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East-leading Pens tangle with road-streaking Rangers
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Penguins have used excellent play both at home and against fellow Metropolitan Division residents to build a commanding lead atop the standings.
They'll look to further that advantage ahead of the Olympic break on Friday night as they take on a New York Rangers club that is among the conference leaders in road victories.
Pittsburgh has lost just once in its last 17 games at home. Combine that with a 17-5-0 record against the division and it is no surprise that the Penguins lead the second-place Rangers by 17 points in the Metropolitan standings.
The Pens have 82 points on the campaign, three back of the Anaheim Ducks for the most in the NHL, and are 11-3-1 in their last 15 games overall. They are coming off their 40th win of the season, a 5-1 decision over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday.
It marked the fastest that Pittsburgh has reached the 40-victory mark in club history, doing so in 57 games. That surpasses the 1995-96 squad that reached the plateau in 65 contests.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored and Marc-Andre Fleury posted 24 saves to earn his NHL-leading 31st win of the campaign. Pittsburgh has won all eight of its games this season when both Crosby and Malkin score in the same contest, while Malkin has three goals and six points over his last four games.
"We took a little bit of time to get going, but once we did, I felt like we did grab a lot of momentum there," said Crosby, who snapped a five-game goal drought and added an assist to up his league-leading point total to 77 through 57 games.
James Neal, Brian Gibbons and Harry Zolnierczyk had the other goals for Pittsburgh.
The Pens played a fourth straight game without Kris Letang due to an unknown illness and it is unknown when the defenseman will be able to return to the lineup. It was reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Thursday that the mystery illness impacting Letang is in fact serious, but not life threatening.
"There will be no update on Kris Letang until we have further update on his condition," coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday per the newspaper.
Not only are the Penguins playing well at home, but they are even with the Rangers in road victories with an Eastern Conference-leading 17.
New York, though, has won five straight on the road and 15 of its last 19 away from Madison Square Garden, where it hosted the Edmonton Oilers last night and dropped a 2-1 decision.
Derick Brassard scored for a third straight game and backup netminder Cam Talbot made 29 saves in a tough-luck loss, which snapped the Rangers' season- high winning streak at four games.
"We were a little bit sloppy through the neutral zone, and when you do that against a team like that it'll cost you," said New York's Ryan Callahan, who was stoned on a short-handed breakaway chance in the second period.
The game was the 6,000th in the history of the Rangers' franchise. They also lost in their 4,000th (Dec. 12, 1987 to Philadelphia) and 5,000th (Oct. 26, 2000 at Philadelphia) outings.
The Rangers are just one point ahead of Philadelphia for second place in the division and also play their final game before the break.
The Blueshirts have lost two straight and 10 of their last 12 versus the Penguins overall as well as five straight and 15 of the last 21 played in Pittsburgh.
The Pens are 15-2-4 versus the Rangers over that 21-game span at home and have outscored them 17-5 during the current five-game home winning streak.
Fleury is 2-1-0 versus the Rangers this season despite a 3.25 goals against average and .891 save percentage.
New York will counter with No. 1 netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who has won four straight overall and is 9-2-0 with a 1.46 GAA over his last 11 games but just 1-1-1 with a 2.92 GAA and .899 save percentage this season versus the Pens.
Brassard (3 goals, 4 assists) and Mats Zuccarello (2g, 5a) are both riding five-game point streaks for the Rangers. Brassard also has two goals and three points versus the Pens this season, while Zuccarello has two goals and three assists in the three meetings.
Crosby has a goal and four assists in 2013-14 against the Rangers, while Chris Kunitz is pacing the Pens with three goals and six points in the three meetings.
02/07 10:56:10 ET