbus debut sometime soon, though likely not Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Columbus is riding a three-game win streak after topping the New Jersey Devils on Friday in Newark. Tied 1-1 after 65 minutes of play, Cam Atkinson scored the lone goal in the shootout.

Who's hot: Neal has five points in four games since returning from his suspension. Crosby has 30 points in his past 20 games. … For Columbus, Artem Anisimov has five points on his current four-game point streak. Ryan Johansen has 17 points in his past 15 games.

Injury report: Bobrovsky (groin) remains out for Columbus, along with Gaborik (collarbone), Horton (shoulder), Jarred Boll (foot), Dalton Prout (upper body) and Matt Calvert (upper body). … Pittsburgh is missing goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) and defenseman Rob Scuderi (broken ankle), Paul Martin (broken tibia) and Kris Letang (elbow). They also are without forwards Malkin (lower body), Dupuis (knee), Beau Bennett (hand/wrist), Jayson Megna (lower body) and Andrew Ebbett (broken ankle). Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday that Scuderi is "possible" to play in Sunday's game.
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