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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Blue Jackets

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (35-21-5) vs. BLUE JACKETS (18-36-7)
WHEN: Feb. 26, 2012 - 1:00 pm  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center

WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

The Columbus Blue Jackets are well on their way to winning the Nail Yakupov sweepstakes. Yakupov is the consensus pick to be selected No. 1 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft (held in Pittsburgh June 22-23).

Columbus has a comfortable 11-point lead for finishing dead last in the standings with an 18-36-7 record for 43 points – thus increasing their chances of winning the lottery for the top pick in the draft.

Rick Nash (Getty Images)
Blue Jackets fans are looking to the future as the 2011-12 season winds down. It’s been a disappointing year for Columbus. The team has the eighth-highest payroll in the NHL, but that hasn’t translated to victories on the ice.

Columbus had an ugly start to the season, going winless in its first eight games, and has never recovered. The first victim of the team’s struggles was head coach Scott Arniel, who was fired Jan. 9 and replaced with Todd Richards. The former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Minnesota Wild head coach has acted as interim head coach for the Jackets.

Despite all the talent up front, the Jackets have had difficulty scoring goals, ranking 28th in the NHL in goals per game (2.28). Even superstar winger Rick Nash is having his worst offensive season since his rookie year in 2002-03 with only 20 goals and 42 points in 61 games this year (leading the team in both categories).

The goal production from the other forwards hasn't been up to expectations: Jeff Carter (15); Derick Brassard (11); Vinny Prospal (10); RJ Umberger (9); and Antoine Vermette (8).

Columbus is a big seller at this year's trade deadline and they've already pulled the trigger on a few deals. The Jackets sent Vermette to Phoenix for a couple of draft picks and goalie Curtis McElhinney on Wednesday. The following day they shipped Carter to Los Angeles for blueliner Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. The trade rumors regarding Nash have been circulating hard, but the team hasn't indicated its plans for the captain.

Johnson is a young, two-way defenseman that can chip in offensively, as well as provide a solid presence on the blue line. He will make his Blue Jackets' debut against the Pens.

The Blue Jackets defense has also been a sour spot, something the acquistion of Johnson should help bolster. The club is allowing 3.25 goals-against per game, ranking 29th in the league. Part of the problem has been an inefficient penalty kill unit that has the worst kill percentage in the NHL (75.9).

Goaltender Steve Mason, who once flashed the potential to be the franchise’s cornerstone between the pipes, is fighting through a tough campaign. Mason, who won rookie of the year and was runner-up as goaltender of the year in 2008-09, has won only eight games while losing 22 this year. His goals-against average is 3.49 and save percentage is .886.

Mason has split time with Curtis Sanford. Sanford has posted a respectable 10-13-4 record, 2.52 GAA and .915 save percentage.


Dorsett has scored a career-high 10 goals this season. The physical forward has eight goals and 13 points over his last 39 games. But Dorsett's real asset isn't found on the scoresheet. He ranks second on the Jackets with 146 hits while leading the entire NHL with 177 penalty minutes. He'll be an irritating force for the Pens to deal with. Dorsett is one of five players in the NHL with 10 goals and 100 penalty minutes.

I know, I know. It's the obvious pick. But Malkin has been by far the most dominant player in the NHL this season. With his ninth-career hat trick and four-point game Saturday, he now has a four-point edge in the league's scoring race with 77. Malkin also has at least one point in 15 of his last 17 home games dating back to Dec. 13 (17G-16A).

Pittsburgh has at least one man-advantage goal in nine of its last 14 games dating back to Jan. 20. During that stretch the Penguins are 12-for-40 (30%). The Penguins' record when they score at least one power-play goal is 23-7-3.

Evgeni Malkin (33), James Neal (19) and Chris Kunitz (14) have a combined 66 points in 17 homes games together since Dec. 13th against Detroit.

Pittsburgh killed off five of six Tampa Bay power plays Saturday. The Penguins own the NHL’s No. 1-ranked home penalty killing unit at 89.9 percent (80-for-89).

Jordan Staal’s shorthanded goal in the first period Saturday was the Penguins’ ninth of the season, ranking them third in the NHL behind New Jersey (13) and Carolina (10). Pittsburgh has three shorthanded goals in its last four games (Staal, 2; Matt Cooke, 1).

Defenseman Brooks Orpik returned to the lineup after missing one game with an upper-body injury. Goaltender Brent Johnson, who tweaked something in Thursday's practice, did not dress. The team used Brad Thiessen as the backup.

Head coach Dan Bylsma noted that there was a chance Thiessen could start against Columbus.

"It's certainly a possibility," he said. "We'll see how the situation (is) with Brent and Marc after (Saturday).

C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (34)
G Brent Johnson, illness (2)
F Tyler Kennedy, high ankle sprain (8)

F Jared Boll, broken foot, 4-6 weeks
F Kristian Huselius, lower-body, day-to-day
D Radek Martinek, concussion, out for season
D Marc Methot, broken jaw, out for season
D Nikita Nikitin, left knee, indefinitely

Author: Sam Kasan

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