Penguins look to improve when hosting Blue Jackets

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are holding a promotional ugly sweater night Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. They would settle for an ugly win to go along with the theme.

Or any flavor of win.

The Penguins, like their Metropolitan Division opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, have struggled to stack wins together.

Pittsburgh (17-15-3) is opening a three-game homestand after a 1-2 road trip. The team has lost five of its past seven games and sits outside the playoff picture.

“We need to find a way to put some wins together,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said Wednesday. “You look at the division, how tight things are. These are big games. We need the points. And we want to make sure we finish strong before the Christmas break.”

Pittsburgh has a game Saturday against Anaheim before that break, then returns to play another home game against the Blue Jackets after the break, the start of a stretch of six of seven within the division.

The eight Metropolitan Division clubs are huddled within 10 points.

Columbus (21-13-1) got what might have been some relief Wednesday night with a 4-2 win over Toronto.

That followed a stretch of three losses in four games with a total of 20 goals allowed. The Blue Jackets suffered two 7-2 losses within a week’s span — including one Monday against Boston — which had coach John Tortorella at an uncharacteristic loss for words at times.

“We’ve had a couple of clunkers this year, but that was by far our most embarrassing game, and my name is on that,” Tortorella said of the Boston debacle after he directed his team to have a rare morning skate Wednesday. “I am the coach of the team. My name is on that. I have not been able to get that taste out of my mouth until … right now it’s still in (my mouth). I hope the players understand that, how bad it was.”

Winger Matt Calvert seemed to indicate the players recognize the situation.

“It’s about being consistent and playing our game night in and night out,” Calvert said. “I think it’s just guys finding their game, getting that confidence back.”

Columbus seems likely to go back to top goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky against the Penguins. Backup Joonas Korpisalo started against Toronto after Bobrovsky started eight games in a row. Bobrovsky was 3-5-0 in those starts, with a 3.81 goals-against average and a .878 save percentage.

The status of Blue Jackets top defenseman Zach Werenski is unclear. He missed Wednesday’s win because of an undisclosed injury. The team already is without center Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Ryan Murray.

Pittsburgh could get winger Patric Hornqvist back. He practiced Wednesday after missing one game because of an upper-body injury.

The Penguins also could have a new face in their lineup. Jamie Oleksiak, a 6-foot-7, 255-pound defenseman, practiced in a pairing with Matt Hunwick, with Ian Cole seemingly an odd man out. Oleksiak was acquired from Dallas in a trade before the NHL’s holiday roster freeze.

“I just want to be another piece of the puzzle, come in and do what I can to contribute,” Oleksiak said.

Asked if that and a second minor trade Tuesday might light a fire under the Penguins, Crosby didn’t bite.

“We’ve got to be better,” he said. “Whether there are trades or not, we’ve got to find a way to do that.”