Plum's Umberger quietly excels with Blue Jackets
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R.J. Umberger hasn't felt the love for his scoring streak that Sidney Crosby has been raking in during his concurrent streak.
"Probably not," the Plum native and Columbus winger said with a chuckle this week. "Probably a little bit different. Things are a little bit quieter in Columbus. Sometimes that's a good thing. We're playing well right now, and that's more important."
Umberger had at least a point in 10 games in a row before getting blanked in the Blue Jackets' loss Friday night against Buffalo. He had three goals, 13 points in the streak to move into the team lead with 19 points. He had a plus-minus rating of plus-6 in those games to take the club lead among forwards at plus-9.
Game: Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:08 p.m. today, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.
TV, radio, Internet: Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Steve Mason for Blue Jackets.
Penguins: Are 4-2-1 vs. Western Conference. ... Have won 5 in row on road. ... Rank second in penalty killing on road, 94.8 percent.
Blue Jackets: Are 4-1 vs. Eastern Conference after losing Friday in Buffalo. ... Rank last in power play at home, 5.3 percent. ... Rick Nash among NHL leaders with four game-winning goals before Friday night.
Of note: Going into Friday's games, Columbus D Rostislav Klesla led NHL with plus-minus rating of plus-17.
Of course, Umberger didn't have a couple of hat tricks, surge into the NHL scoring lead with 44 points and help his club win eight games in a row to make a run at the top spot in the league standings. That was the Penguins' Crosby, who has the longest points streak in the NHL this season at 14 games going into a matchup tonight against Umberger and the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
While Crosby and the Penguins are streaking, Umberger's Blue Jackets have cooled a little at 0-3-1 in four games after winning five in a row and eight of 10 to settle into the mix of a highly competitive Western Conference. Columbus was one of four teams with 29 points, and the top 12 teams were separated by just seven points, from 34 to 27.
"Our conference is crazy," Umberger said. "You lose one or two games in a row, you definitely drop. It stresses how important every game is, and it makes it tough. You want to see some separation, but it hasn't been there."
Columbus will be the latest of the Penguins' Western opponents that tend to fly under the radar in the broader NHL scope but are fielding competitive clubs. In October, the Penguins beat a tenacious Nashville team, 4-3, in overtime and fell to a disciplined St. Louis club, 1-0, in overtime.
"Those were two really good games," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "They were really hard-fought games. There's a lot of good teams out there that don't get a lot of publicity."
Adams doesn't really know Umberger, but he got to know his cousin and trainer, Scott Umberger. The cousins opened Umberger Performance several months ago in Robinson. Adams, the only Penguins player who spent the bulk of the offseason locally, worked out there over the summer.
"It made [staying in Pittsburgh] doable. It's just the perfect setup," Adams said.
Umberger said the facility is doing well. He's pretty happy with the setup in Columbus, too.
After making the playoffs in 2009, the Blue Jackets took a step back last season, finishing second-to-last in the West. Now they are solidly in the hunt for a postseason spot under first-year coach Scott Arniel, 38, one of several young coaches getting a shot at the NHL -- a fraternity to which the Penguins' Dan Bylsma also belongs.
"Our team has responded well to the new coaching staff," Umberger said. "We're having a lot of fun. Our whole staff has recently finished playing. They know how to relate to all the players. They offer a lot of good advice. They put a lot of trust into us."
Like a lot of the other young coaches in the league, Arniel preaches a puck-possession system that features a quick transition based on good defense, and a lot of time attacking in the offensive zone.
Umberger, 28, has been playing on the second line that has been juggled but lately has included center Antoine Vermette. He likes the new-wave style.
"People in this league are so fast," Umberger said. "I think it's important to get the puck up as fast as you can. You work so hard to get the puck in this league, and guys are so good that when you get it, you need to hold onto it. It seems like teams that are able to possess pucks more in a game are able to take over and get more chances. And the more you're chasing, the more tired you get.
"It's definitely been an advantage for us to have the puck a lot more this year."
That could be a tug-of-war against the Penguins, Umberger admitted.
"You don't want to get into a track meet style game with them. They are pretty talented up front," he said, but added that he's looking forward to facing his hometown team.
"It's a treat for our fans to be able to have them come into our building, to be able to see Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin. They're playing well; we're playing well. I think it should be a fun game."
First Published December 4, 2010 12:00 am