Preview: Blue Jackets & Penguins Battle For First Place

The Columbus Blue Jackets continue their three-game homestand Thursday night when they host the Metropolitan-leading Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena. Columbus looks to extend its franchise-best winning streak to 11 games while the Penguins look to extend their point streak to 11 games. The winner of this game will lead both the Metropolitan division and the league.

Cam Atkinson is on a roll, but is questionable for Thursday night. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Cam Atkinson is on a roll, but is questionable for Thursday night. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last time out, the Blue Jackets needed a shootout to outlast the Los Angeles Kings, 3-2. Cam Atkinson scored twice in regulation and added a shootout goal to help the Blue Jackets get to 10 straight wins. Curtis McElhinney made 44 saves, including stopping Marian Gaborik in the shootout to preserve the win.

Speaking of Atkinson, he blocked a shot late in the game Tuesday and was seen in a walking boot according to Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch. The Blue Jackets called up Oliver Bjorkstrand from Cleveland on emergency conditions in the event Atkinson cannot play. The Blue Jackets are not holding a morning skate, so we’ll find out about Atkinson around 4:30 p.m. Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start in net.

The Penguins come into Thursday on a high after defeating the New York Rangers 7-2. There were seven different goal scorers and eight players with at least two points. They have 114 goals for as a team, leading the NHL. They are dealing with some significant injuries, however. Defensemen Kris Letang and Trevor Daley are both out for an extended period, while forward Tom Kuhnhackl is out week-to-week.

Given the magnitude of this game, I’d expect Matt Murray to start against the Blue Jackets, while Marc-Andre Fleury would start Friday at home against New Jersey. Mike Sullivan will confirm just after 12:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets

TV Broadcast Channels: Fox Sports Ohio/Fox Sports Go and Root Sports Pittsburgh

Radio Broadcast Channels: CD 102.5 FM and 105.9 The X

Pittsburgh Penguins: 21-7-5, 47 points

Road Record: 7-5-3

Hot Players: Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz

Key Injuries: Kris Letang (lower-body, on IR), Trevor Daley (upper-body), Tom Kuhnhackl (lower-body)


Conor Sheary-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust

Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-Patrik Hornqvist

Carl Hagelin-Nick Bonino-Phil Kessel

Scott Wilson-Matt Cullen-Eric Fehr


Olli Maatta-Brian Dumoulin

Ian Cole-Justin Schultz

Derrick Pouliot-Chad Ruhwedel


Matt Murray (Projected Starter)


Columbus Blue Jackets: 21-5-4, 46 points

Home Record: 11-3-1

Hot Players: Cam Atkinson, Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky

Key Injuries: David Clarkson (back, on LTIR), Cam Atkinson (lower-body, day-to-day)

Projected Lines:


Brandon Saad-Alexander Wennberg-Nick Foligno

Boone Jenner-Brandon Dubinsky-Cam Atkinson (Oliver Bjorkstrand)

Matt Calvert-William Karlsson-Josh Anderson

Scott Hartnell-Lukas Sedlak-Sam Gagner


Zach Werenski-Seth Jones

Jack Johnson-David Savard

Markus Nutivaara-Ryan Murray


Sergei Bobrovsky (Projected Starter)


 Game Notes

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Blue Jackets have won a franchise-record 10 games in a row coming into Thursday and have points in 12 straight games (11-0-1). They have outscored opponents 39-16 during their 10-game winning streak and 45-21 during their 12-game point streak. A point for Columbus will tie its longest point streak in franchise history at 13, set March 18-April 11, 2015.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Blue Jackets start strong and end strong. They have outscored opponents 29-14 in the first period and 34-21 in the third period. Their 14 goals against in the first period are the second-fewest in the league. Their 21 goals against in the third period are tied for the third-fewest in the league.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Penguins have a point streak of their own going. They come into Thursday with points in 10 straight games (8-0-2), which is their longest point streak since a 15-game streak in March 2013. They also have points in nine of their last 10 games at Nationwide Arena (6-1-3).

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Blue Jackets and Penguins are two of three teams in the league that haven’t lost in regulation in the month of December. The Blue Jackets are 9-0-0 while the Penguins are 8-0-2. Minnesota is 8-0-1 in December. The Blue Jackets are a perfect 4-0 against the Metropolitan division this season, while the Penguins are 7-3-0.

If this game is like any of the others in the recent past, expect it to get really physical and borderline nasty. These teams do not care for each other. They are quickly becoming one of the better rivalries in the NHL, given that they’re just under three hours apart. Whoever stays the most disciplined should get a leg up in the game. Columbus has the best power play in the league and Pittsburgh the sixth-best. Taking too many penalties could prove fatal.