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Penguins begin busy stretch against Coyotes

by Brian Hunter /

COYOTES (15-9-7) at PENGUINS (21-10-2)


Last 10:
Phoenix 4-4-2; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season series: Pittsburgh hosts Phoenix and looks for a sweep of the 2010-11 series after claiming a 4-3 shootout win at Arena on Nov. 6 courtesy of Mark Letestu connecting in the third round. Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, while Eric Belanger and Wojtek Wolski did the same for the Coyotes.

Big story: There's no time for Pittsburgh to look ahead to the upcoming 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against Washington, set for New Year's Day at Heinz Field. That's because the Penguins must first survive a stretch of six games in 10 days that begins Monday. They've lost two in a row following a 12-game winning streak.

Team Scope:

Halfway through a six-game road trip it's been a wild ride already for Phoenix, which is 1-1-1 to this point. After getting shut out by the Devils, the Coyotes found out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov would be unavailable just hours before their game Thursday against the Rangers and had to sign former collegiate hockey player Tom Fenton out of the community relations department of nearby Manhattanville College to back up Jason LaBarbera. They let a pair of two-goal leads slip away and lost that game in a shootout, but bounced back Saturday in another penalty-shot tiebreaker to edge the Islanders by a 4-3 score. LaBarbera made 41 saves.

"I was excited … it was probably the first time in two years I got to play two games in a row like that," LaBarbera said. "It's a good opportunity right now to play some games. You've just got to give the guys a chance to win every night and just build from there."

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, a 1-0 third-period lead for Pittsburgh on Wednesday turned into a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the visiting New York Rangers. Only 24 hours after their long winning streak ended at the hands of the rival Flyers, the Penguins opened the scoring on an Evgeni Malkin goal with 13 seconds left in the first and that held up until the final 10 minutes of regulation. But when Erik Christensen scored on a power play, the floodgates opened. Alexander Frolov netted the go-ahead goal 15 seconds later and the Rangers added two more for insurance -- four goals total in a 6:19 span.

"There's no excuses," said backup goalie Brent Johnson, starting for the first time since Nov. 27. "You can't give up four goals in the third period - it doesn't matter if you've been sitting for a while."

Who's hot: Coyotes captain Shane Doan has 3 goals and 4 assists in his last six games. Keith Yandle has 1 goal and 8 assists in his last seven games. Martin Hanzal has goals in consecutive games. … Crosby extended his points streak to 20 games by assisting on Malkin's goal against the Rangers. Malkin has all three of his team's goals over the last two games after returning from a four-game absence due to a knee injury.

Injury report: Bryzgalov is day-to-day with an upper-body injury for Phoenix, which managed to get Matt Climie in uniform to back up LaBarbera for Saturday's game. … Forward Chris Kunitz is day-to-day for Pittsburgh while forwards Jordan Staal and Mike Comrie are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Yandle logged 29:56 of ice time for the Coyotes against the Islanders and 29:34 against the Rangers. … Crosby's 54 points not only lead the League, they're twice as many as the second-leading scorer on the Penguins, defenseman Kris Letang, who has 5 goals and 22 assists.

Puck drop:
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma addressed the progress Staal is making in trying to get back in the lineup following offseason foot surgery and a subsequent broken hand suffered as he was nearing his return from the first injury.

"He's missed a lot now. At least with practice and competition is something that he hasn't seen. We'll make that timeline once we know that he's back in practice," Bylsma said. "He's in pretty good shape right now. Certainly not playing shape, but he's in pretty good shape right now."

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