While many expected a tight race in the Atlantic Division, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins appear to be head and shoulders above the competition.
That shouldn't come as much of a surprise to the New York Rangers.
Hoping to stay unbeaten in March, Pittsburgh tries for a seventh consecutive victory over New York as these division rivals square off in a matinée showdown Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins (20-8-0) are looking every bit like the team to beat in the Atlantic, with a sizable lead over second-place New Jersey. Pittsburgh, which is tied with Montreal atop the Eastern Conference, is averaging an NHL-best 3.6 goals and an even more impressive 4.6 during a 7-0-0 run this month.
That success is due in large part to Crosby, who leads the league with 47 points. He turned in another superb performance in Thursday's 3-1 win at Toronto, setting up Pascal Dupuis' game-tying and go-ahead goals in the third period.
"That was fun to watch. I see this guy every day, but it's still amazing what he can do," Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 28 saves to earn his league high-tying 14th win, told the team's official website. "Every day, he still does crazy, crazy stuff out there."
Crosby had been sidelined for the better part of 14 months due to concussion-related problems before returning in a 5-2 road win over the Rangers last March 15. Crosby, who hasn't missed a game since, had two assists that night and has notched 10 goals and 19 assists during a 16-game point streak in the series.
"I get to play with the best player in the world every night," said linemate Chris Kunitz, who has 17 goals and 18 assists over his last 21 games. "It makes going out and playing a lot of fun."
Pittsburgh has outscored New York 25-8 in winning the last six meetings, handily taking both matchups this season. The Penguins cruised to a 6-3 victory at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 20, then pulled out another road win by a 3-0 score 11 days later behind Tomas Vokoun's 28 saves.
Things could be more difficult Saturday without Evgeni Malkin. The reigning league MVP, who totaled a goal and four assists against the Rangers in January, will miss his fourth consecutive game due to an upper-body injury.
New York (13-11-2) enters the weekend hoping to avoid a season-worst third consecutive regulation loss after falling 3-1 at Winnipeg on Thursday.
Captain Ryan Callahan provided all the offense with his team high-tying ninth goal. Marian Gaborik had a chance at an early equalizer in the first period but missed a penalty shot.
"We've got to capitalize," said coach John Tortorella, whose team is 4 for 33 (12.1 percent) on the power play while going 4-6-1 on the road. "When you have a penalty shot, you have a breakaway, some really good looks there, you need to get something done there.
"Hopefully, we can get our next game, some guys gain some confidence and we score some goals along with defending the proper way."
Henrik Lundqvist turned away 30 of 32 Jets shots but still dropped to 0-3-0 over his last three games and 2-5-1 on the road. While Lundqvist has compiled a 3.49 goals-against average in losing four straight against the Penguins, he's 5-1-0 with a 1.66 mark over his last six starts at Pittsburgh.
Fleury, 12-3-0 since the start of February, has gone 4-0-0 with a 1.25 GAA in his last four meetings with New York.