Pittsburgh Penguins (7-12-6) at New York Rangers (16-7-3) Thursday, 7 p.m. EST
/ New York Rangers
After four days without a game, the rested Rangers look to extend their season-high five-game winning streak when they return to the ice tonight against face Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.
This will be the Rangers' third of eight games against Pittsburgh in 2005-06. The Rangers are 1-1 against the Pens so far, including a 6-1 victory at Pittsburgh on Nov. 12. In an earlier meeting at the Garden, Pittsburgh rolled out to a 3-0 lead before the Rangers stormed back with two late goals but could not get the tying goal in the final minutes. That was Pittsburgh's third straight Garden victory over the Rangers, who last beat the Pens at home on Nov. 12, 2003.
Rangers leading scorer Jaromir Jagr, who faced his former Washington teammates in the Rangers' last game on Saturday, goes up against his other former team tonight. Jagr had a hat trick in the 6-1 victory three weeks ago, and three more points against the Penguins could put him back in the NHL scoring lead.
Jagr is currently tied with Philadelphia's Peter Forsberg for third in the NHL with 39 points, two points behind Ottawa's Jason Spezza and one behind Spezza's teammate Daniel Alfredsson. Both Senators passed Jagr during the past four days while the Rangers were idle. The Flyers' Simon Gagne also passed Jagr in the goal-scoring race. Gagner now has 23 goal to Jagr's 21.
A former Pittsburgh captain, Jagr has seven goals and six assists in 14 games against the Penguins since leaving the team after the 2000-01 season. Five of the seven goals have come in a Rangers uniform. Jagr, who has not gone two consecutive games without scoring at least one point this season, was held scoreless for only the fifth time this season the Rangers' 15-round shootout victory over Washington on Saturday.
Despite being off several days, the Rangers retain first place in the NHL's Atlantic Division -- two points ahead of the Flyers. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, enters tonight's game in fifth place in the NHL's Atlantic Division. The Penguins enjoyed a resurgence following an 0-5-4 start to their season but they're now 7-12-6 after losing their last two games, including Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to Buffalo at home. Pittsburgh is 3-6-1 in its last 10 games, with wins over the Canadiens, Flyers and Capitals.
The brightest spot in Pittsburgh's season has been Crosby, the NHL's highest-scoring rookie with 28 points. The 18-year-old phenom, the highest profile No. 1 overall draft pick since Eric Lindros in 1991, has lived up to all of the hype and then some. Had the 2005 draft lottery broken more favorably for the Blueshirts, who had the same odds as Pittsburgh for drawing the No. 1 pick, Crosby might have been wearing a Rangers uniform tonight.
Crosby is due for some scoring, after being held off the scoresheet in each of the past two games - the first time in his young NHL career that he has gone back-to-back games without a point. Seven of his 12 goals have come on the road, including one in the previous game at MSG.
Mentoring Crosby in the teen's first NHL season is 40-year-old Lemieux, who remains one of the NHL's most lethal weapons even when he is not racking up points at his normal Hall of Fame pace. Lemieux missed last Sunday night's game with a stomach flu, and has now gone three straight games without a point.
The Rangers will be without goaltender Kevin Weekes and winger Jed Ortmeyer tonight. Weekes, who started each of the previous games against Pittsburgh, suffered a right ankle contusion last week and was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. Ortmeyer has been given non-roster status for one game as he tends to a family matter.
The Rangers might be facing their third Pittsburgh goaltender in three games after playing against Sebastien Caron on Nov. 7 and Jocelyn Thibault on Nov. 12. Marc-Andre Fleury, the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NHL draft, was recently recalled to the Penguins and could be in goal tonight. Fleury is 0-2 in his previous two starts against the Rangers.
With a 10-3 record in November, the Rangers are coming off their winningest calendar month since December 1996, when they went 11-3-1 during Wayne Gretzky's first season with the team. That season ended with a trip to the playoffs, as the Rangers advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals.
TEAM LEADERS: Penguins - Crosby, 12 goals; Zigmund Palffy, 18 assists; Crosby and Palffy, 28 points; Brooks Orpik, 40 PIM. Rangers - Jagr, 21 goals and 39 points; Martin Straka, 21 assists; Darius Kasparaitis, 36 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 29) : Penguins - Power play: 16.7 percent (28 for 167), 19th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.1 percent (129 for 165), 29th. Rangers - Power play: 16.9 percent (26 for 153), 17th. Penalty killing: 86.3 percent (146 for 169), 4th.