Ducks-Penguins Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 14, 2012
Despite missing possibly the game's best player for most of the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins remain top contenders in the Eastern Conference. Having the player whom many believe to be the league's second-best certainly hasn't hurt. The Penguins look to ride the torrid scoring of Evgeni Malkin to a season-high seventh straight home win Wednesday night against the surging Anaheim Ducks, who haven't won in Pittsburgh in more than a decade. With Sidney Crosby still recovering from the effects of a concussion, the Penguins (32-19-5) have relied on Malkin to fill the roles of No. 1 center and the team's top offensive threat. Malkin has done all that and more. He leads the NHL with 69 points and his 32 goals trail only Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. "It looks like he did in 2009 maybe when (Crosby) went down and he kind of took over, that was kind of unbelievable,'' defenseman Kris Letang said of Malkin. "But his game is better than it was two years ago. I think he's playing great hockey, and this is the first time I've seen him being that dominant.'' The Lightning were the latest opponent to experience the dominance of Malkin, who scored twice in a 4-2 victory Sunday. That gave Malkin 17 goals and nine assists in his last 17 games, recording at least one point in 14 of those contests Malkin has scored a goal in eight straight games at CONSOL Energy Center, the second-longest home scoring streak in Penguins history. Mario Lemieux scored in 13 straight home games during the 1995-96 season. Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher just shrugged his shoulders when asked how to stop Malkin. "Well, we certainly didn't have the answer, that's for sure, so you have to ask somebody else (other) than me,'' he said. Pittsburgh has trailed in each of its last six home games, and come back to win each time. Reaping the benefits of Malkin's stellar play are linemates Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Kunitz has two goals and five assists in his last two games, while Neal, who has already set career highs in goals and points, has two goals and four assists in his last three contests. "You have a little bit of everything on the line that makes it successful,'' said Kunitz, who helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007. "We play well off each other, we read each other.'' Marc-Andre Fleury is likely to return to the net Wednesday for the Penguins after sitting out Sunday. Fleury is 10-1-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average in his last 12 starts despite allowing five goals on 25 shots in an 8-5 win over Winnipeg on Saturday. Pittsburgh has won four straight home games against Anaheim since a 4-2 loss Oct. 6, 2001. This will be the fourth stop on an eight-game trip for the Ducks (23-24-9), who continued their playoff push by rallying for a 2-1 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday. Niklas Hagman and Corey Perry scored third-period goals as Anaheim improved to 13-2-3 in its last 18 games to pull within eight points of a playoff spot. "We're just playing the same way the whole game and not trying to do different things or be too cute when we get down,'' Perry said. "That's what we've been doing since we've been on this roll and we have to keep doing it." Perry's goal was his fifth in four games and gave him 13 goals since the start of January, second most in the league. He has four goals and two assists in six career games against the Penguins.
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