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Posted On Saturday, 02.11.2012 / 1:24 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Crosby skates before Pens' matinee in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH— The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t have a morning skate in advance of their afternoon game against the Winnipeg Jets, but Sidney Crosby did.
 
Crosby and forward Arron Asham (concussion) worked out at Consol Energy Center before the Penguins played the first of back-to-back weekend home games. They take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night.
 
This is becoming a familiar routine for Crosby, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5. He skates with conditioning coach Mike Kadar in advance of a Penguins practice or game as he tries to remain in shape while awaiting his return to playing status.
 
Crosby and Penguins general manager Ray Shero announced on Jan. 31, before the Penguins’ most recent home game before this weekend, that the sidelined star has a soft tissue injury in the top two vertebrae that could be contributing to his concussion-like symptoms.
 
Crosby is continuing to experience those symptoms but, as he receives treatment, both he and the Penguins are hopeful he can return later this season. There is no timetable for that return, and it depends on Crosby being symptom-free.
 
“I feel like I’m getting there,” Crosby said earlier this week. “I don’t know the timeframe. I wish I did.”
 
Crosby sat out the first six weeks of the regular season, and then had a pair of goals – both in his Nov. 21 comeback game against the Islanders – and 10 assists in eight games before the concussion-like symptoms returned following a Dec. 5 game against Boston. Crosby last went through a full practice two days later.
 
He skated with the Penguins in Montreal during a road trip that concluded Tuesday, but that was so he didn’t have to work out that day by himself. He has not yet been cleared for contact during practice.
 
The Penguins have played 87 games without Crosby the last two seasons – the same as Crosby’s number. They are 48-30-9 in those games, including a 25-17-4 record this season.
 
Pittsburgh did welcome back its other injured center, Jordan Staal, on Saturday. Staal played for the first time since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a knee-to-knee hit with Mike Rupp of the Rangers on Jan. 6. The Penguins were 9-5-1 without Staal, who had 15 goals in 34 games before he left the lineup.
 
Asham, out since Jan. 15, appears to be getting close to returning as well.
 


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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 3:42 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Staal close, but Pens lose Kennedy for 4-6 weeks

PITTSBURGH -- Just when the Pittsburgh Penguins are getting one of their key players back from an extended layoff, they must deal with yet another injury to a frontline forward.
 
With center Jordan Staal expected back as early as Saturday following a five-week layoff with a left knee injury, forward Tyler Kennedy is going on the shelf for the second time this season. Kennedy has a high ankle sprain that is expected to sideline him for 4-to-6 weeks, coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday.
 
"After a week we'll have a better idea of what the time frame looks like exactly, as it calms down and as he rehabs," Bylsma said following an off-day practice at Consol Energy Center.
 
Kennedy was hurt late in a 5-2 loss at New Jersey on Sunday and was held out of a 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal on Tuesday. He has 6 goals and 22 points in 42 games following his breakout 2010-11 season in which he had 21 goals and 45 points in 80 games.
 
Kennedy also had a concussion that kept him out for 11 games from Oct. 15-Nov. 11.
 
Another injury? It's a familiar scenario for a high-profile team that still has no idea when superstar center Sidney Crosby will play again as he mends from a second lengthy layoff with concussion-like symptoms.
 
Fourteen Penguins players have missed at least seven games each with injuries, including their top three centers (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Staal) and their top four defensemen (Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek).
 
The injuries, especially Crosby's, appear to be exacting a toll on a team that spent much of the first two-plus months of the season in the overall Eastern Conference lead.
 
They recently ran off an eight-game winning streak, but the Penguins (30-19-5) have dropped into sixth place in the conference standings while going 14-12-1 since Crosby last played on Dec. 5. They began the season 10-3-3. Crosby has missed all but eight of the Penguins' 54 games as he deals with a concussion-like symptoms that also kept him out of their final 41 games and the playoffs last season.
 
Crosby skated Thursday before practice with injured teammate Arron Asham (concussion), but his return is not imminent. He practiced one day in Montreal earlier this week, but has not yet been cleared for full-contact practice.
 
With the Penguins about to play their next three and six of their next eight at home, where they are 15-7-2, they are eager to welcome back Staal. A proven shutdown defender who is frequently matched against an opponent's top line, Staal scored a goal in three consecutive games just before he was hurt last month.
 
Staal was on pace for his best career season, with 15 goals and 6 assists in 34 games, before spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a knee-to-knee hit with former teammate Mike Rupp of the Rangers on Jan. 6.
 
