Penguins-Blue Jackets Preview
Sidney Crosby didn't get a chance to renew his rivalry with Brandon Dubinsky the last time the Pittsburgh Penguins met the Columbus Blue Jackets.
That should change this time while the Blue Jackets are also expected to give Sergei Bobrovsky his first start since Jan. 21 in Friday night's home meeting with the Penguins.
These teams last met Dec. 21 when Pittsburgh (34-24-8) won 5-2 at home, giving the club its first victory in five tries since Mike Sullivan took over as coach for Mike Johnston. It also ended the Blue Jackets' three-game win streak in this series that included a pair of 2-1 victories in November.
Columbus (28-31-8) has won a season-high four straight at home.
"Obviously they're a good team, they're playing well right now," Sullivan said. "They're beating a lot of good teams. They skate well, they're a physical team, they play a straight-ahead game."
Crosby sat out his first game of the season with a lower-body injury that kept him out of the Dec. 21 matchup. It came after the previous meeting Nov. 27 featured some controversy, with Dubinsky cross-checking Crosby in the head to draw a one-game suspension. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella added some heat to the incident by accusing the Penguins of complaining to the league offices.
Dubinsky and Crosby also fought each other last season, resulting in just the sixth fighting major of Crosby's career. He said there is more of a rivalry between these teams since they met in the postseason two years ago.
"It's developed into one of the division rivalries and playoffs probably has a lot to do with that," Crosby said. "I think, just like I said, the fact that we've had close games and intense games over the years has probably built that up a bit over the years."
Columbus plans to start Bobrovsky, who has been out for an extended period of time with a groin injury. He is eager to get back onto the ice.
"I had a few practices with the team," Bobrovsky told the Blue Jackets' official website. "I didn't have any restrictions, so I feel like I can stretch, I can push hard and I don't feel anything, so I felt like my body is ready to go."
Bobrovsky has posted a 1.94 goals-against average in winning his last four regular-season starts against the Penguins.
His primary aim may be to contain Crosby, who has 10 points in a six-game streak. Crosby has 13 in an eight-game regular-season run at Columbus.
Evgeni Malkin has 17 points in 13 career regular-season games versus the Blue Jackets, with a two-goal effort in January. The Penguins have won four of seven since Malkin returned Feb. 27 after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury.
Pittsburgh is also getting closer to full strength since Beau Bennett, Ben Lovejoy and Eric Fehr are all nearing returns.
"They're difficult decisions but they're good problems to have when you have people playing well that you think have made contributions and you've got these guys coming off injury that have played well at the same time," Sullivan said.
The Penguins fell 2-1 at the New York Islanders on Tuesday in their last game while the Blue Jackets had a 5-3 victory over Detroit the same day in which Cam Atkinson scored twice and Dubinsky had two assists.