The Penguins have cooled off considerably since their early season tear that essentially ended the Metropolitan Division championship race before it even started. You can blame it on whatever you want - Pens media and fans largely point to the injury plague that has befallen their poor squad - but pro sports is unforgiving in its blank stare: These Pens are not as good as they've been, and they still have to strap on the pads and lace up the skates every night like the rest of the National Hockey League's 29 other franchises. Good luck to 'em.
That said, they're still firmly entrenched in the NHL's upper eschelon. Their legitimacy as a Stanley Cup contender this year could be argued, but their legitimacy over a multi-year period can't.
It appears that Malkin will be out due to an injured foot. Beyond that, the Penguins' top scorers appear to be ready to skate.
Backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff got the start in last night's losing effort against Los Angeles, so don't be surprised to see Marc-Andre Fleury show off his pads to the Nationwide Arena faithful. Fleury has had 57 starts, is 34-17-4, has a 2.37 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.
WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:
After gaining only seven standings points in their last seven games, the Blue Jackets have seen themselves drop from second in the Metropolitan Division to seventh seed in the Eastern Conference - and that only be virtue of winning tiebreakers in a four-way tie for seventh through tenth places. One loss, combined with a win by Washington, Detroit or Toronto, will send the Blue Jackets tumbling back in the standings. With only nine games left, there really isn't any room left for error...especially with the field so tightly packed.
WHO I'LL BE WATCHING:
Like all CBJ-Penguins games at Nationwide, there will be a healthy contingent of Pittsburgh fans present. I'll be watching the Blue Jackets as a whole...to see if they can jump out to an early lead and perhaps send Pens fans to the exits with plenty of time to spare.
On a smaller scale, Curtis McElhinney gets the start over a flu bug-ridden Sergei Bobrovsky. Starting a backup against Sidney Crosby makes me nervous. You bet I'll be watching MeElhinney, not to mention the defensemen in front of him.
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:
FOX Sports Ohio has everything Blue Jackets for your viewing pleasure tonight:
- Brian Giesenschlag's "Blue Jackets Slap Shots" magazine show airs at 6 p.m.
- Brian and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" with the late-breaking news and info, as well as a full preview of the game, at 6:30 p.m.
- The puck drops at Nationwide Arena at 7 p.m., with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.
- Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with postgame interviews, insight and analysis.