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First-place Rangers roll into Pittsburgh

by John Kreiser

RANGERS (25-9-4) at PENGUINS (21-13-4)


LAST 10: New York 8-2-0; Pittsburgh 5-5-0

Season Series: The Atlantic Division rivals are meeting for just the second time this season. The only previous game was the Rangers' 4-3 win at home on Nov. 29. New York is 4-1-1 in its last six meetings with the Penguins.

Big Story: The rest of the NHL is looking up at the Rangers as they head to Pittsburgh for the first time this season -- the Blueshirts have won eight of their last nine after beating Florida 3-2 in OT at home on Thursday. The injury-riddled Penguins are the last team to make its 2012 debut -- they've had a few days off to rest after losing 3-1 on Dec. 31 at New Jersey.

Team Scope:

Rangers: New York is on top of the overall standings at this stage of the season for the first time since 1996. The Rangers stayed on top by beating Florida on Thursday when Marian Gaborik scored his 23rd of the season with 1:31 remaining in the extra period.

"We have won different ways this year, and even though it was a tie game we stuck with it and didn't panic," Gaborik said. "We just kept going, and that's how we got to this point so far this season."

The Rangers have won their last four visits to Pittsburgh, their longest streak since 1973-74.

Penguins: Pittsburgh lost its last two games of 2011, to Philadelphia and New Jersey, and starting the new year with a visit from the Rangers doesn't promise much relief. The Penguins need a win to stay within hailing distance of New York for first in the Atlantic Division.

"They have been on a roll even besides the Winter Classic," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik told the team's website. "They are playing really well. Lundqvist played really well for them. I think under (coach John) Tortorella, they just play a real good team game. It's not real flashy, but it's definitely effective."

Who's Hot: Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has allowed just six goals during a personal five-game winning streak. … Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had 19 points during a nine-game scoring streak that ended Saturday.

Injury Report: New York is without defensemen Michael Sauer (concussion) and Steve Eminger (shoulder), as well as forward Wojtek Wolski (groin). … The Penguins are still without Sidney Crosby, who's battling the effects of a concussion, as well as top defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and forward Dustin Jaffrey (knee). But both center Richard Park (broken foot) and defenseman Paul Martin (lower body) were activated off IR and should be ready to go.

Stat Pack: Gaborik's 23rd goal is one more than he scored all last season. … The Rangers lead the NHL with 555 hits on the road. … Malkin has 12 goals in 19 games against the Rangers in Pittsburgh.

Puck Drop: The Rangers' terrific start has been a team effort. But every team needs a home run hitter, and for the Rangers, that player has been Gaborik. He's already surpassed last season's goal output and is more than halfway to reaching his career high of 42, a mark he's reached twice.

"A lot of people were talking about me coming and helping Gabby," said Brad Richards, New York's big free-agent signing last summer. "Gabby has had many good seasons with whomever he's played with."

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