Pens Beat Isles, Tie Flyers for Atlantic Lead

The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their solid play on Thursday night by beating the New York Islanders 4-3 and advancing past the Devils to tie the Flyers for the lead in the very tight Atlantic Division.  The Flyers have one game in hand against the Penguins and Devils.  Defensman Ryan Whitney, singled out by Coach Therrien in Monday night’s loss to the Devils, answered the call by scoring 3-points (2G, 1A) against the Islanders.  Ryan Malone and Kris Letang also scored and Ty Conklin stopped 29 shots as the Penguins improved their record to 30-19-5.

In the 1st period, the Islanders got on the board first on an easy goal by Mike Comrie, his 300th NHL point, at 4:31.  Ty Conklin went into the corner to clear the puck, but misplayed it and turned it over.  Bill Guerin and Andy Hilbert quickly moved the puck to Comrie, who put it into the yawning net.  At 9:04, the Penguins tied it up on a power play goal by Ryan Whitney, his 10th goal of the season.  Petr Sykora and Evgeni Malkin were credited with assists.  At 9:19, Mike Comrie and Max Talbot went for a dance and were given matching fighting majors.  The Penguins were outshot by the Islanders 11-9 in the 1st, and were 1-for-1 on the power play. 

In the 2nd, the Penguins scored first on Ryan Malone’s 16th goal of the season as he redirected a Ryan Whitney shot past Isles’ goaltender Rick DiPietro at 2:24.  The even strength goal was also assisted by Evgeni Malkin.  A little over 4-minutes later, the Islanders bounced back on a power play goal by Ruslan Fedetenko as newly re-acquired Kris Beech sat for a tripping call.  Trent Hunter and Frederick Meyer picked up the assists.  At 11:33, the Penguins got a power play goal of their own to regain the lead at 3-2 as Ryan Whitney took a feed from Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar and beat DiPietro again.  The Penguins outshot the Islanders 13-10 in the 2nd, were 1-for-2 on the power play, and 1-for 2 on the penalty kill.   

Midway through the 3rd, the Islanders’ Mike Comrie capitalized on a tripping call to Colby Armstrong and scored on the power play to tie it up.  Richard Park and Frederick Meyer had the assists on Comrie’s 2nd of the night.  At 16:21, however, Kris Letang put the Penguins ahead for good as he stepped up into the play and put the puck above DiPietro’s shoulder on the short side for an unassisted goal.  The goal was Letang’s 3rd of the season.  The Islanders outshot the Penguins 11-5 in the 3rd.

Evgeni Malkin picked up 3-assists in the game to increase his points-total to 66-points (28G, 38A).  He has 8-points in his last 3-games, and has scored 18-points (8G, 10A) in 11-games since Sidney Crosby has been out of the lineup.  He is now in 6th place overall in the league in scoring, just 2-points out of 3rd and 7-points out of 1st.  The Penguins have gone 5-3-3 without Sidney Crosby, picking up 13 of 22 possible points (59%).  They have picked up 5 of 6 possible points so far in February. 

The Penguins will host the Los Angeles Kings at 1PM on Saturday afternoon and then host the Flyers in an Atlantic Division showdown on Sunday at 1PM.  The Flyers will also be playing a back-to-back game as they take on the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon. 

In other news, Sidney Crosby practiced with the team on Friday in a no-contact status.  He did participate in shooting drills and exercised his ankle in some quick start skating and turning.  “I’m definitely not ready to play.  Hopefully with no setbacks or anything like that, I’ll probably re-evaluate over the next two weeks,” Crosby said. “Wishful thinking would probably be a couple of weeks, but I don’t know.”  Coach Michel Therrien noted that Crosby “is healing very fast, and that is a great sign”.  Therrien went on to point out that he is not ready to play yet, and that skating and battling are two different things.  “We have to make sure when he comes back he is 100 percent.”  Left wing Gary Roberts is looking to return to practice in the next 2 weeks.  While he is skating, Roberts said his leg is still sore.  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is getting closer to returning, but no date has been set yet.  Fleury traveled to New Jersey on Monday and worked out with the team before the game.  There is no update on Adam Hall who has been out with a groin injury. 

Right wing Tyler Kennedy, who traveled to New Jersey and participated in drills for the first time since being diagnosed with mononucleosis, was re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL today.  Kennedy stayed on the ice in New Jersey for an extra 20 minutes trying to get himself back into game shape.  It is likely that his return to WBS is intended as a conditioning tour as he tries to regain his strength.  We expect that Marc-Andre Fleury will be given a similar WBS assignment before returning to the Penguins lineup.

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