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Pens look to continue roll shorthanded

by Eric Goodman
PENGUINS (31-15-4) at RANGERS (29-20-3)

TV --

Last 10 -- Penguins 6-3-1; Rangers 5-5-0

Season series -- This is the fourth of six games between the Atlantic Division rivals. The Rangers hold the edge with a 2-1-0 record, with one regulation win and one overtime victory, each coming at Pittsburgh. The Penguins seek to extend their winning streak at Madison Square Garden to five games.

Big story -- Most of the hockey world is wondering when superstar Sidney Crosby will return to game action for the Pens after missing the last nine games due to a concussion. The latest official word was from Penguins coach Dan Bylsma following Monday's practice, who told reporters, "Crosby is cleared to do very light exercise as part of his functional rehab, and until he progresses, he will not go to the next level for that."

Team Scope:

Penguins -- Besides missing Crosby, the Pens have been without another offensive force as forward Evgeni Malkin sat out the last three regulation games, as well as All-Star Weekend, due to a left knee injury and sinus infection. But despite the holes in its lineup, Pittsburgh will aim for its third straight win Tuesday.

Malkin's return could be getting close. He skated with the team Monday and will travel to New York, but will not dress for the game.

"Evgeni Malkin practiced with us today, and he’ll be going on the trip with us but will not be playing in tomorrow’s game," Bylsma said after practice Monday.

Rangers -- The Blueshirts have been hampered by various injuries all season long, but they still managed to win three of their last five games heading into this past weekend's All-Star break. And things are starting to look up as New York expects some of its injured players to return to game action tonight.

Right wing Ryan Callahan (hand) and defenseman Dan Girardi skated in Greenburgh on Monday and the Rangers have confirmed that Callahan will return tonight and most lilkely Girardi as well. Also, leading scorer Brandon Dubinksy (38 points) had a full skating session, followed by an entire practice Monday and is questionable for tonight's tilt after missing the Rangers' last five games with a left leg injury.

Additionally, Rangers' head coach John Tortorella said that veteran winger Vinny Prospal has "been cleared to play" after missing every game this season due to knee surgery and can return to game action as soon as Thursday night's game against the Devils. Finally, winger Erik Chirstensen is nearing a return following a sprained knee ligament suffered on Dec. 27.

"It's really good to see guys coming back," goalie Henrik Lundqvist told New York Daily News reporter Jesse Spector on Monday. "It gives us confidence as a team to feel like we're coming here."

Who's hot -- Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has won five straight for the Pens, with a 1.40 goals-against average over that span. ... Rookie Mats Zuccarello tallied 3 assists for the Rangers on Jan. 25 and has 3 goals and 8 assists in 17 games this season.

Injury report -- Crosby (concussion) remains sidelined indefinitely for the Pens. Malkin (sinus infection/knee) skated with teammates Monday and will be in New York tonight, but won't play. … For the Rangers, forward Ryan Callahan (hand) will return tonight and defenseman Dan Girardi (ribs) could be back as well. Forwards  Brandon Dubinsky (leg) and Vinny Prospal (knee) should return at some point this week. Erik Christensen (knee) will probably need a few more practices before getting back to game action. Forwards Ruslan Fedotenko (shoulder), Alex Frolov (knee), and Derek Boogaard (concussion) remain on injured reserve.

Stat pack -- How important is Crosby to the Penguins' success? Pittsburgh is just 5-3-1 over its last nine games without its captain in the lineup and is averaging just 2.11 goals per game over that span. In 41 games with Crosby, the Pens were averaging just over 3.3 goals per game.

Puck drop -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma remains confident in his club, even though two of his biggest offensive threats recently have been absent.

"I think the challenge for our guys when we lose Crosby or Malkin to an injury is a challenge that we can uphold the expectation of how we can play. You see our guys going over the boards and accepting that challenge," Bylsma told the Pens' website following his club's 1-0 win against the Islanders on Jan. 25.
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