The New York Rangers appear to be back on track after a poor start to the season. The opposite has been true for the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose sudden dropoff after a solid opening has them searching for answers.
The Rangers, though, will try to begin making do without captain Ryan Callahan as they look to stop a pair of losing streaks against Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
New York (3-3-0) won for the third time in four games Tuesday, holding off Philadelphia 2-1 to improve to 2-0 on its three-game homestand. Despite some more of the sloppy play that has hindered them in the early going - the club took three consecutive penalties in the third period - the Rangers got goals from Michael Del Zotto and Callahan while Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves.
The victory proved to be somewhat bittersweet, however, as Callahan skated off with his left arm dangling after a third-period scrum with Max Talbot, who dragged him to the ice. He suffered a shoulder subluxation that will keep him out 10-14 days, though New York has to be happy that he avoided a major injury.
"Cally does everything so well - the little plays, especially blocking shots," said Del Zotto, who also assisted on Callahan's power-play tally. "The guys did a good job of gathering ourselves after he went off with that injury."
Despite their surge, coach John Tortorella thinks the Rangers have a long way to go.
"No," he said when asked if his team was finding its game. "We have a lot more work to do."
However, they've certainly progressed since a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Jan. 20 that dropped them to 0-2. James Neal scored twice and Evgeni Malkin had three assists in the Penguins' second victory in as many games to open 2012-13.
Pittsburgh (3-3-0) has won five straight in the series, outscoring New York 22-8, and taken three in a row at Madison Square Garden.
The Penguins, however, have been struggling since that win, getting outscored 14-7 in dropping three of four and looking listless again in a 4-1 home loss to the Islanders on Tuesday.
Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled after the second period and Pittsburgh gave it away 11 times, with two of the turnovers leading to New York goals. The Islanders had lost in 13 of the last 14 road games in the series.
"I'm not sure if we're pressing early, and then it doesn't happen and you get away from things," center Sidney Crosby said. "As you see tonight, we get a couple bad bounces, ended up down early and seems like we let that frustration kind of get to us."
The frustration appears to be extending to the power play. Since going 4 for 8 in the first two games, the Penguins are 1 for 14.
"We definitely deflated ourselves with the power play," Neal said Tuesday. "But we've just got to have a better effort all over the ice, 5-on-5 and we just didn't have it tonight."
Lundqvist was chased in the second period Jan. 20 after giving up four goals on 18 shots and has lost three straight starts to Pittsburgh with a 3.68 goals-against average. However, he's gone 3-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA in the last four games.
Malkin has five goals and five assists during the Penguins' five-game run versus the Rangers, while Neal has two goals and four assists in his last four in the series.