The Penguins received yet another scare when Staal required stitches after being struck in the face by an errant stick during practice Thursday, but Bylsma said, "He'll be fine."
 
Last season, Staal was ready to return after missing the first month of the season with a lacerated foot only to break a hand during practice, forcing him to miss another two months.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Leafs' Armstrong, Liles close, but not ready yet

PITTSBURGH -- Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson must make some lineup decisions very soon, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
 
But neither defenseman John-Michael Liles nor forward Colby Armstrong, both of whom are close to returning from injuries that have kept them out for more than a month, will play Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
 
Armstrong has been out since Dec. 19 with a concussion that he initially tried to hide from the team. He had played in only four games since returning from a 23-game layoff with a high ankle sprain. Liles, an excellent puck-moving defenseman, has been out since Dec. 22 with a neck injury and concussion-like symptoms.
 
The Maple Leafs emerge from the All-Star break ninth in the Eastern Conference with 55 points, but with plenty of opportunities to pick up ground in a hurry -- starting with the home-and-home series against Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday. Only 13 of their remaining 33 games are against teams currently below them in the standings.
 
The Penguins, winners of seven in a row, have 60 points.
 
"All the games are going to be important. It's really tight in the standings, every point is going to be huge for us, but I see every game as another game," goaltender Jonas Gustavsson said. "I don't put more focus on a game like this (Tuesday's). I always try to prepare myself 100 percent to win; you know every game is important."
 
Toronto won its final two games and three of its final four before the break, but Gustavsson said the week-long break from games arrived at a good time. Gustavsson has won seven of 10 starts while playing in all but one game since Jan. 3.
 
"I think it was good for me, as for everybody else, to get time to rest and get ready again," Gustavsson said. "I tried to think not so much about hockey -- I had some light workouts to stay in shape -- but other than that, I tried to keep my mind on other things."
 
Toronto won its only previous game against Pittsburgh, 4-3 on Oct. 29. The teams also play again in Pittsburgh on March 7.
 
The Maple Leafs' probable lineup:
 
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Joey Crabb
 
Dion Phaneuf - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
 
Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 12:10 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Penguins resume play looking to extend streak

PITTSBURGH -- NHL players enthusiastically await the All-Star break, a much-welcomed respite from the grind and travel of a long season and a chance to enjoy some midwinter time with family and friends, often in warm weather.
 
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, their week-long break between games came during a seven-game winning streak they will take into the front end of a home-and-home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
 
Players generally prefer to keep playing when they're on a roll. The streak is the Penguins' longest since they won 12 in a row last season.
 
Get away from it all during a week-long break, or keep the momentum going by continuing to play? It's a tough choice.
 
"It's yet to be seen. We'll see how it goes tonight," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "I think the break helps everyone in the long run. It's a tough season and we played a lot of games (four in six days) before the break and everyone was feeling a little tired, not just physically but mentally. To get some time off for a few days, just forget about hockey, I think it helps you."
 
Welcoming the break was goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (26-12-2), who will start Tuesday during his 23rd consecutive appearance -- 21 of them starts. Coach Dan Bylsma said backup Brent Johnson, who has won only once since Oct. 18, will play at least 20 percent of the time in the 32 games that remain after Tuesday.
 
"It was nice to relax, get some sleep and get re-energized," Fleury said. "Ready to go."
 
The Penguins and Maple Leafs play again Wednesday night in Toronto, the first of four sets of back-to-back games for Pittsburgh in three weeks, a scenario that should give Johnson more playing time. The Penguins have another set this weekend, meeting Boston on Saturday and New Jersey on Sunday.
 
"It's two big games for us coming out of the break," Bylsma said.
 
Fleury already has played in 42 games, with 33 remaining in the regular season. His career high is 67 games, a figure he has reached twice previously. Fleury said there is no set number of games that he prefers to play.
 
Bylsma said the coaching staff sketches out a goaltender schedule at the start of each month and rarely alters it. However, Fleury got some extra time recently because of the way the Penguins were playing and because the break was upcoming.
 
With Arron Asham (concussion) still out, the Penguins recalled forward Colin McDonald from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. McDonald played in the AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City on Monday night and did not make it to Consol Energy Center in time for the morning skate.
 
McDonald has 12 goals and a career-high 26 assists in 41 games at Wilkes-Barre. He was a plus-1 in two games for Pittsburgh earlier this season.
 
