Blue Jackets-Penguins Preview
The Columbus Blue Jackets have made strides following a coaching change. The Pittsburgh Penguins have yet to receive a spark from theirs.
Still in search of their first win under Mike Sullivan, the reeling Penguins continue their growing rivalry with the Blue Jackets on Monday night.
Pittsburgh (15-14-13) fired Mike Johnston on Dec. 12 in an attempt to shake up its talent-laden roster, but the results have been worse under Sullivan, an assistant during Columbus coach John Tortorella's previous jobs with Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers and Vancouver.
The Penguins have been outscored 15-4 in four straight regulation losses since the change, and their 0-4-1 skid is the club's longest since a six-game losing streak Dec. 29, 2011-Jan. 12, 2012.
Much of the blame has fallen on Sidney Crosby, who's a career-worst minus-6 and has one goal over his last 11 games. The Pittsburgh captain failed to score in a seventh straight contest in Saturday's 2-1 loss to Carolina, Pittsburgh's fifth straight defeat at home.
Crosby is day to day with a lower-body injury and could miss this contest. Sullivan said he'll be evaluated Monday morning, and that Crosby will play if he's ready even though the four-day holiday break begins after Monday's game.
''I don't know what's going on," said center Evgeni Malkin, who tallied the Penguins' goal and has three in five games. "We play better, we're tight. It's a tough loss again, but (we're keeping our) heads up.''
Malkin has been the only consistent offensive threat for a team that's seen several others besides Crosby underachieve. Phil Kessel has gone eight straight without a goal and Chris Kunitz has four in 32 games.
Injuries to goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Kris Letang have hurt as well, affecting a penalty killing unit that's given up five goals in 16 opportunities during Sullivan's brief tenure.
Carolina went 2 for 4 on the power play Saturday to spoil an otherwise solid NHL debut from Matthew Murray, who might yield to Jeff Zatkoff on Monday with Fleury to miss a fourth straight game with a concussion.
Columbus (13-19-3) also struggled immediately after Sergei Bobrovsky sustained a lower-body injury Dec. 8, losing its first four without its top goaltender. The Blue Jackets have regrouped to win their last two, coming to life offensively in Thursday's 7-5 victory at Arizona before rookie Joonas Korpisalo stepped up in Bobrovsky's place against Philadelphia on Saturday.
Korpisalo made 30 saves in Columbus' 3-2 shootout win to record his first career victory in his third attempt.
''He's unreal,'' Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray said. ''He makes a big save and he's not even fazed by it. Or he gets scored on and he's not even fazed by it.''
Korpisalo is expected to be in net again Monday.
Columbus also is receiving disappointing results from its star center, with Ryan Johansen in a nine-game goal drought and getting scratched by Tortorella against the Coyotes. Others have picked up the slack, with Brandon Saad collecting four points during the win streak and Scott Hartnell amassing 10 over his last eight. Cam Atkinson has four goals in six games.
Bobrovsky was in goal for a pair of 2-1 wins over Pittsburgh earlier this season, the most recent coming on Atkinson's overtime goal Nov. 27.
That last meeting also featured some controversy, with Brandon Dubinsky cross-checking Crosby in the head to draw a one-game suspension. Tortorella added some heat to the incident by accusing the Penguins of complaining to the league offices.
Dubinsky said following Saturday's game that he's looking forward to the rematch, which leads into the holiday break.
"That ham, turkey, tenderloin or whatever you like is going to taste a lot better on Christmas if we can find a way to get some points on Monday," he said.