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Atlantic: Penguins break into first place from break

by Phil Coffey
So much for the theory that the Winter Olympics would sap the energy of a star player like Sidney Crosby.

Crosby has dropped his game into another gear after dropping Team USA in overtime of the gold-medal game, and as a result the Pittsburgh Penguins have vaulted to the top of the Atlantic Division.

Since the Olympics ended, the Penguins are 4-0-0 and Crosby has 2 goals and 4 assists. As a result, the Penguins now lead the New Jersey Devils by five points in the Atlantic and Crosby is the NHL leader in goals with 44.

Crosby credits the break a lot of his Penguins' teammates got during the Olympics with shaking off the doldrums that beset the team heading into the break.

"A lot of guys had four or five days to work on things and get back to those little details that really make a difference throughout the game," Crosby said. "I'm sure guys feel a little bit refreshed, too, coming off a break like that. We've been moving our feet, and when you skate, a lot of things come to you. We've been skating well and really generating a lot because of it."

And, not surprisingly, Crosby still is pretty energized about becoming Canada's favorite son after his dramatic goal against Ryan Miller.

"For me it was a pretty proud moment, being in Canada, playing hockey, growing up as a kid and dreaming of playing for your country," Crosby told Sam Kasan of the team's Web site. "Being able to do that and having it work out that way, it's still pretty amazing to think about."

Of those rested teammates, Pascal Dupuis has put on quite a show. With Bill Guerin sidelined by a back injury, Dupuis has excelled on the top line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz. He scored his third goal in four games in Sunday's 2-1 win against Boston.

"I am pretty happy with the way things are going right now, knock on wood," Dupuis told Jason Seidling of the team Web site. "I just want to keep it going. … We all talked about the last 20 games of the season being big for us creating a team identity and showing both other teams and ourselves how good we can be. As a team we have done it."

Dupuis has picked up a bunch of big goals since a recent talk he had with assistant coach Tony Granato. A pretty fair goal scorer himself during his days with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, Granato instructed Dupuis, who has one of the hardest shots on the team, to get more pucks on net.

"I think part of his game is being unselfish, which is not a bad thing, but for us to be more productive we want him to use his shot," Granato said. "He has a good shot and he gets into scoring areas because he skates so well. He deserves the goals he is getting because he has worked his rear end off."

Devils' struggle continues -- The Devils have dropped out of the top spot in the Atlantic and their lead over third-place Philadelphia is down to seven points as New Jersey went 1-2-0 after the break.

An impressive win over the Sharks Tuesday was blunted by a 5-3 loss in Calgary and Sunday's 2-0 loss in Edmonton, which left coach Jacques Lemaire steaming.

"Sure, I'm upset because we're not ready to play," Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "Our focus wasn't there. Our legs weren't there. Maybe we felt that because it's a team that doesn't win a lot of games that you could go through the motions, but we mentioned this all year. To win games, you've got to work."

"I don't know what the reason was, but especially in the first 40 minutes we were just bad," center Dainius Zubrus said. "They were out-skating us, we weren't good on the forecheck, we weren't creating anything, just throwing the pucks away. They were better than us. We had a few chances in the third, their goalie made a few saves, but that was nowhere good enough to win a hockey game."

"This is definitely reason for concern," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "This is the time of year where the games get cranked up with the intensity and the battle level and we're not at that level. And it's just going to get higher as we come down here in these last 18 games. So we've got to find that level and we've got to start playing at it. We're not there. We're not competing. We're getting outworked every night and we can't have that."

Flyers finding their stride -- With a 6-3-1 mark in their last 10 games, the Flyers are trending upward to the point where second place in the division is in sight. The Flyers shook off an overtime loss to Buffalo Friday to top Toronto Sunday, 3-1, in a game where coach Peter Laviolette's call for more disciplined play was heeded by the players.

Staying out of the box against the Leafs allowed goalie Michael Leighton to have another strong game with 27 saves, and three of the Flyers' top gunners found the back of the net -- Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Danny Briere. But Laviolette especially was pleased with Daniel Carcillo, who stayed focused and out of the box.

"You ask those guys to play on the edge, a guy like Danny Carcillo, to agitate, irritate, and to be effective in that job," Laviolette said. "It's a fine line that he has to walk, and I think he's done an excellent job. He gives that (Mike) Richards line a forechecking presence. You saw what he did today -- he was able to draw penalties. I thought he had a terrific game for us tonight. He worked hard, he generated offense."

Gagne, who missed 24 games early in the season after hernia surgeries, has 6 points in the past five games, 12 points in 12 games and 26 points in 31 games since returning Dec. 19.

"Everybody seems to be finding their game, including Simon," Laviolette said. "Everybody seems to be getting better. Like I said, two weeks off is a long time, and everybody seems to be taking a step, and Simon does as well.

Miller wins battle of goalies -- Ryan Miller came out on top of Sunday's battle with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist. Coupled with Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Capitals, the Rangers came away from the weekend with just one point.

"We needed the two points, we got one," coach John Tortorella said. "We have to keep on fighting. That is all we can do. There are a lot of questions about offense. The way we are trying to approach it is to make sure we are doing the right thing away from the puck so we can get the puck and have it more and try to generate more offense.

"We are going to continue to do that, continue to fight every night and see where we go."

The Rangers are treading water at 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and remain out of the playoff picture Monday morning, two points behind Boston for the eighth seed. The Bruins have two games in hand.

As for facing Miller, Lundqvist tipped his hat to the hero of Team USA.

"Every team has a good goaltender right now. He is definitely up there," Lundqvist said. "This year he has been really good. I knew that coming in here. I had a feeling it was going to be a low-scoring game. We have to be happy to get that point, but like I said, it is a little frustrating."

Isles' struggles continue -- With a 3-7-0 mark in their last 10 and having lost 11 of their last 14, the Islanders are in trouble, sitting in 13th place in the East.
Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Bruins was damaging, especially since the Islanders came out flat.

"Boston played with urgency and we didn't match it," coach Scott Gordon said. "We turned the puck over, and I don't think we finished a hit in the first period. That was addressed after the first, and we started finishing checks and turning pucks over, and the momentum changed."

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