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Blue Jackets cruise, hand Pens fourth straight loss

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Columbus Blue Jackets got a boost for
their weak offense from the worst defensive team in the league.

Jaroslav Balastik scored twice, Sergei Fedorov and Rick Nash
each had a goal and two assists and the Columbus Blue Jackets sent
the Pittsburgh Penguins to their fourth consecutive loss with a 6-1
victory Wednesday night.

"It's coming around," Gerard Gallant said of his team, 5-2-1
in its last eight games. "We have a pretty good team here when
we're healthy."

Columbus' six goals -- after a five-goal performance in its last
game -- was a season high.

Pittsburgh is moving in the opposite direction.

A day after Penguins coach Michel Therrien said his teams'
performance was "pathetic" and that half of the team "doesn't
care" in a 3-1 home loss to Edmonton, Pittsburgh allowed a goal 10
seconds into the game and spent much of the rest of the match
throwing punches.

Therrien thought his team showed some spunk.

"For the first time this year, that team stuck-up for each
other and that's a good start even if we're in January," he said.
"I liked the way the guys responded to a tough start. When we go
down by two goals so early in a game, mentally we're kind of
fragile."

There were six fights, two at one time in the second and third
periods, as the teams combined for 152 penalty minutes, tying a
Blue Jackets team record.

Ryan Malone scored the lone goal for the Penguins and rookie
Sidney Crosby, the teams' leading scorer with 48 points, was held
pointless for the second consecutive game after a 10-game points
streak.

"Tomorrow we're going to have a quality practice," Therrien
said. "The last few days we've gotten away from our system. If we
don't play well our system is not going to work."

Penguins goaltender Dany Sabourin, making his fourth career
start, turned the puck over to Fedorov seconds into the game, and
the forward slid a cross-ice pass to Nash, who scored with a
one-timer from the right slot. The goal was the quickest to start a
game in the Blue Jackets' short history.

"I think it was big to give that goalie a little downer," said
Nash, who has 10 goals in 12 games since returning from a knee
injury. "He just got called up and to get that first one out of
the way I think gave us the momentum."

Columbus made it 2-0 on its second shot seconds after a
high-sticking penalty to Nash expired.

Jan Hrdina, who had two assists, skated into the Pittsburgh zone
on a 2-on-1 and fed David Vyborny, who fired the puck over
Sabourin's shoulder for his 10th goal.

"The first 10 minutes was what I'm really used to doing," said
Fedorov, who scored the game's final goal. "If we can get a few
more of those we can put a good winning streak together."

Pascal Leclaire finished with 28 saves for Columbus, allowing
only Malone's goal on a rebound.

"It was a great game and everybody enjoyed it," the rookie
Leclaire said. "We want to get back in the standings and get more
points."

Columbus went up 3-1 on a power-play goal by Nikolai Zherdev at
12:50.

The second period didn't start any better for Pittsburgh.

Balastik scored with a backhand from the slot off Hrdina's
face-off win just 40 seconds into the frame. Marc-Andre Fleury
replaced Sabourin, who finished with 10 saves on 14 shots, after
the power-play goal.

Balastik scored again to make it 5-1, gathering a breakaway pass
from Cale Hulse after stepping out of the penalty box and beating
Fleury with a high wrist shot.

"We're coming around," Nash said. "We've had some of the same
line combinations for a couple weeks now. Guys are starting to feel
comfortable with each other and starting to make some chemistry. I
think that's a big issue and the reason we're playing so well."<

^Notes:@ Mario Lemieux, who skated Monday in practice after
missing the last three weeks with an irregular heartbeat, did not
suit up and has ruled out playing in the Penguins' next two games
at Chicago and Nashville. ... Pittsburgh G Jocelyn Thibault, who
has one win in 13 decisions, will have hip surgery and may miss the
rest of the season. ... Nash entered the game with a five-game
points streak, registering six goals and three assists.