Season Series: This is the third of six meetings between the clubs this season. The Penguins have won the two prior games. They pummeled the Rangers, 8-3, Saturday at Mellon Arena thanks to Sidney Crosby's five points, including his second hat trick of the season. They also beat the Rangers 3-2 in their home-opener, the night they unveiled the Stanley Cup championship banner.
Big Story: The Rangers have been sinking fast but a win at home against a division rival, the same division rival that beat them by five goals just two nights earlier, could bring them back to the surface. Of course, that's easier said then done considering the Penguins have won six of their last eight games. Matt Cooke will miss this game, as the Pittsburgh forward serves the first of a two-game suspension for a hit to the head area of New York's Artem Anisimov on Saturday.
Penguins: Look out NHL, Crosby has caught fire. The Kid has six goals and eight assists in his last nine games, this after going pointless in the previous five. He was unstoppable Saturday against the Rangers with a hat trick and five points, falling one shy of tying his career high for points in a game. Crosby played a handful of shifts with Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin in Saturday's game. Malkin had a goal and two assists and Guerin had an assist. His hot streak has, of course, coincided with the Penguins' surge. They're finally healthy (minus Chris Kunitz and Jay McKee) and they have climbed back to tie Washington for first in the Eastern Conference with 36 points (granted, they have played three more games than the Devils, who have 35 points).
"We played a couple of shifts together and we played well on them," Malkin said. "I like playing with Sid. We played well on the power play together. He is a great player and he makes the game easier playing with him."
Rangers: The last time the Rangers returned home after a loss in Pittsburgh they went on a seven-game winning streak. It's pretty hard to imagine a similar scenario considering how they have been playing of late. After a strong effort in a 2-1 shootout win in Florida on Wednesday, the Rangers gave up 13 goals in back-to-back losses at Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday. Coach John Tortorella called the effort in Tampa the Rangers' worst of the season and didn't have many kind words for their effort in Pittsburgh either. The players felt the effort was better in Pittsburgh, but they gave up four goals in the third period leading to the 8-3 loss. They are 6-12-1 since that seven-game winning streak.
"Sooner or later, I think the locker room has to take some ownership as far as how we're playing," Tortorella told the Bergen Record.
Who's Hot: We've already noted Crosby's recent hot streak with 14 points over the last nine games, giving him 30 points in 27 games this season. Malkin is on a six-game points streak (4-4-8) and has 11 points in his last eight games. For the Rangers, Marian Gaborik had his eight-game points streak snapped in Tampa, but he is trying to start another with two assists in Pittsburgh. Marc Staal has a goal and an assist in the last two games.
Injury Report: The Penguins will be without Kunitz and McKee. The Rangers have played the last two games without Wade Redden and Anisimov needed smelling salts on the bench after Cooke leveled him. Brandon Dubinsky is still out with a broken hand.
Stat Pack: In addition to his five points Saturday, Crosby also won 75 percent of his faceoffs (15 of 20), was a plus-4 and had five shots on goal. He now has 41 points in 30 games against the Rangers. Pittsburgh has lost 101 man games to injury, but they got back Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang and Tyler Kennedy in Saturday's game. They combined for five points. Rangers defensemen have combined for 18 goals this season.
Puck Drop: The Rangers are giving up 29.5 shots per game this season. They might find themselves in better shape if they keep the Penguins under 30 tonight. Pittsburgh is 14-2 this season when taking 30 or more shots in a game. The Rangers are 6-7-1 when they allow 30 or more shots. Pittsburgh rang up 33 shots on Saturday.