Pens host Blue Jackets looking to snap skid

( - The Pittsburgh Penguins attempt to avoid a three-game slide when they welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets for Thursday's Metropolitan Division clash at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins dropped a 2-1 shootout decision Sunday afternoon in Chicago before falling 3-1 to Washington in Tuesday's home tilt. The loss against the Capitals also halted Pittsburgh's point streak at three games (2-0-1).

Pittsburgh is locked in a tight battle for first place in the Metro. The Pens are currently tied with the New York Rangers for second place, four behind the New York Islanders. Washington also is just one point in back of the Penguins and Rangers. All four teams are in action on Thursday.

Joel Ward scored the winning goal late in the third period for the Capitals on Tuesday after the clubs were tied at 1-1 through 40 minutes. Steve Downie had the only goal of the night for the Penguins, while Marc-Andre Fleury allowed two goals on 32 shots.

Things started to get chippy in the third after Caps star Alex Ovechkin slashed Kris Letang when the two were going for the puck. No penalty was called on the play and Letang wasn't injured.

Several minutes later, Downie was tossed from the game after sending a punch to the jaw of Jack Hillen after the whistle during a scrum in front of the net. Letang's teammates Chris Kunitz and David Perron also both tried to engage Ovechkin in a fight during the third, but Washington's franchise player declined.

"It's something that we want throughout our entire lineup," Letang said. "We want guys to stick up for each other."

Pittsburgh is capping a two-game homestand tonight and owns an 18-9-3 record as the host.

Fleury is expected to start in net. He boasts a 6-1-1 record and a 2.18 goals against average in his career against Columbus.

The Blue Jackets enter tonight having won two of three and four of their last six games. They are 1-1-0 at the start of a five-game road trip, losing 6-3 to the New York Islanders on Saturday before notching a 5-2 decision Tuesday evening in Philadelphia.

Curtis McElhinney made 42 saves, while Matt Calvert scored twice and Brandon Dubinsky once in the third period to help the Blue Jackets down the Flyers.

James Wisniewski and Ryan Johansen added tallies with Scott Hartnell picking up a pair of assists for the Blue Jackets, who are 12 points out of a playoff spot in the East.

"We just got back to doing some of the things right," noted Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards.

Columbus has an even 13-13-1 record on the road this season. The club will visit Montreal on Saturday before capping the swing Sunday against the Rangers.

The Blue Jackets won the first of four meetings against the Pens this season, posting a 4-3 shootout win on Dec. 13 in Columbus. The victory halted the Jackets' six-game slide in the series.

Pittsburgh has claimed three straight at home versus Columbus and is 7-2-0 all-time as the host in this series.