The Carolina Hurricanes seem to have finally produced some much-needed holiday momentum of their own.
Led by a resurgent Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins look for a fourth consecutive victory Tuesday night against the visiting Hurricanes, who will try to win their third straight for the first time since mid-October.
Crosby has only played eight games this season, and none since Dec. 5 due to concussion-like symptoms.
Pittsburgh (20-11-4) dropped three of its first four during its captain’s current absence, but did put up four goals in the final one of those losses at Ottawa on Dec. 16.
Malkin had a goal and an assist in that defeat, and has gone on to lead the Penguins to their current three-game win streak. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner had a hat trick and two assists in an 8-3 rout of Buffalo one night after the loss to the Senators, three assists in a win over Chicago last Tuesday and set up James Neal’s tiebreaking goal early in the third period of a 4-1 victory at Winnipeg on Friday.
“We were feeling like the next goal would be a big decider,” coach Dan Bylsma told the league’s official website. “I’m really pleased with the way we came out in the third. We kept pushing. I thought we took over the game in the third period.”
Malkin has six goals and 10 assists during a seven-game point streak since Crosby went down, but he hasn’t found the back of the net in two games against Carolina (12-19-6) despite firing 16 shots on goal.
He had an assist in a 5-3 loss in Raleigh on Nov. 12 and another there Dec. 3, setting up Pascal Dupuis’ game-winner in the third period of a 3-2 victory.
Including postseason, Malkin has eight goals and nine assists in 10 career home games against the Hurricanes.
Carolina entered Monday having allowed 119 goals - second-most in the league - but got a solid performance from the much-maligned Cam Ward for the second straight game. After making 22 stops in a 2-1 win over Ottawa on Friday, Ward made 23 saves - and received credit for scoring a bizarre empty-netter - in a 4-2 victory over visiting New Jersey that got the Hurricanes out of the Eastern Conference basement.
Carolina has won back-to-back games for just the third time this season. The Hurricanes won three straight once, Oct. 12-18.
“What I really like in the last six, seven games is that we’re a little bit more consistent,” new coach Kirk Muller said. “We’re not beating ourselves, for the most part, and the points that we have given away are things that we’ve done. So the last couple games, we’ve done a better job of that and we’ve been doing a lot of good things.”
Perhaps the biggest key for the Hurricanes in the last two victories has been staying out of the penalty box. Carolina has only had to kill two opposing power plays, improving to 9-4-3 when it doesn’t give up a goal while short-handed.
The Penguins, however, have been thriving with the man advantage lately. They’re 7 for 20 (35.0 percent) on the power play in their last four games after going 6 for 49 (12.2 percent) in their previous 13.
Pittsburgh is 14-4-3 when it scores a power-play goal.