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Penguins looking to conquer Atlantic

by Adam Schwartz
Ryan Hollweg and the New York Rangers will try to prevent Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins from locking up the Atlantic Division tonight at Madison Square Garden.
After a busy weekend in the NHL, the League's schedule has just two games Monday night.

At 7 p.m. the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the New York Rangers, and a half-hour later, the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Atlanta Thrashers in a Southeast Division showdown.

Here's what to keep an eye out for:

* The Rangers, who have allowed the second-fewest goals against in the Eastern Conference with 191, are in sixth place in the conference with 91 points and are just two behind the fourth-place New Jersey Devils. The Rangers will face the Islanders, who are in the last place in the Atlantic Division with 76 points, twice in their final four games and the Devils in their season finale.

* Rangers right wing Brandon Dubinsky, who has the most goals among Atlantic Division rookies with 14, snapped a 12-game goalless drought Sunday afternoon when he scored the Rangers' lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the Penguins. Dubinsky, who plays alongside Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery, has two goals and two assists for four points and a plus-3 rating in seven games against the Penguins this season.

* Rangers defenseman Marek Malik, who leads the team with a plus-9 rating, has a plus-25 rating in 35 career games against Pittsburgh, including a plus-3 rating in three games this season. Malik, who averages 19:10 of ice time per game, has blocked the second-fewest shots among Rangers defensemen with 45.

* Rangers center Scott Gomez, who leads the team with 53 assists, has assists in just one of his last 10 games. Gomez, who has four seasons with at least 50 assists, is just three assists shy of his career-high of the 56 he had in the 2003-04 season.

* The Penguins can clinch their first Atlantic Division title and their first division title since 1996, when they won the Northeast Division, Monday night with a victory against the Rangers. Pittsburgh started to pull away with the division lead when it defeated the New Jersey Devils twice in four days.

* Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby, who won the Art Ross Trophy for most points in the League last season, has nine goals and 19 assists for 28 points and a plus-2 rating in 21 career games against the Rangers, including one goal and seven assists for eight points and a plus-4 rating in six games this season. Crosby, whose 1.35 points per game average is the second-highest in the League, had two assists in Pittsburgh's 3-1 victory against the Rangers on Sunday in his second game returning from an ankle injury.

* The Thrashers, who have yielded the most goals in the League with 268, won't make the playoffs for the ninth time in their 10-season history. The Thrashers, who were swept by the Rangers in last season's playoffs, are still one of just two teams – the Columbus Blue Jackets are the other – that have not won a playoff game.

* Penguins right wing Marian Hossa, who was injured during his first game with Pittsburgh, has three goals and five assists for eight points in nine games with the Penguins. Hossa, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, has two goals and three assists for five points and a plus-2 rating in his last five games.

* Atlanta left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who has the second-most goals in the League with 50, has 21 goals and 17 points for 38 points in 36 career games against the Lightning, including six goals and three assists for nine points in six games this season.

* Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who is tied for the second-most assists among Thrashers and the fourth-most among rookies with 33, has no assists in his last nine games. Enstrom, who has the most points among rookie defensemen with 38, has a minus-9 rating in his last eight games.

* Since being traded to the Lightning as part of the deal that saw Brad Richards go to the Dallas Stars, Jussi Jokinen has two goals and 10 assists for 12 points in 16 games with Tampa Bay. Jokinen, selected No. 192 overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, had 28 points in 52 games with the Stars.

* Tampa Bay defenseman Brad Lukowich, who won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, returned to the Lightning lineup Saturday in Tampa Bay's 2-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes after missing 20 games with a groin injury.

* Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle, whose 27:23 average of ice time is the second-most in the League, has eight assists in his last nine games, but also has a minus-8 rating during that span. Boyle's .73 points per game average is higher than any other Southeast Division defenseman.    

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