Blue Jackets-Penguins Preview

The Associated Press

After matching their highest goal output of the season in their last game, the Pittsburgh Penguins could be in for another big offensive performance with the Columbus Blue Jackets in town.

The surging Penguins will try for a third consecutive victory Sunday when they host the lowly Blue Jackets.

For the second time in seven games, Pittsburgh (35-21-5) equaled its season high for goals with an 8-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin recorded his ninth career hat trick while Jordan Staal added two goals as the Penguins won for the eighth time in nine home games and fifth in seven overall.

Pittsburgh has averaged 3.7 goals during its current 14-4-1 stretch, bouncing back from a season-worst six-game skid Dec. 29-Jan. 11 during which it totaled six goals. The Penguins have scored four or more in six of their last eight at home.

That does not bode well for Columbus (18-36-7), which not only has an NHL-low 43 points but has allowed 203 goals - the second-most in the NHL behind the Lightning's 209. The Blue Jackets, who are coming off a 5-0 home loss to Colorado on Friday, have yielded 17 goals while dropping three of four.

Pittsburgh is 4-2-0 at home versus Columbus all-time, but the Blue Jackets snapped a three-game road skid in the series with a 4-1 victory in the most recent meeting Feb. 8, 2011.

Malkin, who has a goal and three assists in three games against the Blue Jackets, has 13 goals with eight assists in his last 11 home contests. Saturday's performance was his third hat trick of the season, giving the Hart Trophy candidate an NHL-leading 77 points.

"Just another great game by him," said Staal, who has five goals in five games. "He goes in spurts; he can take over a game with one shift. He's definitely a lot of fun to watch."

Pittsburgh will face a Blue Jackets squad that traded two of its top offensive players in Antoine Vermette and Jeff Carter this week. Vermette, who was third on the team with 27 points, was sent to Phoenix for draft picks and injured goalie Curtis McElhinney on Wednesday. A day later, Columbus sent Carter and his 15 goals in 39 games to Los Angeles for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick.

A member of the 2010 silver medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, Johnson has recorded 30 goals and 94 assists since breaking in with the Kings in 2006-07. The former No. 3 overall draft pick, however, is also a career minus-90.

Despite the Blue Jackets' struggles, Johnson is excited about making his debut with his new team.

"When a trade happens, it means a team wants you," Johnson said. "It's a great feeling to come into a place where they want you. I'm looking forward to giving everything I have to offer.

"I'm just anxious to get out there with the guys."

Rick Nash, who remains on the Columbus roster with Monday's trade deadline looming, has four goals and five assists in nine career contests against the Penguins. He posted one of each at Pittsburgh last season.

It's possible this could be the last game in a Blue Jackets uniform for the franchise's all-time leading scorer.

Out since Feb. 9 with a back injury, Curtis Sanford is expected to start in net for Columbus. Sanford, 10-13-4 with a 2.52 goals-against average this season, has stopped 38 of 39 shots while going 2-0-0 against the Penguins, but he hasn't faced Pittsburgh since November 2008 while with Vancouver.

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