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Crosby makes long-awaited return as Pens face Isles

by Brian Hunter
ISLANDERS (5-9-3) at PENGUINS (11-6-3)


Last 10:
New York 2-5-3; Pittsburgh 5-4-1

Season Series:
Third of six meetings between these Atlantic Division rivals. The Penguins swept a home-and-home from the Islanders in October. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 33 shots in a 3-0 shutout win on Long Island on Oct. 25, then two nights later Evgeni Malkin had the decisive shootout goal for a 3-2 victory in Pittsburgh.

Big Story:
Sidney Crosby returns to the Penguins' lineup after months of speculation as to when the captain and face of his franchise would be able to resume his NHL career following a pair of hard hits in early January that led to a concussion and ended what was setting up to be a historic 2010-11 campaign for him. Crosby had been cleared for contact and skating with his teammates in practices for some time, but the announcement finally came Sunday that he was game-ready.

The news takes what was shaping up as an ordinary Monday night matchup against an Islanders team mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and creates what will be a frenzied atmosphere at Consol Energy Center in a now-nationally televised broadcast.

"There will be some time before he totally feels comfortable and back to the level that he was playing when he went on that point streak and those games when he was at that level," coach Dan Bylsma told the Penguins' official website. "It's easy to see in practice that he's the best player on the ice with his speed and the way he plays the game. He'll bring that to the game tomorrow. It'll take some time. Sometimes Game 1 is on adrenaline and it takes a few games for players to get that timing back and speed of the game."

Team Scope:

A visit from the no-longer hungover defending Stanley Cup champions wasn't exactly what New York needed to establish some positive momentum Saturday. Coming off a win over Montreal two nights earlier, the Islanders were hoping to establish their first win streak since a three-game run in October, but they couldn't put a puck past Boston goalie Tim Thomas and suffered a resounding 6-0 defeat. With two of their three established goalies sidelined, Anders Nilsson made his NHL debut in relief of Rick DiPietro, stopping 14 of 17 shots.

"Enough about staying positive and, 'We're going to get through this.' You have to work. Right now, collectively, we're not doing that," coach Jack Capuano said.

Penguins: Crosby's return comes as Pittsburgh attempts to snap a two-game losing streak. After dropping the front end of their two-game Florida swing to its nemesis from last spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tampa Bay, on Saturday night the Penguins ran into a resurgent group in the Panthers and came out on the wrong end of a 3-2 score. Brent Johnson played well in giving Fleury the night off, stopping 29 shots, but Jose Theodore stood on his head at the other end and made 39 saves, putting Stephen Weiss in position to score the winning goal with 3:30 remaining.

"Johnny made the big save in the third there and he played really well tonight," Bylsma said. "He was a guy deserving of getting the win."

Who's Hot:
Matt Moulson had 4 goals and 2 assists in a five-game points streak that was snapped when the Islanders were blanked on Saturday. ... Jordan Staal has 4 goals and 2 assists during a four-game points streak for the Penguins. Staal, whose career high in goals is 29 set in his rookie season, has 10 goals in just 18 games.

Injury Report:
Goalies Evgeni Nabokov (groin) and Al Montoya (hamstring) missed Saturday's game for New York. ... Crosby isn't the only Pittsburgh player returning, as defensemen Zbynek Michalek will be back in the lineup. That leaves Ben Lovejoy (wrist) and forward Dustin Jeffrey (knee) as the remaining injuries for Pittsburgh.

Stat Pack:
Getting back out on the road might be welcomed by the Islanders, who have already been shut out four times in 11 home games. ... The Penguins have recorded at least 32 shots in nine consecutive games.

Puck Drop:
Bylsma indicated Sunday that Crosby will play on a line with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz and the team will monitor his ice time in his first game since Jan. 5 against Tampa Bay.

"I don't know exactly what a number would be, but it's certainly not rushing back in to 20-plus minutes where he was at before," Bylsma told the Penguins' website. "It will be watched and monitored. We'll see how he's doing and his conditioning level. When you get those guys they always want to go out for one more shift. We may have to tie him to the bench a little bit."

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