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NHL on NBCSN: Hurting Penguins host shorthanded Blue Jackets

Dec 9, 2013, 10:24 AM EDT

Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Niskanen, Kris Letang AP

NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets at CONSOL Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

One thing realignment is helping to do is create new rivalries. Such could be the case between the Penguins and Blue Jackets as geography is doing its part.

Columbus and Pittsburgh are separated by less than 200 miles and now that they’re foes in the Metropolitan Division, locality is helping breed contempt. When the two face off tonight in Pittsburgh, it’ll be their third of five meetings this season.

For the Blue Jackets, things haven’t gone quite how they’ve hoped dropping the first two games in October. Now they head into tonight’s game with a few key injuries. Defenseman James Wisniewski is out of action and they’ve recalled Tim Erixon from the AHL to help fill things in.

Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert are banged up but traveling with the team and that doesn’t even dig into the long-term injuries to Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton.

Oh yeah, starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is on the shelf for a few weeks as well. That means it’s up to Curtis McElhinney to try and hold back the Penguins attack and in just a handful of games this season, he’s been strong. The Blue Jackets head into the game tonight having won two in a row, both via shutout. They’ll need more of that to deal with the Pens.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Monday at 7:30pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

If there’s an upside for the Jackets it’s that the Penguins are hurting badly on their own.

Superstar Evgeni Malkin has missed the past two games with a lower body ailment. Their defense is going without Rob Scuderi (IR – broken ankle), Paul Martin (IR – broken leg) , and now Brooks Orpik following his mugging by Bruins forward Shawn Thornton.

Toss in guys like Beau Bennett, Chuck Kobasew, Tanner Glass, and Tomas Vokoun who were already out and the Pens resemble a M.A.S.H. unit more than they do a hockey team.

Despite all the issues, they’ve won eight of their last 11 and should’ve come away with a win against the Bruins on Saturday had they not got run over in the final minutes and overtime. Apparently having Sidney Crosby at your disposal helps smooth over a lot of ills. He’ll need to stand tall to help get his team back on the winning track, especially with so many guys out of action.

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