Islanders-Penguins Preview

The Associated Press

Sidney Crosby's NHL-leading scoring production is a big reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins are among the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

John Tavares' impact has the New York Islanders unexpectedly battling for a playoff spot.

Crosby looks to continue his dominance of the Islanders when these Atlantic Division rivals meet in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Crosby leads the league with 40 points, getting 15 over the past seven games with the Penguins (17-8-0) winning five. The superstar center made his presence felt again Saturday, scoring a goal before netting the decisive shootout attempt in a 5-4 victory at Toronto.

"I thought we played a really good game," Crosby said. "I thought we did some really good things."

That tends to be the case for Crosby versus the Islanders (11-11-3). His 68 points in 38 meetings is his highest production against any opponent, and he's managed 21 points in the past nine home matchups.

Crosby got an assist in the most recent meeting Feb. 5, setting up James Neal's goal in a 4-2 road victory.

Neal has found the net once in each of the past three games entering this matchup.

Continuing that production may be vital if Evgeni Malkin is unable to play after he was held out of overtime and the shootout against the Maple Leafs following a third-period hit from James van Riemsdyk.

Malkin has 24 points after leading the NHL with 109 and winning the Hart Trophy last season.

Tavares is among the NHL's scoring leaders with 16 goals and 29 points, and that's been key to the Islanders sitting one point back of the New York Rangers for the eighth and final postseason position. They haven't reached the playoffs in five seasons, but winning three of four (3-0-1) has them feeling good.

"We are moving in the right direction," coach Jack Capuano said following Saturday's 5-2 victory over Washington.

Tavares came up big Saturday, scoring twice on the power play - including the 100th goal of his career - as part of New York's three unanswered tallies in the third period.

"Sure, it feels great," Tavares said. "It was nice to come through in a big way. We just have to keep working. Our momentum is good."

It's no surprise that the Islanders' success is tied directly to Tavares' production. They are 10-4-1 when he records a point and 1-7-2 when he doesn't.

He has struggled greatly against the Penguins, tallying only one point in the past nine meetings - a goal in a 4-1 road victory on Jan. 29. Tavares was held scoreless in a 4-2 home loss on Feb. 5.

Matt Moulson, who set up one of Tavares' goals Saturday, has been much better recently against Pittsburgh, scoring one goal and assisting on two others this season.

The left wing isn't far behind Tavares with 26 points, and four have come in the past two road games.

Evgeni Nabokov has been in net for every minute during New York's 3-0-1 surge, posting a 2.20 goals-against average. Although he's 10-3-0 with a 1.80 GAA lifetime against the Penguins, he could be on the bench in favor of Kevin Poulin with games on back-to-back nights.

Poulin stopped 30 shots in his only appearance against Pittsburgh, a 1-0 road loss on Jan. 25, 2011.

What to Read Next