McDonald's addition is the only change in the Penguins' line combinations since they last played a week ago, beating St. Louis 3-2 in a shootout on Jan. 24.
 
The Penguins' probable lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Colin McDonald - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Kris Letang - Brooks Orpik
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 6:23 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Fleury gets start vs. Canadiens

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the second straight night when Pittsburgh plays the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center on Friday.

With the Penguins playing three games in four days and four in six, Brent Johnson was expected to make only his second start since Dec. 16. Fleury made 30 saves in helping lead Pittsburgh to a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

But coach Dan Bylsma said Fleury will be in net against his hometown Canadiens. Johnson has won only once since mid-October and has just two wins this season.

The Penguins did not hold a morning skate, so Bylsma announced his decision shortly before game time.

"Marc has been playing the lion's share, but we're looking at playing against Montreal as a game that Marc is always probably looking to play," Bylsma said.

Fleury will be appearing in his 20th consecutive game. Johnson did not finish either of his last two starts.

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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:40 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Injured forward White skates for Canadiens

PITTSBURGH -- Montreal Canadiens forward Ryan White, out all season with a sports hernia that occurred during training camp, took part in an optional morning skate Friday.
 
It was the first time in four months that White has skated with his teammates. Earlier this week, White did conditioning work -- wind sprints and endurance drills -- with team strength coach Pierre Allard.

"It's a step in the right direction," Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "We've been leaning on him physically and working hard to get his conditioning up, and it's all about that at this point."

After getting hurt during camp, White underwent surgery in October. The Canadiens haven't set a return date for White, who had 2 goals and 3 assists in 27 games last season. He also had a pair of assists in 16 games in 2009-10.
 
"He's going to continue to get sharper, getting conditioned, and we want to see that great conditioning when he comes back," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gill knows how quick things can turn

PITTSBURGH -- Hal Gill knows it’s too early to give up on a season.
 
Amid rumblings in Montreal that the Canadiens should start weighing which players to shed at the trading deadline as they rebuild for the future,  Gill offered a history lesson -- one from not so long ago -- upon returning to Pittsburgh on Friday.
 
The Canadiens are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games heading into an important weekend in which they play at Pittsburgh tonight and at Toronto on Saturday. But, as Gill reminded, a season that looks to be lost can be salvaged -- even if it can’t happen in the span of a few games.
 
The Penguins, as Gill reminded, were 27-25-5 in mid-February 2009 before Dan Bylsma took over as coach. At the time, there was trepidation in Pittsburgh that a team led by stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might miss the playoffs.
 
Instead, the Penguins finished with an 18-3-4 surge that not only got them into the playoffs, but earned them home-ice advantage in the first round, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
 
”I’ve been in that situation before where time isn’t on your side, and somehow you win a game, win a game and the next thing you know you’re back in the playoffs,” Gill said.
 
The Canadiens have been without the injured Scott Gomez (groin), Brian Gionta (biceps), Andrei Markov (knee) and Ryan White (hernia) for all or part of the season, but Gill insisted there’s still time to get Montreal’s fans excited.
 
Start looking ahead to next season? No, Gill said, the Canadiens simply must look ahead only to their next game.
 
“You go out and play one game tonight and try to do everything you can to get that win and go on to the next game,” he said. “I don’t think you can look long term. It’s an uphill battle, but you’ve got to take one step at a time.”
 
Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Gill said it takes chemistry and a team that believes in what its coach is telling it to do.
 
“We found a way to click (in ’09), did some different things,” Gill said. “It wasn’t like, 'Hey, we’ve got to get this many points (to make the playoffs),’ it was, 'We’ve got to win tonight.’"
 
Like those 2008-09 Penguins, the Canadiens made a coaching change by firing Jacques Martin on Dec. 17 and elevating former assistant Randy Cunneyworth to interim coach for the rest of the season. Since the move, the Canadiens are 4-9-1.
 
With the idea of getting an energized team off to a fast start, Cunneyworth held an optional morning skate Friday at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins are coming off a 4-1 road victory against the New York Rangers on Thursday, during a week in which they play four games in six days.
 
“We know Pittsburgh is a good team," said Cunneyworth. "They played last night, so we want to come at full force and get off to that good start."
 
Finding a way to slow down NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin – he has seven goals in four games –greatly would boost Montreal’s chances of winning. Gill knows from experience how difficult that can be.
 
