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Penguins try to continue dominance of Isles

by Brian Schiazza /

PENGUINS (16-9-4) at ISLANDERS (9-11-6)


LAST 10: Pittsburgh 5-4-1; New York 4-3-3

Season series: The Penguins took a 3-0 lead in the season series with a 5-0 victory on Nov. 21 at Consol Energy Center that was highlighted by Sidney Crosby's triumphant four-point performance in his return after a concussion-induced 10-month absence. The Penguins have allowed just two goals in the three wins.

Big story: With Crosby sitting out as a precaution after a collision in Monday's loss to Boston, can the Islanders find a way to defeat the Penguins? New York was dominated in Crosby's return and is 2-18-2 in its last 22 matchups with Pittsburgh.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Pittsburgh has gone 6-4-1 since Crosby's return, but has lost back-to-back games -- including a 3-2 defeat in Philadelphia on Thursday with its captain back home. The power play has struggled badly this week, going scoreless in a combined 4:20 of two-man advantages in losses to the Bruins and Flyers. Despite the specter of facing old friend Jaromir Jagr in an always-intense matchup with the Flyers, the Penguins were disappointed with their effort in the first and second periods of the 3-2 loss, in which they fell behind 3-0. The Penguins have relied on an all-around game, allowing just 72 goals all season long, eclipsed in the East only by Boston's 56 goals allowed.

The Penguins are hopeful of a Tuesday return for Crosby, who stated "we want to err on the side of caution" after the decision to sit out two games came on the heels of a post-practice headache on Wednesday. Tests showed no indication of a concussion for the Pittsburgh captain, who has 12 points in his eight games since returning.

Islanders: After a tough stretch that saw them sink to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Isles look like they're headed in the right direction. Despite dropping their second overtime loss to the Blackhawks in a week this past Thursday on Long Island, the Islanders have collected a point in the standings in their past six games (4-0-2).

One key to the improvement has been the play of goaltender Al Montoya, who has appeared in each of the Islanders' last seven games, starting six of them. Montoya has brought some stability to the Isles' crease with a 1.97 goals against average in his last six starts.

Who's Hot: In the nine games since Crosby's return, Evgeni Malkin also picked up his game. The Russian star has 12 points in his last nine games and is averaging 5.2 shots in that span. … Matt Moulson's five-game goal-scoring streak ended in the Isles' loss to Chicago, but he still has eight goals and three assists in his last six games. John Tavares has seven points in his last four games.

Injury Report: In addition to Crosby, the Penguins will be missing center Jordan Staal, who's out with what coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday morning is a lower-body injury. They are also missing top defensemen Zbynek Michalek (concussion) and Kris Letang (broken nose and concussion). Another defenseman, Daryl Engelland (lower body) will return, while center Richard Park (undisclosed), Ben Lovejoy (knee) and Dustin Jeffery (knee) remain sidelined. ... For the Islanders, Nino Niederreiter (concussion), Rick DiPietro (groin), Evgeni Nabokov (groin), Jay Pandolfo (broken foot), Andrew McDonald (right leg) and Mark Eaton (knee) remain out.

Stat Pack: Should the Penguins defeat the Islanders to go 4-0 on the season series, they will have clinched a winning record against the Islanders for the fifth straight season. However, if the Isles can grab a lead early and make it stick, they can improve their 7-0-4 mark when leading after the first period this season.

Puck Drop: Just when the Penguins were nearly at full power for a few games with Crosby returning, the injury bug bit hard on the blue line. Pittsburgh has dressed 11 defensemen this season. "It's just the nature of the game right now," right wing Pascal Dupuis told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Every team in the League has people banged up right now. We just need to fight through it."

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