Islanders

Islanders, Penguins Battle For Season Series Edge

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders pushes for position against Brooks Orpik #44 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum on December 29, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Penguins 2-1 in the shootout. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders pushes for position against Brooks Orpik #44 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum on December 29, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Penguins 2-1 in the shootout. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – A visit from the NHL’s third-worst team record-wise seems like just what the Pittsburgh Penguins need to head into the All-Star break with some momentum despite missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The New York Islanders, though, haven’t exactly made things easy on the Penguins.

Regulation hasn’t been enough to decide the first two meetings between New York and Pittsburgh, which hopes to take the edge in the season series without its two stars Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins (30-15-4) outscored the Islanders 53-30 while going 10-1-1 the last two seasons, but they’ve struggled to score against their Atlantic Division rivals in 2010-11 – even with Crosby and Malkin healthy.

Alex Goligoski scored in overtime to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 home win Oct. 15, but New York (15-25-7) put an unlikely end to Crosby’s 25-game point streak Dec. 29, winning 2-1 in a shootout on Long Island.

“What they do well is that they’re a hard-working, high-energy team,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Monday. “They forced us into struggling in the way they forechecked and their tenacity on the puck in the offensive zone. … They did it well the last two games against us, and we have to be ready for that.”

Crosby won’t play Tuesday as he’s still recovering from a concussion that will keep him out of Sunday’s All-Star game, and Bylsma called Malkin’s potential return from a knee injury “not likely” for Pittsburgh’s last game before a week off.

After losing 2-0 in New Jersey on Thursday in their first game without both stars, the Penguins bounced back Saturday against Carolina for their fourth victory in five games. Dustin Jeffrey, Mark Letestu and Pascal Dupuis scored in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win.

“When those guys are out of the lineup, it becomes more of a scoring by committee,” said Jeffrey, called up from the minors this week to replace Malkin. “I think all of our forwards have to step up. We didn’t do a very good job in Jersey. As a group, we played a lot better tonight.”

Perhaps the biggest reason the Penguins have stayed competitive without the two former NHL scoring champs is their ability to kill penalties. They’ve thwarted all 20 of their opponents’ power plays over the last five games and continue to lead the league, allowing a goal just 11.6 percent of the time when down a man.

The Islanders, meanwhile, are among the NHL’s top five converting on the power play since Dec. 23 (26.4 percent).

Matt Moulson scored with the man advantage Sunday against Buffalo – one of his two goals – but that wasn’t enough. Rick DiPietro returned from the flu but allowed four goals on 22 shots in a 5-3 defeat.

“A loss is a loss. It’s tough to take anything positive out of it,” DiPietro said after New York’s sixth defeat in eight games. “It’s not the way you want to do things at home.”

DiPietro’s injury history, along with a knee injury to backup Nathan Lawson and the inexperience of 20-year-old Kevin Poulin, prompted New York to claim Evgeni Nabokov off waivers Saturday. But the 35-year-old netminder didn’t report to the team Sunday, then only spoke to general manager Garth Snow after initially hanging up on him.

It’s unclear if he’ll report to the also-ran Islanders after being claimed from title-contending Detroit.

“I’m not going to speculate,” Snow said. “I’m looking forward to having him in an Islanders uniform. We can cross those bridges when we get there. I’m not there yet.”

© 2011 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.

pixy Islanders, Penguins Battle For Season Series Edge