Evgeni Malkin might not be thrilled to see the calendar turn after his NHL-best 25-point November, though his first December opponent hasn't done much lately to keep him off the score sheet either.
Malkin had a goal and three assists in a 5-1 win over Florida on Saturday, giving him his first four-point game since the 2011-12 season. He ended November with eight points in the last three games and has 17 over an eight-game point streak. With 35 this season, he and teammate Sidney Crosby (36) are among the league leaders.
"I'd love to see them both at the top at the end of the year," coach Dan Bylsma told the Penguins' official website. "(Malkin) did it a lot of ways tonight. ... His effort has been pretty consistent for a long stretch of games here. Pretty remarkable night in the duty he did get."
It hasn't been just Malkin and Crosby producing. James Neal, who had a goal and an assist against the Panthers, has been nearly as hot as Malkin with 13 points in the last seven games.
Chris Kunitz passed Crosby for the team lead in goals with his 14th to give Pittsburgh (18-9-1) a 1-0 lead midway through the first period Saturday. Kunitz has three goals in the last three games and had two goals and an assist in a 4-3 home win over the Islanders on Nov. 22.
The Penguins' three-game winning streak includes a 5-for-9 mark on the power play that has helped bump their season percentage to 25.3. Their 30.0 percent mark in November was the best in the league.
Pittsburgh is looking for its eighth win in 10 tries on Long Island, including the playoffs. The Penguins and Islanders (8-15-4) have met 13 times this calendar year with Pittsburgh winning nine, including four times in last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Though the Islanders might not be thrilled with their first December opponent, they're likely happy to see the calendar turn after an NHL-worst 4-10-1 November in which their power play ranked 28th at 9.4 percent and their penalty kill was a league-worst 64.3 percent.
Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to Washington snapped a streak of five straight regulation defeats, though the way it happened didn't help team morale.
Thomas Vanek's goal with under two minutes remaining in regulation gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead, but they allowed a short-handed goal in the final minute.
"Guys worked hard tonight," coach Jack Capuano said. "I thought they were focused and this was a step in the right direction. It came down to special teams. It's just very frustrating that it had to end this way."
Bettering their 0-5-1 stretch over the next six games won't be particularly easy. Pittsburgh closes out the Islanders' four-game homestand before they embark on a potentially brutal Western Conference road trip against St. Louis, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix - all of which would be playoff teams through the first two months of the season.
"We have to believe in one another and stick with it," Capuano said.
Vanek might be the one to believe in. He has seven goals during a five-game scoring streak versus the Penguins, including two in his first game against them with the Islanders last month. He has 12 points over an eight-game point streak against Pittsburgh.
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