Penguins vs. Blue Jackets Preview
COLUMBUS, OH (AP) - Sidney Crosby has a point in 14 consecutive games, an impressive run that's vaulted him to the top of the NHL scoring charts but isn't yet the best of his career.
He does, however, have the Pittsburgh Penguins a win away from their longest streak in quite a while.
The red-hot Penguins seek their first nine-game winning streak in nearly 12 years Saturday when they visit Nationwide Arena looking to hand the Columbus Blue Jackets a fifth straight loss.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Penguins –120 money line favorites for Saturday's game against the Blue Jackets. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 72% of more than 121 bets for this game have been placed on the Penguins -120.
Crosby had four goals and three assists during the first three games of his streak, but his contributions weren't helping much. Pittsburgh had dropped six of eight after falling to 7-8-1 with a 7-2 loss to Boston on Nov. 10.
Crosby and the Penguins (17-8-2) have taken off since then. The captain has 11 goals and 11 assists as Pittsburgh has gone 10-0-1. He notched his second hat trick in three games and pushed his team's winning streak to eight with a 3-2 victory over Atlanta on Thursday.
"That's something you expect from him, because we see him every day,'' said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who's 9-0-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average during his team's hot streak. "But it still amazes me how good he is, how hard he works to get better.''
Crosby still has a bit of work to do to set a personal best. He had 11 goals and 19 assists during a 19-game point streak early in the 2007-08 season.
"I try not to think about the points, I try to evaluate the (overall) game. I think the team's been playing well and as a line we've been clicking,'' said Crosby, referring to linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz.
A victory Saturday would give Pittsburgh its first nine-game winning streak since a 10-game run Jan. 28-Feb. 15, 1999 - when Crosby was 11 years old.
The Penguins may not be at full strength. Evgeni Malkin missed Friday's practice because of an unspecified injury and is listed as day to day. Defenseman Brooks Orpik sat out because of illness, while forward Max Talbot took a shot off his foot in practice. The status of both players is uncertain.
The Blue Jackets (14-9-1) wouldn't mind seeing Pittsburgh short-handed. Columbus won five straight Nov. 17-24, but has dropped its last four including an ugly 5-0 loss at Buffalo on Friday that featured a fight-filled third period.
"Too many guys on vacation,'' forward R.J. Umberger said. "It was probably our worst effort in a while. We're not going to win any games like that.''
Columbus, which fell to 8-3-0 on the road, needs to figure out a way to get better at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets are just 6-6-1 on home ice, where their power-play failures have been quite evident. They're 3 for 57 (5.3 percent) with the man advantage at home, including 0 for 25 over their last six games.
Facing the Penguins probably isn't the way to solve those woes. Pittsburgh kills 89.7 percent of its opponents' penalties - second in the NHL - and had thwarted 30 straight chances prior to allowing a power-play goal Thursday.
The Penguins are 3-2-1 all-time in Columbus, where they scored twice in the final three minutes Oct. 30, 2009, to force overtime. Crosby, who has a goal and seven assists in five career games against the Jackets, scored in the shootout to lift Pittsburgh to a 4-3 win.
Columbus' Rick Nash, who hasn't scored in five games, had two goals in last season's visit from the Penguins.