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Red-hot Crosby leads Penguins against Predators

by Brian Hunter
PREDATORS (32-23-5) at PENGUINS (36-22-3)

Last 10: Nashville 3-5-2; Pittsburgh 5-3-2

Season series:
This is the only meeting between these teams during the 2009-10 season. Ryan Suter scored the go-ahead goal on a power play midway through the third period as Nashville claimed a 5-3 win over Pittsburgh on home ice in the most recent matchup on Jan. 8, 2009. The Predators rallied for five unanswered goals after the Penguins took a 3-0 lead, and Pekka Rinne stopped 17 of 18 shots in relief of Dan Ellis.

Big story: Can Sidney Crosby add to his career-high goal total before the Olympic break? The Pittsburgh captain, in his fifth NHL season, reached the 40-goal plateau for the first time by scoring twice Friday against the New York Rangers. He's battling his chief nemesis, Washington's Alex Ovechkin, for the Rocket Richard Trophy.

Team Scope:

Predators: Nashville compiled three out of a possible six points on a road trip through New York and New Jersey, falling to the Islanders in a shootout, edging the Rangers and losing to the Devils. The Predators entered the third period Friday in a 2-2 deadlock, but the Devils scored three times to send them to a 5-2 defeat.

"We need to tighten up and win the last game before the break," defenseman Shea Weber said. "You see how tight the Western Conference is and we have 21 games after the (Olympic) break. It's a sprint, 17 games in March. It's going to be crazy and we need to get on a roll."

Despite Crosby's two goals, Pittsburgh lost 3-2 in overtime Friday to New York. Marc-Andre Fleury gave up the winning goal by Olli Jokinen after Brent Johnson left the game due to a lower-body injury. Coach Dan Bylsma wasn't sure who the backup to Fleury would be on Sunday. The Penguins will be trying to earn two points against an unfamiliar opponent.

"I think system-wise we don't know a whole lot about them," Crosby said. "We'll watch some clips and see some things there, but I think the common thing that I've seen over the last few years is that they play a speed game. They really like to forecheck hard. They're very quick. They're always skilled. I expect a pretty fast-paced game."

Who's hot: Jordin Tootoo has goals in consecutive games for the Predators and Cal O'Reilly has two goals and three assists in his past four games. … Crosby has erupted for eight goals in the Penguins' last six games, while Evgeni Malkin's points streak stands at 12 games, with eight goals and 13 assists during that span.

Injury report:
Nashville forwards Marcel Goc (upper body) and Jerred Smithson (foot) are questionable to play Sunday while defenseman Cody Franson is on injured reserve with a broken rib. … Pittsburgh will have to recall a goalie if Johnson can't suit up, while forwards Maxime Talbot and Eric Godard are out with groin injuries.

Stat pack: The Predators are 1-5-1 away from home since a five-game road winning streak. … Crosby became the 17th player in the Penguins' franchise history to score 40 goals in a season. Malkin had 47 two seasons ago.

Puck drop: Sunday's game figures to be the exception, but Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero generally enjoys seeing Nashville win hockey games. Shero was the assistant GM there from the team's inception in 1998 until he left following the 2005-06 season for the Penguins job.

"We don't play them a lot obviously, but a lot of the players were there when I was there. We either drafted them or they played with us in (Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate in) Milwaukee. A lot of their guys have come up through the farm system," Shero said. "I was with their coaches for a lot of years and (Nashville GM) David Poile. I have found memories of Nashville. I still root for the team to do well."

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