Published January 13, 2015
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Columbus Blue Jackets carry a lengthy shutout streak into Monday's game in Pittsburgh, but it could prove difficult to put up another zero against the high-scoring Penguins.
The Blue Jackets enter tonight's tilt at CONSOL Energy Center with a shutout streak of 137 minutes, 45 seconds, dating back to the third period of a 3-1 loss in Boston on Nov. 30. Columbus followed that setback against the Bruins with a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday before notching a 4-0 triumph Friday against Minnesota.
Columbus has posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since Nov. 2010. The franchise record for shutout streaks is 199:19.
Curtis McElhinney has seen action in the last two shutout wins for Columbus, taking over for an injured Sergei Bobrovsky in the third period of the Tampa Bay game before stopping all 20 shots in a start against the Wild on Friday. With reigning Vezina Trophy winner Bobrovsky out for several weeks due to a groin strain, McElhinney is the de facto No. 1 netminder in Columbus with Mike McKenna serving as the backup.
"It felt great out there tonight," said McElhinney after Friday's win. "The guys did a real good job keeping them away from the front and did some hard work when we were killing penalties."
R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno posted a goal and an assist against Minnesota, while Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner also scored for the Blue Jackets, who have won three of four.
"It's been a good couple of games we've had here," said Umberger. "We've been putting a lot of hard work in practice, working on the power play and defense a lot and it's starting to pay off."
In addition to the Bobrovsky injury, the Blue Jackets are also currently without forwards Marian Gaborik (knee), Nathan Horton (shoulder) and Jared Boll (foot). Defenseman James Wisniewski joined the group of injured Columbus players after sustaining an upper-body injury in Friday's victory. Wisniewski is expected to miss at the least the next two games.
McElhinney expects to start again tonight and he'll face a Pittsburgh club that ranks sixth in the NHL in scoring with an average of 3.03 goals per game this season. The Pens also have dominated this series in recent years, taking three straight, five of six and seven of the last nine encounters with the Blue Jackets.
Pittsburgh, which boasts an impressive 12-3-0 mark in the Steel City this season, has won its last two home games against Columbus and is 6-2-0 all-time as the host in this series.
The Pens had won five straight before suffering a late collapse in Saturday's 3-2 regulation loss at Boston. The game also featured a couple of ugly incidents in the opening period, and one of them led to a suspension for Pittsburgh forward James Neal.
David Krejci and Zdeno Chara scored goals 1:16 apart late in regulation for the Bruins, giving Boston a 3-2 edge. Chara's tally with 13 seconds remaining handed the B's their first lead of the game. Neal and Chris Kunitz accounted for Pittsburgh's goals on Saturday, while Marc-Andre Fleury took the loss after making 18 saves.
Saturday's game, however, is likely to be remembered more for a pair of ugly incidents in the first period rather than the way it ended.
During a scrum which was created by a kneeing call to Neal against defenseless Boston winger Brad Marchand with 8:54 remaining in the first period, Bruins forward Shawn Thornton grabbed Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik from behind and punched him twice, the second time as the veteran blueliner was on the ice.
Medical personnel were immediately summoned, and the 33-year-old Pittsburgh blueliner was completely immobilized before being loaded onto a stretcher and taken away for evaluation. Following the game, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma reported that Orpik was out of the hospital and was able to travel back home with his teammates. He is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion and has been placed on injured reserve.
Neal, who has 10 goals and 10 assists this season, was suspended for five games Monday after having a phone hearing with the league. He won't be eligible to return to the lineup until Dec. 19, when Pittsburgh hosts the Minnesota Wild.
Thornton, meanwhile, drew a match penalty for his actions -- apparently in retribution for a clean but hard hit Orpik laid on Bruins forward Loui Eriksson early in the game. Thornton faces an in-person disciplinary hearing with the league, meaning he could face a suspension of greater than five games for his actions.
The Penguins played without Evgeni Malkin Saturday and the star forward is questionable for Monday's game with a lower-body injury, Malkin is second in the league to his teammate Sidney Crosby in scoring this season, registering 37 points on seven goals and 30 assists. Crosby is pacing the NHL with 42 points on 15 goals and 27 helpers.