Already a dysfunctional team on the ice, the Pittsburgh Penguins must now find a way to compensate for the loss of a top playmaker as they play host to the New York Rangers.
The Penguins have lost seven straight games, two shy of their season-worst nine-game losing streak (0-4-5) to start the season. Unlike that streak, Pittsburgh has failed to get an overtime point in any of its losses during the current skid.
Coach Michel Therrien's harsh comments after a 3-1 loss Jan. 10 failed to spur the Penguins, who have been outscored 19-9 in four games since the tirade.
The losing appears to have taken its toll on winger Ziggy Palffy, who stunned the team with his decision to retire Wednesday. Palffy, who has a team-high 31 assists and is the second-leading scorer with 42 points, had not scored a goal in 14 games.
"It's been tough on him the last 10 to 15 games," said rookie Sidney Crosby, Palffy's linemate and the team's leading scorer. "I don't know if he's ever gone that long without scoring one."
Crosby also has been coming under increased scrutiny of late for his ill-advised penalties. The 18-year-old rookie ended a six-game goalless drought with a power-play marker in Monday's 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, but also was in the penalty box in the third period when Vancouver scored an insurance goal.
"He got frustrated out there," said the Canucks' Brendan Morrison about Crosby. "When you play against a guy like that who's a good competitor and wants to win, plays with an edge, sometimes that is to your advantage. If you're going to give a hit you have to expect to be hit."
Crosby has accumulated a team-high 70 penalty minutes, and 30 have come in the last 11 games.
The Rangers are trying to pick up their first win on a four-game road trip after consecutive 4-3 losses at Detroit and Columbus. New York fell behind 3-1 Wednesday to Columbus in the first 9:41 and rallied to tie the game, only to allow a go-ahead goal to Blue Jackets left wing Rick Nash with 6:38 to play.
"In the first 10 minutes something was amiss with our team and our approach," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We got it going finally, but at the end of the day the better team won."
Right wing Jaromir Jagr was held without a point and will try to avoid being held without a point in consecutive games for the first time this season. Jagr has four goals and two assists in three games against the Penguins this season and has 16 points in 14 lifetime games against them.
STANDINGS: Rangers - 57 points, 2nd place, 7 PB, Atlantic Division. Penguins - 31 points, 5th place, 33 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 29 goals, 40 assists and 69 points; Michal Rozsival and Darius Kasparaitis, 52 PIM. Penguins - Crosby, 22 goals, 51 points and 70 PIM; Palffy, 31 assists.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Rangers - Power play: 15.8 percent (41 for 259), 21st in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.9 percent (241 for 284), 5th. Penguins - Power play: 17.2 percent (50 for 290), 16th. Penalty killing: 78.4 percent (240 for 306), 30th.
GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Henrik Lundqvist
(17-6-5, 2 SO, 2.19 GAA); Kevin Weekes (8-8-2, 0, 3.11). Penguins - Marc-Andre Fleury (5-13-3, 0, 3.19); Sebastien Caron (5-3-3, 0, 4.18).
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 31; Penguins, 4-3 (OT). At Pittsburgh, Crosby scored a power-play goal with 1:29 left in overtime for one of Therrien's three wins since taking over the team in December. Jagr had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, who rallied from one-goal deficits each period before overtime.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 11-9-3 on the road; Penguins - 6-12-5 at home.
- Associated Press