Upcoming games: Penguins, November 29, 7:30 p.m.; @ Hurricanes, December 1, 7:00 p.m.; @ Lightning, December 3, 7:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins (32 points, 1st place Eastern Conference, 14-6-4)
The Rangers can take their home game winning streak to seven if they manage to shutdown the revitalized healthy Penguins and drown out the Crosby mania. Captain Sidney Crosby has eight points over his first four games of the season. If his start is any indication, he looks to be back in his usual superstar caliber form. The captain had not dressed for a game since January 5 of last season after suffering a concussion. While left winger James Neal leads the team with 23 points and 13 goals, the Penguins top three centers are all rolling. Crosby (4 A), Evgeni Malkin (2 G, 2 A) and Jordan Staal (2 G) have combined for 10 points over their last two wins. The Penguins will take to Madison Square Garden after an emotional overtime win in Montreal on Saturday. They battled back from a 3-1 deficit with defenseman Kris Letang netting the game winner in overtime, just minutes after returning to the bench from being treated in the locker room. Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty broke Letang’s nose with a high hit late in the third period that had sent Letang wobbling and bloodied to the locker room. The Penguins are 6-3-1 over their last ten games.
Carolina Hurricanes (20 points, 14th place Eastern Conference, 8-12-4)
The Hurricanes continue to struggle to get their act together as they sit in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Their three-game point streak which included victories over the hot Maple Leafs and Flyers last week was snapped in a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The Canes need an extra pep in their step to avoid getting outworked on the puck. Captain Eric Staal said after their latest loss that the Canes “jump and ability to be on pucks” was missing from their game. Staal only has 10 points in 24 games thus far this season. The youthful center Jeff Skinner leads the team with 9 goals and 21 points. The Rangers beat the Hurricanes 5-1 earlier this month at the Garden. Despite goaltender Cam Ward’s strong performance in the first two periods, the Rangers exploded for four goals in the third period for the win. While Ward’s record is anything but pretty at 8-9-3 with one shutout, he can be tough to beat if his support system on offense and defense is in sync. The Hurricanes are 2-2-1 in their last five games. They take on the Senators tonight in Ottawa and the Panthers on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay Lightning (24 points, 10th place Eastern Conference, 11-9-2)
Despite the powerhouse names, the Lightning are not boasting the hottest statistics when it comes to the standings or power play percentage (17th in the NHL, 16% with 13 goals on 81 opportunities) at the moment. Whenever Steven Stamkos (14 G, 10 A) and Martin St. Louis (19 P) are on the ice however, they are always a force to be reckoned with. It can be tempting to forget about captain Vincent Lecavalier who has oft been prone to injuries and lackluster streaks. He is off to a strong start this season with 17 points in 22 games, including three goals on the powerplay and four game winners. Defenseman Marc Andre- Bergeron is also making offensive contributions with 16 assists and three goals in 22 games. Goaltender Dwayne Roloson is off to a rocky start with a 6-6-1 record and 3.46 goals against average while backup Mathieu Garon is 5-3. The Lightning got four much needed points after defeating their Southeast division rivals, the Florida Panthers, in back-to-back wins this holiday weekend by a margin of 7-2. They are 6-4 in their last ten games. The Rangers lost all four contests against Coach John Tortorella’s former Stanley Cup team last season, including two tight nail biters in overtime and a shootout.