“They’ve got a pretty good system that they play and they all buy into it and when they’re going, they roll four lines and things happen for them,” Gill said. “They play responsible and let their skill go when they get in the offensive end. … You have to be aggressive when you can (with Malkin), but if you’re lunging or cheating, he’ll take advantage of it. He’s a guy we obviously have to watch for and play hard on him.”
 
Peter Budaj, who stopped 29 of 30 shots while beating the Rangers 4-1 on Sunday, will be in goal for the second time in 12 games as Carey Price sits out. Price is 0-3-1 in his last four starts, 15-17-8 overall and 7-6-1 in his career against Pittsburgh.
 
Cunneyworth doesn’t expect any carryover from the Max Pacioretty hit Nov. 26 that left Penguins defenseman Kris Letang with a broken nose and a concussion. Letang didn’t return until Thursday night in New York.
 
Pacioretty was suspended three games for his hit to Letang’s head. This will be the first time the teams have met since then.
 
“I think they’ve discussed it; it’s a hockey play that occurred, the League dealt with it,” Cunneyworth said. “I don’t think anybody is interested in that kind of thing, but obviously if someone wants to press the issue, we’ll take care of it.”
 
Here's what the Canadiens’ lineup likely will be when they face the Pens for the third time this season:
 
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Mike Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez
 
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Yannick Weber
Alexei Emelin
 
Peter Budaj will start in goal, with Carey Price the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:25 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pittsburgh always feels like home to Cunneyworth

PITTSBURGH -- No matter how well or poorly his team is playing, Randy Cunneyworth enjoys coming to Pittsburgh.
 
Even if the Penguins' almost-new-home wasn't his home.
 
Cunneyworth, now the Montreal Canadiens' coach, enjoyed the four best offensive seasons of his NHL career while playing with Pittsburgh from 1985-89 -- the period in which the Penguins transformed themselves from the League's worst team into a contender.
 
It wasn't a coincidence that he had point totals of 45, 53, 74 and 44 while playing on a team led by Mario Lemieux, then a rising star in his early 20s. Cunneyworth never had more than 36 points in a season while playing elsewhere.
 
"Just being amongst a great group of guys," Cunneyworth said Friday, referring to his best memory of playing in Pittsburgh. "Mario Lemieux was one of the best players in hockey. It was great to play alongside him. He allowed me to get some pretty good numbers."
 
Cunneyworth, whose team played the Penguins on Friday night, wasn't the only player whose standout seasons came with No. 66 as a teammate.
 
"I always tell the story that when two guys jumped on his back, I always followed him and put in a couple of the rebounds he couldn't score," Cunneyworth said.
 
Of the 189 goals that Cunneyworth scored in an NHL career that stretched from 1981-99, 101 came during those four seasons playing in the Penguins' former home, the Civic Arena.
 
That arena, which sits across the street from Consol Energy Center, is currently being demolished to make way for an urban redevelopment project.
 
"That silver building across the street, there's a lot of fond memories there," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 12:45 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Letang steps right back in, performs for Pens

PITTSBURGH -- So much for easing Kris Letang back into the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup.
 
Letang, appearing in his first game in nearly two months, played a team-high 24 minutes, 17 seconds in arguably the Penguins' most impressive victory of the season, a 4-1 decision at the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers on Thursday night.
 
Before ending a four-game losing streak against the Rangers, the Penguins had been 0-5 against three of the conference's upper echelon teams, the Rangers, Flyers and Bruins.
 
Letang's return couldn't have gone much better -- he was a plus-2 and assisted on one of Evgeni Malkin's two goals in Pittsburgh's fourth consecutive victory. The Penguins have had an unconventional 14-game run, winning four straight, then losing six in a row before mounting their current four-game streak.
 
They'll try to match their season-longest winning streak of five, which occurred from Oct. 18-27, when they take on the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center on Friday night during a stretch of three games in four days.
 
Not only are the Penguins playing back-to-back games against conference opponents, they'll have a quick turnaround before taking on the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.
 
Not surprisingly, coach Dan Bylsma called off the scheduled morning skate Friday to give his players a chance to sleep in following the late-night flight home from New York.
 
Letang, though, probably wouldn't have minded going back on the ice given how effective he was in his comeback game. The defenseman had only two morning skates and one off-day practice before playing for the first time since a hard hit from the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty on Nov. 26 in Montreal sidelined him.
 
