The Pittsburgh Penguins have been running away with the Metropolitan Division despite injuries that would have decimated most teams. As they prepare for their first game of 2014, two of their injured stars may be ready to play against the New York Rangers on Friday.
Defenseman Kris Letang, a Norris Trophy finalist last season, skated at practice Thursday and showed no ill effects from elbow surgery that has kept him out for three weeks. He said he may be ready to return. Center Evgeni Malkin, who has missed eight games with a lower-body injury, has been skating since Dec. 27 and said after practice he might be ready to go.
Coach Dan Bylsma said he will decide after the morning skate.
The Rangers could see a familiar face wearing black and gold. The Penguins claimed forward Taylor Pyatt from the Rangers on waivers Thursday. He could take the place of Chris Conner, who will miss six-to-eight weeks with a hand injury that requires surgery.
Here’s a look at the games scheduled for Friday:
Chicago Blackhawks at New Jersey Devils -- The good news for Chicago on Thursday was that starting goaltender Corey Crawford looked sharp in his return from a lower-body injury. The bad news is they were outplayed for large segments of the game before losing 3-2 in overtime to the New York Islanders. The Devils already have called off their morning skate due to the snowstorm that’s battering the area. They’ll need a better effort than they turned in against the Blackhawks on Dec. 23, when Chicago limited New Jersey to 12 shots on goal in a 5-2 win at United Center.
New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Rangers are 2-1-0 on a five-game trip that ends Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They swept two games in Florida, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 and the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a shootout. Henrik Lundqvist was in goal for both. The Penguins ended 2013 on a sour note, losing 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils in Newark, but they're 13 points ahead of the second-place Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and three in front of the Boston Bruins for the lead in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Calgary Flames -- Lightning goalie Ben Bishop may not have made the U.S. Olympic Team, but he’s been playing at an elite level all season. Bishop made 28 saves Wednesday in a 4-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks that kicked off a swing through Western Canada, and he's tied for second in the NHL with 21 victories. The Flames will go with former Tampa Bay goaltender Karri Ramo after Reto Berra was in goal for Calgary's first three games after the holiday break. Berra played well, allowing six goals, but the Flames lost all three because they scored once during those 180 minutes.
Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks -- The Oilers come to Orange County after being thoroughly outplayed in a 5-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. The Sharks are one of the toughest road stops in the NHL, having lost once in regulation at home (15-1-3); however, the Ducks are even better when they play at home. Anaheim is 15-0-2 at Honda Center and has won 10 of its past 11 games against the Oilers. Anaheim is the third NHL team in 25 years to get at least one point in its first 17 home games. The others are San Jose (20-0-2 in 2008-09) and Calgary (14 wins and three ties in 1988-89).