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Pittsburgh vs. Columbus Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (10-2-0-20) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (6-5-0-12)

Where: Nationwide Arena
Friday, October 30, 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Columbus will meet only once in 2009-10 after meeting twice last year. The Penguins won the season series, 1-0-1, winning 4-1 at Mellon Arena on Feb. 6 and losing in a shootout in Columbus, 4-3, on March 12. Sidney Crosby led all scorers in the two games, recording five points (1G-4A).




Last Meeting: Mar 12, 2009
Pens 3, CBJ 4 (SO)
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Adjusting to New Roles: Evgeni Malkin’s shoulder injury means more shuffling of the forward troops for head coach Dan Bylsma. Jordan Staal will slide into Malkin’s spot with Chris Bourque and Ruslan Fedotenko. Craig Adams will now center a line with Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis. If these units can mesh quickly, the Penguins will be able to jump on a team that has been outscored 10-3 in losing their past two games.

Power Play:
Pittsburgh is coming off one of their best performances with the man-advantage thus far following a 2-for-5 showing against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. However, in addition to having to replace Sergei Gonchar, they now face life without Malkin. Whoever Bylsma appoints to step up to the top unit, they will have a chance to establish positive chemistry as the Blue Jackets’ penalty-killing unit has killed only nine of 19 (47.4%) opposition power plays over the past four games.     
Having never qualified for the postseason in their brief existence, Columbus went out last offseason and acquired proven playoff performers such as R.J. Umberger and Mike Commodore, and the result was the first playoff berth in team history. The Blue Jackets set franchise records for wins (41), points (92) and goals scored (226) en route to the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and a date with the Detroit Red Wings. Although swept by the Wings in that series, Columbus hopes their improving core can build upon that experience and make a deeper run in ’09-10.

The transformation from basement to contender was spurred by the arrival of head coach Ken Hitchcock on Nov. 22, 2006. Under his guidance the Blue Jackets finished the ’06-07 season playing .500 hockey (28-29-5), and used that finish as a springboard to set club records for most points in a season each of the past two campaigns. In his career Hitchcock has won six division titles, been to the Cup Final twice and led the Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup championship in 1998-99.
After an exciting offseason of changes in 2008, things were mundane for Columbus this past summer. They made only two free agents signings of note, bringing in former Chicago Blackhawk and Anaheim Duck Samuel Pahlsson, along with former Penguin Matthieu Garon. Each brings a Stanley Cup ring with them to the Buckeye State.

Pahlsson has long been regarded as one of the top shutdown centers in the National Hockey League. He was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in the league during the ’06-07 season. Pahlsson is one of the top faceoff men in the league and proven playoff performer. He led the league with 79 hits and a plus-10 rating during the 2007 playoffs in helping lead Anaheim to the Cup.

Rookie Nikita Filatov, the Blue Jackets’ 19-year-old first-round selection in 2008 continues to feel his way around the NHL-level. He played only eight games in ’08-09, but scored four times. Through eight games this season he has hit the back of the twine only once. Filatov possesses both world-class speed and a heavy shot which should allow him to one day become one of the better sharpshooters in the league.
For the first time since entering the league in 2000-01, Columbus has begun to assemble a forward corps capable of putting plenty of rubber behind opposing goalies. Rick Nash remains the top threat (Player Spotlight), but he has plenty of company from R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius and Antoine Vermette, each of whom has been signed or acquired over the past 16 months. A creative playmaker and streaky goal scorer, Huselius finished second to Nash with 56 points (21G-35A) last season. He is a five-time 20-plus goal scorer. Umberger, a Plum native, was second only to Nash with 26 goals, and further enhanced his big-game reputation by scoring three times in four playoff games. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Umberger is tough to handle in front of the cage. Vermette came over from Ottawa on March 4 for goalie Pascal Leclaire. Through the first 11 games in ’09-10 he is second only to Nash in points (3+7=10) on the Jackets.

Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek are two dynamic young forwards who have the look of being long-time fixtures for the Blue Jackets. Last year, as a rookie, Brassard had 25 points (10G-15A) and was a plus-12 in only 31 games before being sidelined for the season after injuring his shoulder in a fight on Dec. 18, 2008. Voracek, a first-round selection in 2007, spent his entire rookie campaign with Columbus, scoring nine times and finishing with 38 points. He has been even more visible this season, scoring four times and adding four helpers through 11 games.
Columbus has a couple two-way defenders who have quietly morphed into steady NHL players in Fedor Tyutin and Rostislav Klesa. Tyutin, who leads the Blue Jackets in average ice time at 22:57, was acquired prior to last season in the deal which sent Nikolai Zherdev to the New York Rangers. Playing in all 82 games for the second-consecutive season, the smooth-skating Tyutin established career highs by scoring nine times and registering 34 points. Klesla, a former No. 1 draft pick in 2000, has always shown the promise of being able to provide plenty of offense from the point, but hasn’t been able to match the nine goals and 22 points he posted in ’06-07. He is off to a fast start offensively this season with two goals and two assists through 11 games.

Mike Commodore was signed as a free agent in the summer of 2008 to provide a solid, veteran, stay-at-home presence on the back end, as well as a key leader in the locker room. He more than earned his pay during his first campaign in Columbus, missing only one game while finishing the season a plus-11. 22-year-old Kris Russell recently signed a contract extension with the Blue Jackets after establishing himself as one of the team’s top offensive threats from the blue line in his second season, recording 21 points (2G-19A) in 66 games.
Pascal Leclaire was expected to shoulder the goaltending load in ’08-09 after an impressive season the previous year when he won 24 games and set a then-franchise record with nine shutouts. However an injury to Leclaire opened the door for rookie sensation Steve Mason to prove himself as one of the league’s top netminders.

One of the NHL’s taller goaltenders at 6-foot-4, the 21-year-old Mason took control of the crease and never looked back, allowing the Jackets to trade Leclaire to Ottawa at the trade deadline in March. The Calder Trophy winner established franchise records with his 33 wins and 10 shutouts. He posted a goals-against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .916. Mason was spectacular in stopping 38 of 41 shots against the Penguins in Columbus’ 4-3 shootout victory on March 12 of last season.

Mathieu Garon, the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury throughout the second half of the regular season and during the 2009 playoffs, was signed in July to serve as Mason’s partner. He has played in three games thus far for Columbus, going 1-1 with a 2.61 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and one shutout.
Columbus hit the jackpot when they selected Nash with the No. 1-overall selection in 2002. Among the best power forwards in the game, Nash has seen his all-around game improve tenfold under Ken Hitchcock. Once a one-dimensional, albeit extremely explosive, goal scorer, Nash in now trusted in all situations, including late in games and while the Blue Jackets are shorthanded.

Through Thursday’s games Nash sits seventh (tied) in the scoring race with 15 points (6G-9A), as he ranks first on the Blue Jackets in goals, assists and points. Nash won the Rocket Richard Trophy in ’03-04 when his 41 goals tied him with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla for most in the league. A three-time all-star, Nash is deceptively fast and possesses creative offensive moves for a bigger man, as evidenced by some of his highlight-reel goals.
Columbus will be without a couple of key contributors when they take on the Penguins. Winger Fredrik Modin and defenseman Jan Hejda are each out until November with sprained right knees. Modin, who has yet to play in ’09-10, has missed a ton of action since joining Columbus prior to ’06-07, including 22 games last year. Losing Hejda is a tough blow to the defense corps as he was second to Fedor Tyutin in ice time at 21:45 and was among the league leaders at a plus-8 when he left the lineup. Center Andrew Murray is expected to miss a month with a shoulder injury.
"We're cheating a bit right now. Thinking offense first instead of defense, and with a young team that will happen. We have to keep our heads up and correct it."

– Blue Jackets left winger Rick Nash speaking to Yahoo! Sports after a 4-1 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night.

13: Rick Nash’s plus/minus rating in two full seasons under Hitchcock. He was a -57 in the three full seasons prior to Hitchcock’s arrival. 

Author: Jason Seidling

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