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Defending champs begin new year in Tampa Bay

by Magalie Lafreni?re
PENGUINS (26-14-1) at LIGHTNING (15-15-10)

Last 10: Pittsburgh 6-4-0; Tampa Bay 4-4-2

Season series --
This is the second of four meetings between the two clubs. Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar, Pascal Dupuis and Mike Rupp scored for the Penguins on Oct. 17, handing Tampa Bay a 4-1 defeat. Steven Stamkos scored the lone goal for the Lightning on the power play, with assists from Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.

Big story
-- With the United States being the last country to release their Olympic roster on New Year's Day, the Penguins now count five players who are the headed to the Olympics and the Lightning four.

Brooks Orpik will suit up for the red, white and blue, while Marc-André Fleury and Sidney Crosby will play for Canada and Evgeni Malkin and Gonchar for Russia.

Tampa's Ryan Malone was also named to the US squad, while Mattias Ohlund will play for Sweden, Andrej Meszaros for Slovakia and goaltender Antero Niittymaki for Finland.

St. Louis and Lecavalier were two players many thought would be part of Team Canada, but are instead looking at a two-week break.

"When you're told that you're not going to participate and be in this experience, it's hard to take," said St. Louis, who is tied for second in the League for assists. "You've just got to accept it, not be happy with it. You have to move on and there's no better way to do that than play in a hockey game instead of being at home and thinking about it."

Team Scope:

Penguins -- The Pens were shut out 2-0 by the Eastern-Conference leading Devils on Wednesday. A 1-0 score for the majority of the game, New Jersey took a two-goal lead with 12 seconds left in third on an empty-net goal. The Penguins threw 33 pucks at Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, but were unable to solve the veteran goaltender. Backup goalie Brent Johnson was solid, making 31 saves.

"I would have liked him to have gotten him a win," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I know our team battled hard and we played a good game. We played the way we needed to play. We would have liked to have gotten one by Brodeur and tied that game up."

-- Tampa Bay picked up its ninth point in six games Wednesday in a 2-1 overtime loss to Montreal. Flat the first two periods, the Lightning rebounded in the third, outshooting the Canadiens 13-4. Bolts defenseman Kurtis Foster scored early in that period to send the game to overtime, but the Habs sealed the win with a Tomas Plekanec snipe.
Tampa goaltender Mike Smith started his fifth consecutive game, made 33 saves  and earned the second star for his performance.

"Really disappointed the first two periods. It was disheartening," coach Rick Tocchet said. "When you're .500 you can't afford to be flat."

"Montreal came out and played their game and played a very strong game," Foster said. "We made a lot of mistakes at the wrong times. Smitty did a great job keeping us in the game."

Who's hot
-- With an assist on Wednesday, St. Louis extended his points streak to six games with nine points. Foster has been a welcome surprise lately with nine points in his last eight games.

Despite not making the scoresheet on Wednesday, Jordan Staal and Guerin led the Penguins with five shots on goal. Staal and Guerin both scored against the Sabres on Tuesday.

Injury report
-- Gonchar is questionable for Saturday with a bruised right foot from blocking a shot Wednesday against New Jersey. … Tampa Bay defenseman Paul Ranger is out for personal reasons, while defenseman Matt Walker (lower body) is on injured reserve. Forwards Jeff Halpern and Todd Fedoruk are expected to miss another week with lower-body injuries.

Stat pack
-- The Pens will miss Gonchar if he doesn’t suit up. The defenseman leads Pittsburgh with 41 career points in 59 games against Tampa Bay. On the Lightning side, it's Lecavalier with the most success against the Penguins, with 36 points in 40 games.

Puck drop
-- "Right now it is more about where we are at and what we need to do. We are pleased with certain areas of our game and we know we can get a lot better. Our guys are determined to be that way. One thing we can be sure of in both games in Florida is we are going to be playing a team that is going to try to work as hard as they can to play their game. They are going to work and they are going to work real hard. Tampa has that mentality. It's the way Rick Tocchet wants them to play." -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma following practice on Friday.

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