Mounting injuries, including one to captain Sidney Crosby, certainly haven't helped the Pittsburgh Penguins gain ground in the standings. The defending Eastern Conference champions, though, appear poised to overcome that adversity.
After securing a victory in their first game without Crosby, the Penguins hope to have him back on the ice Sunday afternoon as they seek to defeat the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers for the first time in four meetings this season.
Crosby apparently hurt his left knee in Wednesday's 6-3 defeat to Washington as Pittsburgh (22-20-4) opened a five-game homestand. The star center was sidelined for Friday's 3-1 over Anaheim after not feeling comfortable during the pre-game skate.
He said he would try to skate again during Saturday's practice in hopes of returning to face the Rangers (27-15-4).
His absence Friday, along with eight other injured regulars, didn't keep Pittsburgh from securing its third win in 11 games, as Matt Cooke notched two goals in a 44-second span on a pair of assists from NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin (69 points).
"He's such a warrior, so it's nice to see those types of players get rewarded and score some important goals," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said of Cooke, a third-line winger that was recently moved to the top unit alongside Crosby and Malkin.
Therrien's club hopes it took a step toward establishing some consistency. Pittsburgh is just 11-16-2 since it last won back-to-back contests during a season-high six-game winning streak from Nov. 1-15.
"We haven't accepted losing and every guy in this room hates it," Cooke, who has seven goals and 18 points, told the Penguins' official Web site. "It seems like we've already started the most important games of the season and I think the biggest thing is to have that level of desperation."
Pittsburgh defeated New York in five games in the second round of the playoffs in 2007-08, but has dropped the last four regular-season matchups. The Penguins are 0-1-2 - all on the road - in this season's series.
The Rangers own a 10-point advantage on the fourth-place Penguins in the Atlantic.
Even though it won Friday, Pittsburgh continued to struggle on the power play. The Penguins faltered on all three chances to fall to 4-for-55 (7.3 percent) over their last 13 games, and will be challenged by a New York unit that is among the league leaders with an 88.0 penalty-killing percentage.
The Rangers were even more impressive on that front in obtaining their third straight victory on Friday night, 3-2 in overtime at Chicago. They turned aside 10 of 11 short-handed situations, including four of five 5-on-3s.
New York also capitalized on its man-advantage opportunities, as captain Chris Drury scored his second power-play goal of the game 2:23 into the extra period for the Rangers, who improved to 3-0-1 on their season-high five-game road trip.
"We were aggressive blocking shots. We didn't give them too much time," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 32 saves to win for the fifth time in six starts.
Lundqvist has limited the Penguins to four goals on 87 shots in winning all three 2008-09 meetings. However, he's 1-7-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average in nine games at Pittsburgh, including playoffs. New York is 2-6-1 in its last nine regular-season visits to Mellon Arena.
On Saturday, Pittsburgh swapped backup goalies with Edmonton, acquiring Mathieu Garon in exchange for Dany Sabourin, forward Ryan Stone and a fourth-round draft pick in 2011.