The Pittsburgh Penguins are in position to regain the Atlantic Division lead for the first time in more than six weeks, and their dominance of New York teams is a big reason for that.
The Penguins (36-22-2) fell eight points back of division-leading New Jersey following a 4-3 loss at Minnesota on Jan. 11. They last held a share of the Atlantic lead with the Devils on Dec. 27, and they last had sole possession of the top spot 10 days prior.
Pittsburgh, though, has cut New Jersey’s lead to one point behind an 8-4-1 stretch that includes two wins over the Islanders and a 4-2 road victory against the Rangers (26-27-7) on Jan. 25.
The Penguins have won seven of eight meetings with the two New York teams this season, including Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Islanders.
The Penguins have outscored the Rangers 33-14 while winning seven in a row in the series. They’ve taken all four meetings this season, including two at home after an 8-3 victory behind three goals and two assists from Crosby on Nov. 28.
An alternate captain for Canada at next week’s Olympics in Vancouver, Crosby has been a force against the Rangers, especially at home. Of his 18 goals and 28 assists in 32 career meetings with the Rangers, he has 11 goals and 20 assists to lead Pittsburgh to a 13-1-1 record against them at Mellon Arena.
Marc-Andre Fleury(notes), who made 37 saves Wednesday, has also thrived against the Rangers, going 12-2-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average and two shutouts in 16 home meetings. He’s won the last seven matchups overall while posting a 2.00 GAA.
Fleury, who is also a member of Canada’s Olympic team, might be able to continue that dominance as the Rangers are unsure of the availability of Gaborik, the team leader with 35 goals and 69 points.
“Again we generate chances, but we don’t score,” coach John Tortorella said. “I am tired of talking about chances. We’ve got to score.”
The Rangers, among the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL with an average of 2.52 goals, have dropped 11 of 15 (4-10-1) to fall out of playoff position. They’ve been held to two goals or fewer in 10 games during that stretch, getting shut out four times.
Tortorella also wasn’t happy with some undisciplined actions from defenseman Michael Del Zotto(notes), who argued with officials over a hooking call in the second period Wednesday to earn two extra minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The added penalty led to the eventual winning goal by the Predators’ Colin Wilson(notes), and an angry Tortorella castigated Del Zotto upon his return to the bench.
“Maybe I’ve got to learn how to keep my mouth shut,” Del Zotto said. “It was a dumb penalty and it was one that could have been avoided, so he had every right giving it to me and putting me in my place.”
Lundqvist, who had 34 saves against the Predators, is 1-7-0 with a 3.41 GAA in his last eight starts, including the home loss to the Penguins last month. He has a 3.70 GAA during a six-game losing streak at Pittsburgh.