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Pens-Bolts features Crosby-Stamkos showdown

by Matthew Mankiewich

PENGUINS (5-3-1) at LIGHTNING (5-2-1)

TV -- Fox Sports-Pittsburgh (HD),SUN (HD)

Season series -- It's the first of four meetings. The teams split last season's series, each with a win and a loss in its home venue and each scoring a total of seven goals. Though they finished 21 points apart in the Eastern Conference standings, it's a new season and both are off to strong starts, each team leading its respective division.

Big story -- Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos in the same building is a hot ticket for a reason. Dead even last season with 51 goals each, they shared the Rocket Richard Trophy and it looks like another race is on as Crosby has been on a tear trying to catch up with Stamkos' League-leading 8 goals and 15 points. More important, the teams look to be in an early standings race, each with 11 points and each in first place.

Team scope

Penguins -- The Pens went to St. Louis riding a four-game winning streak with Crosby scoring 5 goals and 4 assists in that stretch. Jaroslav Halak silenced Crosby and everyone else wearing black and gold while Erik Johnson scored the game's lone goal in overtime to give the Blues a 1-0 win, keeping them as one of the five NHL teams that have never allowed a Crosby score.

"In the second, I thought we outplayed them and generated a lot of chances," Crosby said. "In the third, it was kind of 50-50. Both teams had their fair share of chances. Unfortunately for us, they got the winner in overtime."

Lightning -- "Got Stamkos?" say the bumper stickers from the 2008 top draft pick's rookie year. When he scores, his team is 5-0-0. When he doesn't, they're 0-2-1 including a 4-3 loss to the Predators on Sunday, in which they tried to dig out of a 4-1 hole.

It's those nights when he does light the lamp that have people wondering how good the team can be.

"We can be on top of the Eastern Conference, we believe in ourselves," said Stamkos in the Tampa Tribune. "These next few games are going to be a great test. They are against good teams and we want to prove we can beat those top teams. We know what to expect from them, but we have to really stick to our structure."

Who's hot -- Stamkos set the pace for the whole NHL last week with nine points and got third star for his trouble. He joins teammates Martin St. Louis, Sean Bergenheim and Victor Hedman on four-game point streaks as well. Even though the Blues shutout stopped point streaks on the Pittsburgh side, Kris Letang still has six points in his last four games, Mike Comrie has four in four and Evgeni Malkin has two goals and five assists in his last six.

Injury report -- Forward Arron Asham (shoulder) is expected to make his season debut for Pittsburgh after sustaining his injury in a preseason game in Chicago Oct. 1. Zbynek Michalek (shoulder) is expected to miss another two weeks but worked out with teammates Sunday. Center Jordan Staal (foot) remains on IR but is also practicing. … Lightning winger Simon Gagne (neck) has missed the last two games and sat out practice on Monday. Also not practicing were center Dominic Moore (lower body) and defenseman Brett Clark, nursing a bruised wrist from a Vinny Lecavalier shot on Sunday.

Stat pack -- While Pens coach Dan Bylsma has been riding Brent Johnson's hot hand in goal, Marc-Andre Fleury holds a 7-3-0 mark with a 1.90 goals-against average in his last 10 starts against the Bolts. None of Crosby's 51 goals last season came against the Lightning, while Stamkos scored two against the Penguins. Crosby has two goals in his last 11 games in the series and 16 points in 18 games against Tampa Bay overall, making the Lightning one of only two Eastern Conference teams to hold him to less than a point a game.

Puck drop -- "I think we are on the right path to being a good team. Now, we haven't done anything yet and we are a work in progress and we are not satisfied. We know we can get better. We are still working on getting off to a better start and we know Pittsburgh is going to be a good test because that is a team that comes out flying and we are going to have to match that, if not be better." -- Lightning goalie Mike Smith in the Tampa Tribune on his team's aspirations

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