As Letang cut across the middle, Pacioretty's hard hit broke Letang's nose and caused a concussion that didn't show up for a couple of days. Despite being hurt, Letang returned after being cleared by a doctor and scored the game-winning goal in overtime as Pittsburgh won 4-3, its second victory in as many games against Montreal this season.
 
"You can ask our trainer, Chris Stewart, I'm somebody who's kind of rough with injuries. I don't really pay attention," Letang said. "The first thing I noticed was my nose was not in place, so we took care of that. After that, it was just a question of being able to function. I was pretty pumped to get back out there. I was excited. The adrenaline was still pumping in my veins. I didn't feel anything that night."
 
Pacioretty drew a three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head.
 
Malkin, now the NHL's leading scorer with 54 points, hopes to build on a streak in which he has scored goals in four consecutive games and six of seven. He has 6 goals in his last three, including a hat trick Sunday at Tampa Bay and the 2 goals against the Rangers.
 
"It's not about my 2 points," Malkin said. "It's the two points for the team that were important."
 
Malkin has 10 goals and 15 assists in 20 career games against Montreal, which is 4-10-1 in its last 15 games. The Canadiens have dropped six of their last seven on the road.
 
Brent Johnson has played in only one of the Penguins' last 15 games, but is expected to be in goal. He has won only once since Oct. 18, beating Carolina 3-2 on Dec. 3. Each of his last two starts came against the Hurricanes. Marc-Andre Fleury has played in 19 consecutive games since that Dec. 3 game, including two in which he took over for Johnson.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 3:12 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Malkin, Neal among leaders as Pens' top line thrives

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' top line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal has produced more than 40 percent of their goals this season, yet Neal says they can still play better together.
 
Really.
 
Leading the Penguins out of the worst slump of coach Dan Bylsma's nearly three-year tenure, Malkin and Neal combined for seven goals -- four from Malkin -- during a two-game Florida swing last weekend. Pittsburgh beat Florida 4-1 on Friday to end a six-game slide, then added a 6-3 win at Tampa Bay on Sunday as Malkin scored three times and Neal added two goals.
 
Abandoning chilly Pittsburgh for sunny Florida in January is almost always a pleasant experience, but perhaps never before have the Penguins enjoyed such a mid-winter getaway. It was exactly what they needed to regain some of the confidence and momentum they had while winning four in a row immediately before the streak began.
 
The two wins also helped them shake off their four consecutive losses at Consol Energy Center, where they returned to play Carolina on Tuesday night.
 
As Neal said of going on the road, "Sometimes maybe that's the best thing for you."
 
"Those two wins were definitely nice," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It's good to relax a little bit. That was a tough stretch and it's good to finally be out of it. We're looking forward to keeping it going."
 
It will be much easier for the Penguins to do so if they continue getting Malkin and Neal on the score sheet. Of the Penguins' 134 goals, Neal (24), Malkin (21) and Kunitz (13) have 58 -- or 42 percent of the scoring load. Steve Sullivan, who's also played on the line at times, has 8 goals.
 
Malkin is only 25, but he's already tied for fourth in Penguins' history (with Rick Kehoe and Alex Kovalev) with eight career hat tricks, or one more than injured teammate Sidney Crosby. Mario Lemieux is the Penguins' leader with 40.
 
Malkin enjoyed his second five-point game of the season Sunday, scoring all three of his goals in the third period. And the Kunitz-Malkin-Neal line combined for five goals and seven points.
 
The more that Neal plays alongside Malkin, the better they seem to play together. They were first paired when the Dallas Stars traded Neal to Pittsburgh 11 months ago, and they've been together much of the time since.
 
"Even when I've got my back to him, I kind of know where he's going," Neal said. "You just try to read what he's going to do. He always likes coming through the middle with speed, so as long as you put it in his area, he's going to pick up the puck. Just little things like that. … And I'll get in position to shoot, and he'll give it right back to me."
 
Despite recently going six games without a goal, Malkin has scored in four of his last five. With 51 points, Malkin went into Tuesday's NHL schedule only one point behind NHL leader Henrik Sedin of Vancouver -- despite playing in nine fewer games than Sedin.
 
Neal is tied with Jonathan Toews of Chicago and Phil Kessel of Toronto with 24 goals, six behind NHL leader Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay.
 
"I think we're trying to find our stride here and become a good line," Neal said. "He (Malkin) obviously likes having the puck. Hopefully I draw a few guys off him and then he gets some more space. He's so skilled with the puck, so strong, he's a fun guy to play with."
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