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Blue Jackets-Penguins Preview

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Despite being geographically closer to the Pittsburgh Penguins than any other NHL team, the Columbus Blue Jackets haven't seen much of them over the years.

The clubs will get plenty of time to renew acquaintances over the next two nights.

Now division rivals after Columbus' shift to the Eastern Conference, the Blue Jackets and Penguins kick off a home-and-home set Friday night at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center.

Separated by 185 miles, the Penguins (9-4-0) and Blue Jackets (5-6-0) have met only 14 times since Columbus entered the league in 2000-01 - including just three times since November 2009.

They'll play five times between now and the end of March, including a meeting at Nationwide Arena less than 24 hours after the conclusion of this one.

Pittsburgh is on top of the Metropolitan Division with 18 points after beating Boston 3-2 on Wednesday, while Columbus - off since a 4-3 loss to Anaheim on Sunday that snapped a three-game winning streak - sits seven points back in a cluster of six teams with 10 or 11 points.

Though there's been little reason for animosity between the teams, there's a bit of history. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards coached Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from 2006-08, and one of his assistants was Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

Richards' teams won all three meetings with Bylsma's Penguins when he was with Minnesota, but Pittsburgh won the lone meeting since Richards arrived in Columbus two years ago, 4-2 on Feb. 26, 2012.

While the Penguins have been a perennial Stanley Cup contender under Bylsma's guidance, Richards is still working on getting the Blue Jackets close to that level. Columbus is 2-5-0 thus far against teams that made the playoffs last season.

"You respect every opponent, but you can't go in fearing your opponent, either," Richards told the Jackets' official website of facing elite teams. " ... It's no different for Pittsburgh. You have other teams around the league like the Boston Bruins, they're the same way. They have a winning culture, a winning tradition, and you know when you're lining up against them what type of game you're going to get."

The Penguins looked elite offensively in winning seven of their first eight, averaging 3.75 goals, but they've totaled 10 in their last five contests.

It's certainly not for a lack of chances, however. Pittsburgh has outshot its opponents 174-113 during that 2-3-0 stretch with Chris Kunitz (26) and Sidney Crosby (22) leading the way.

It was Evgeni Malkin who most impressed Bylsma on Wednesday despite going a sixth straight game without a goal.

"That was Evgeni's best game, I think, of the year," Bylsma told the league's official website. "He was dominant. He stripped pucks, got the two great chances in the first period that were breakaways, but he was great down low."

Malkin has two goals and three assists in four games versus Columbus, while Crosby has three goals and six assists in his last four in the series.

Columbus' offense has picked it up lately after scoring six goals during a four-game skid. The Blue Jackets have totaled 15 goals in their last four games, three of which came from the stick of Marian Gaborik.

Gaborik has lost seven straight games against Pittsburgh, all while with the New York Rangers.

Marc-Andre Fleury, 6-1-0 with a 1.56 goals-against average at home, figures to be in net for the Penguins, while Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to get the call for Columbus.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner posted a 5.34 GAA in his last four games - two starts - against Pittsburgh while with Philadelphia.

Tagged: Penguins, Blue Jackets, Evgeni Malkin

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