The Ottawa Senators were the top team in the Eastern Conference when they hosted the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins in late November.
Since the Penguins pulled off a comeback victory in that game, they've posted the best record in the East.
Pittsburgh (35-21-5) will look for its fourth straight win when it hosts the Senators on Saturday - its first chance to move ahead of Ottawa in the conference standings.
|The Penguins will be gunning for their fourth-straight win when they host the Senators this afternoon. Pittsburgh can forge ahead of Ottawa in the Eastern Conference standings with a victory today. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Penguins were 8-11-2 on Nov. 22 when they traveled to Scotia Bank Place to face the 16-4-0 Senators. They trailed 5-3 in the third period, but came back to win 6-5 in a shootout. Since then, Pittsburgh has gone 27-10-3 - by far the best record in the East in that span - and on Saturday can leapfrog the Senators (35-20-6) in the standings.
The race couldn't get much tighter at the top of the conference. Pittsburgh, Montreal and New Jersey all have 75 points, one shy of current leader Ottawa.
The Penguins pulled into the three-way tie following a 5-4 road win against the Canadiens on Thursday night. They blew a two-goal lead late in the second period and fell behind 4-3, but Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist in a 36-second span to give Pittsburgh the victory.
"I've said it before, I played with him during the lockout and I knew what he was capable of," said Sergei Gonchar, who Malkin found for the winning goal. "He's just playing up to his potential with more ice time and more chances and I kind of expect it from him. It's not a surprise to me."
Malkin is the NHL's leading scorer with 82 points (35 goals, 47 assists), and he's kept the Penguins playing at a high level since they lost captain Sidney Crosby to a high ankle sprain on Jan. 18.
They're 9-4-2 since Crosby went down, and Malkin has 12 goals and 18 assists in those 15 games, including a current 10-game point streak where he's amassed eight goals and 16 assists.
The Penguins are 12-0-2 since Dec. 5 when Malkin has a multipoint game.
Crosby isn't due back until sometime in March, but he began practicing a week ago. Considering the way Pittsburgh's played without him, he's in no rush to speed up his timetable.
"Right now it's a little bit easier because we're winning," Crosby said on Monday. "To see them doing well, that's the biggest thing for me."
The Senators are just 6-10-2 since Jan. 13, and have lost three straight three times in that stretch. They're 1-2-2 in their last five games, and the NHL's highest-scoring team (206 goals) has all of a sudden gone cold.
Ottawa has scored just 10 goals in the last five contests, and its top line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley has contributed just one goal and three assists in that span.
The Senators fell 3-2 in a shootout to Columbus on Thursday with just Heatley registering an assist, yet Spezza wasn't overly concerned.
"I thought we played well," he said. "I definitely like the way our game's going. I think our line played better, though, definitely in the third period."
Ottawa's top line has done very well when facing the Penguins recently. Alfredsson has five goals and 12 assists in his last 10 games against Pittsburgh, Spezza has six goals and seven assists in his last five, and Heatley has seven goals in his last six.