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NHL's top scorers meet as Islanders host Penguins

by John Kreiser

PENGUINS (35-13-2) at ISLANDERS (21-24-7)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 7-2-1; New York 7-3-0

Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders are playing the last of their four games this season. The Islanders won 4-3 on Oct. 25 in Pittsburgh, but the Penguins have won the past two, including a 3-2 overtime victory at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 3.

Big story: While the Penguins continue to cruise to the Metropolitan Division title and push for first place in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders continue to try to dig out from an early-season slump and get back into the playoff race.

Team Scope:

Penguins: A 5-1 home loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday was one of the Penguins' worst performances of the season. They looked more like the team that has dominated its division on Wednesday by whipping the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 behind a pair of goals by Jussi Jokinen.

While any team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is unlikely to struggle offensively, one of the secrets to the Penguins' success has been their ability to get secondary scoring. The two goals were the 14th and 15th of the season for Jokinen.

"He came out big for us in a lot of ways, scoring some goals here for us," coach Dan Bylsma said. "To have his 14th and 15th goals for us, it's secondary scoring and it's been big for us."

Islanders: New York has had problems holding leads; the overtime loss to Pittsburgh came in a game the Islanders led 2-0. But they've been at their best when they get behind. In back-to-back games against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, they trailed 3-1 and rallied to win. A 5-3 win against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden was their League-high eighth of the season in a game they trailed by two or more goals.

They've outscored the opposition 20-6 in the third period in their past 13 games.

"During the last month and a half we've done a much better job in all three zones and battling through adversity when it's been there," said captain John Tavares, who's second in the scoring race with 62 points, seven behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. "Everyone is playing as a unit out there, from our goaltender out to our forwards, you can just tell that in all three zones the execution level is much better."

Who's hot: Jokinen has three goals and four points in his past three games. Crosby had a goal Wednesday and leads the NHL with 69 points. He has 24 goals and 80 points in 44 regular-season games against the Islanders. … Tavares has 18 points in 11 games since the new year; linemate Thomas Vanek had the winning goal against the Rangers and is 3-5-8 during a six-game points streak.

Injury report: Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot, hip) is off blood thinners. He skated Wednesday and will face shots once his blood levels return to normal. Forward Andrew Ebbett (broken ankle) practiced Monday for the first time since the injury and was activated off injured reserve Thursday. Forwards Beau Bennett (wrist surgery), Chris Conner (hand surgery), Pascal Dupuis (knee surgery), Brian Gibbons (lower body) and Joe Vitale (sprained right wrist) are on IR. … The Islanders are without goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (lower body) and defensemen Travis Hamonic (upper body) and Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion).

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