The Pittsburgh Penguins still have yet to clinch a playoff spot and are staring at the possibility of their longest losing streak in two seasons.
Perhaps their woes will end against a brand-new division rival they have beaten all four times this season.
The playoff-chasing Columbus Blue Jackets have lost five straight overall in this series heading into Friday night’s home matchup with the Penguins.
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Pittsburgh (46-22-5) fell 3-2 to Los Angeles on Thursday, failing to clinch its eighth straight postseason berth. The Penguins, who held a 37-32 edge in shots, have dropped both games since losing Evgeni Malkin for two to three weeks due to a foot injury.
”We did some good things,” said center Sidney Crosby, who is four points shy of reaching 100 for the fifth time. ”It just couldn’t go in. It’s disappointing when you have that many opportunities.”
Pittsburgh is trying to avoid its first four-game slide since dropping six in a row Dec. 29, 2011-Jan. 11, 2012.
The Penguins are 8-0-1 in their last nine against Columbus (37-29-6) with Crosby in the lineup. He has totaled 16 points in that span, notching at least one in every game.
Pittsburgh has won all four meetings this season. The Blue Jackets, whose lone playoff appearance came in 2009, are in their first season in the Eastern Conference as part of the new Metropolitan Division.
"We’re 0 for 4 right now so you would like to think so 1 for 5 would be really good right now," Columbus coach Todd Richards said.
Richards is hoping Sergei Bobrovsky will be available after the reigning Vezina Trophy winner left after one period due to the flu in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Detroit with the flu. Curtis McElhinney replaced him.
Bobrovsky sat out Thursday’s practice, and the Blue Jackets have recalled goalie Mike McKenna from Springfield of the AHL as insurance.
"He’s feeling better, he’s still not feeling 100 percent so it was another day of rest for him and then we’ll make the call, see how he feels tomorrow and go from there," said Richards about Bobrovsky.
The Blue Jackets are 0 for 14 on the power play in their last six games versus the Penguins. They ended a 0-for-35 drought with the man advantage thanks to tallies by Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky against the Red Wings.
Johansen is one goal shy of joining Rick Nash and Geoff Sanderson as the only other Blue Jackets in history to score 30 in a season. He has scored once in five games against Pittsburgh – all losses.
The last time these teams met, James Neal had a hat trick and a career-high five points in a 5-3 win Dec. 29. The winger missed the other three meetings.
"To me, you still have Neal, you have (Chris) Kunitz, there’s other guys on that team that make that team go," Richards said. "Crosby’s obviously their guy that does make that team go and you take a big piece out with Malkin but there’s other pieces."
Columbus is one of four teams tied with 80 points for the East’s two wild-card spots.
Jeff Zatkoff started in goal Thursday for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury, who has allowed three goals in two wins versus Columbus this season, is 0-3-1 with a 3.76 goals-against average in his last five.