Only Pittsburgh is looking like a contender in 2010-11.
Sidney Crosby(notes) and the Penguins’ longest winning streak in nearly 12 years have the team atop the division, and Crosby will try to guide Pittsburgh to a 10th consecutive victory Monday night against the struggling Devils.
The Penguins (18-8-2) have finished second to the Devils in the division race in three of the last four seasons while edging them out for first place in 2007-08.
So far, New Jersey (8-16-2) has not been in their way this season. While the Penguins are tied with Washington and Philadelphia with an NHL-high 38 points, the Devils are 20 points back and among the league’s biggest disappointments.
Crosby is a major reason Pittsburgh looks like a top contender again. The superstar center leads the league with 23 goals and 46 points, and has collected 17 goals with 14 assists during a 15-game point streak. It’s his longest run since a 16-game stretch from Feb. 16-April 1, 2009, and still four shy of his career high set during the 2007-08 season.
The Penguins are 12-2-1 during Crosby’s torrid stretch, and his two goals in a 7-2 victory at Columbus on Saturday helped extend their winning streak to nine.
They last won 10 in a row from Jan. 28-Feb. 15, 1999.
“It’s probably just our level of competing every night,” Crosby said. “The last week, two weeks, (it’s) the willingness to compete every night. That’s the biggest thing and it’s not easy to do.”
The Penguins totaled five goals while getting swept in six games by New Jersey in 2009-10, but took the first meeting of this season 3-1 on the road Oct. 11.
Crosby has been held to one goal and no assists in the last five matchups, but he’s unlikely to face Martin Brodeur(notes) this time. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner is expected to miss a seventh consecutive game with a bruised elbow as the Devils attempt to avoid a sixth consecutive road loss.
Hedberg, though, is coming off his worst performance of that stretch, stopping 29 of 33 shots in a 5-3 road loss to the Flyers on Saturday.
“This was another big game for us to try to find our winning ways,” said Hedberg, a member of the Penguins from 2001-03. “It’s not about lack of effort.”
Hedberg is 2-2-1 with a 2.90 GAA in six games against Pittsburgh, but he made all 33 saves in a 1-0 win with Atlanta in his most recent meeting with his former club April 10.
Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) is looking to build on his goal against Philadelphia, which ended an eight-game drought. The right wing continues to be a major disappointment for New Jersey with five goals and six assists after inking a 15-year, $100 million contract.
Kovalchuk doesn’t have a point in his last two games against Pittsburgh.