Malkin leads Pens against visiting Blue Jackets

Fresh off his third hat trick of the season, Evgeni Malkin will lead the Pittsburgh Penguins in today's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Consol Energy Center.

Malkin recorded three goals and an assist in Saturday's 8-1 rout of the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. It was his ninth career hat trick and his second of the season against the Lightning, who Malkin has burned for eight goals and three assists in four games this season.

The 25-year-old Malkin entered Saturday's game tied with Tampa's Steven Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead, but is now leading the race with 77 points. Malkin's 36 goals this year are also the second-most in the NHL to Stamkos' 43.

"I'm trying not to think about my points," Malkin told his team's official web site. "When you start thinking, it's a little bit too much in your head. I just think about my games, what I do right, what I don't."

Pittsburgh enters today tied with idle Philadelphia for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Pens and Flyers are just one point ahead of sixth- seeded New Jersey, which also plays this afternoon against Tampa Bay.

Jordan Staal also scored twice for Pittsburgh on Saturday and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 shots for the win. Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis had the other goals for the Penguins, who improved to 19-8-2 as the host this season and will complete a three-game homestand today.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets, who are last in the NHL with 43 points, have lost three of their last four games and are coming off Friday's lopsided setback against visiting Colorado. David Jones scored two goals for the Avalanche to back Semyon Varlamov's third shutout of the season in Colorado's 5-0 rout of Columbus.

The Blue Jackets got 20 saves from Steve Mason and were shut out for just the third time this season. It was the first game for Columbus since it dealt center Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and either a 2012 or 2013 first-round pick.

Johnson is expected to make his Columbus debut today. The 25-year-old was chosen third overall in the 2005 draft by Carolina, but has played his entire NHL career in Los Angeles. He has eight goals and 16 assists this season.

"I want to be a big part of every team I ever play on, and I want to be a big part of this team having success and winning for a long time," Johnson told his new club's official web site. "I'm excited about the possibilities I have here."

The Blue Jackets are 7-19-4 on the road this season, but are 2-0-1 in their last three tilts away from the Buckeye State.

Pittsburgh and the Blue Jackets split a pair of meetings last season with each team earning a victory on the road. The Penguins have taken four of the last six encounters in this series overall, and Columbus has dropped four of its previous six tests in the Steel City.