The Penguins look to gain ground in the Atlantic Division when they host the first-place New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
New Jersey (40-19-8) holds a seven-point lead over second-place Pittsburgh in the division, but the Penguins (36-21-9) are still in strong position for their first postseason appearance since 2000-01, sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Crosby has been key to that success with an NHL-leading 98 points, but he has notched just one in the last five contests—matching the worst slump of his young career. The second-year center has found another way to lead Pittsburgh, though, scoring a shootout goal in each of the team’s last three wins, including Tuesday’s 5-4 victory at Ottawa.
The Penguins trailed by three goals with less than 11 minutes remaining, but Jordan Staal, Gary Roberts and Ryan Malone each scored in a three-minute span to force the extra session. Crosby then scored the shootout winner, helping Pittsburgh win its seventh straight shootout game after going 1-5 in its first six this season.
“I’m trying to (contribute) any way I can,” said the 19-year-old phenom, who also had the deciding shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on March 1 and scored during the shootout in Sunday’s 4-3 victory over Philadelphia. “Obviously that’s the easier way but you get a chance where basically, you score, you win, kind of thing. So I’ve had that opportunity a couple of times and I’ve tried to take advantage of it.
“Hopefully the time will come when I’ll be able to do it 5-on-5 and in regulation, and obviously in the shootouts, when I need it.”
Breaking out of that regulation slump may be a challenge as Crosby has been held without a point in four of six matchups with New Jersey this season. The Penguins have dropped all four of those contests.
Pittsburgh is opening a three-game homestand at Mellon Arena, where it has outscored opponents 45-22 in going 11-1-1 over the last two months. The Devils are 10-1-2 in their last 13 road games, but opened a three-game trip with a 5-4 overtime defeat to the Flyers on Tuesday.
New Jersey outshot Philadelphia 20-10 in the third period and Brad Lukowich scored with 5:35 left in regulation to force the extra session, but Simon Gagne scored 1:47 into overtime. The Devils are now trying to avoid tying their season-high four-game losing streak set Nov. 22-27.
“We’ve just got to get back playing our game,” said Devils forward Jamie Langenbrunner, who has three goals and three assists against Pittsburgh this season. “Right now we’re making too many mistakes, we’re turning the puck over too many times and giving them way too many chances.”
New Jersey leading scorer Patrik Elias had a goal and two assists Tuesday, and is riding a nine-game point streak against Pittsburgh during which he has six goals and 10 assists. He will try to continue that strong play as the Devils may again be without right wing Brian Gionta, who re-injured his groin Tuesday in just his second game back after missing eight with a groin strain.
Martin Brodeur is 17-5-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average in his last 22 starts against the Penguins, and has shut them out twice this season.
The Devils hold a 21-6-1 advantage in the last 28 matchups between these teams, who meet for the final time this season on March 14 in New Jersey.