The Pittsburgh Penguins have climbed toward the top of the Atlantic Division with their outstanding play over the past two months. But if they have any plans of staying there, they’ll have to play better against their division rivals.
The Penguins look to earn at least a point for their 10th straight game Monday when they host the slumping New York Rangers.
Pittsburgh (25-16-3) is 8-0-1 since Dec. 23, and 17-5-1 since Thanksgiving, but the Penguins have struggled all season against their four division rivals. They’re 4-10-1 against Atlantic opponents, including 1-2-1 against the Rangers.
Pittsburgh had won eight straight before a 3-2 shootout loss at Atlanta on Saturday night. The Penguins allowed a pair of power-play goals after yielding just one in 22 chances during their winning streak.
“When you finish minus-2 with your special teams, it’s tough to win games,” coach Michel Therrien said.
The Penguins also failed to score a power-play goal in Atlanta. Despite their outstanding play over the past month, they’ve converted just 13.3 percent of their chances with the man advantage since Dec. 13.
Crosby leads the NHL with 41 assists and his 20 goals tie him with Malkin for the team lead. Both have been hot of late—Crosby has five goals and 13 assists in his last 11 games, while Malkin has nine goals over that stretch.
Crosby has nine goals and 15 assists in 19 career games against the Rangers, while Malkin has three goals and five assists in 11 games.
But it has been the play of goaltender Ty Conklin that has given Pittsburgh some separation in the tightly packed Eastern Conference.
Conklin has started 10 games since being called up after starter Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a high ankle sprain, and he’s 9-0-1 with a 1.56 goals-against average and two shutouts—matching his career total prior to his recall.
The Rangers (21-19-5) were supposed to be one of the league’s most-improved teams with the offseason additions of centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, but instead, they’ve been one of the league’s bigger disappointments.
Only two teams have scored fewer than New York’s 108 goals, and the Rangers are in last place in the Atlantic—but only eight points behind the first-place New Jersey Devils.
Drury, who had 37 goals last season with Buffalo, netted his 12th in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over Montreal on Saturday which snapped a five-game losing streak.
“It felt good to finally get a win and finally get rewarded,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 18 saves. “Parts of our game in the losses we had we played really well but then something happens that makes us lose a little focus, maybe a little confidence.”
The win was Lundqvist’s best performance in nearly a month. He had been 2-5-2 with a 3.81 GAA in his previous nine games after going 16-11-2 with a 1.98 GAA and six shutouts in his first 29.
Lundqvist is 10-4-3 lifetime against Pittsburgh with a 2.08 GAA, and is 3-1-0 this season.
Rangers right wing Jaromir Jagr has five goals and seven assists in his last nine games. He has 15 goals and 16 assists against his former team, though he hasn’t scored a goal in his last five against Pittsburgh.