Healthier Pens take on sliding Canucks

11:38 AM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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( - Evgeni Malkin and James Neal have combined for 78 points in 57 games this season.

Imagine if they had both been healthy all campaign long.

The potent Penguins look to deal the Vancouver Canucks a fifth straight loss on Monday night as the two clubs clash for the second and final time this regular season.

Pittsburgh is leading the Eastern Conference with 63 points as it has been able to overcome a number of injuries this season. One of the most recent was to Malkin, who sat out nine straight games with a lower-body injury before returning in Sunday's 6-5 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Though understandably tired afterwards, Malkin didn't miss a beat by logging a pair of goals and an assist. That gave the forward 11 goals and 44 points in just 33 games this season.

"Tough game for me. I'm a little bit tired, but thanks to my linemates. They did a great job. Most of the time we were in the offensive zone," said Malkin.

"I missed lots of game. I'm excited to be back and just have fun."

Neal certainly enjoyed Malkin's return, notching two goals and an assist himself. Neal has 16 goals and 34 points in 24 games this season, missing 15 earlier in the campaign with a lower-body injury before sitting out another five in early December due to a suspension.

Matt Niskanen had the go-ahead goal in Sunday's win and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 saves. Kris Letang returned from a 10-game absence caused by an elbow issue and had an assist.

Pittsburgh won for the fourth time in its last five games and for the 12th time in a row at home to match a club record. The Pens will have to wait to try and set a new mark as their next three are on the road.

The triumph was Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma's 232nd career win, tying him with Eddie Johnson for the most victories in franchise history as well.

The Canucks will try to delay Bylsma becoming the Pens' all-time wins leader and avoid a fifth loss in a row. They are 0-2-2 in their past four, the second-longest losing stretch of the season behind just an 0-3-2 skid from Nov. 9-19.

Vancouver faded on Sunday versus the Anaheim Ducks, giving up a game-tying goal with under two minutes to go in the third period and then the overtime winner in a 4-3 setback with 0.6 seconds left in overtime.

The Canucks were outshot 24-8 over the final two periods and overtime.

"We've beaten ourselves a little bit. We've had a lot of struggles in a lot of different areas the past couple of games. We have to keep our heads and keep on working at our game," said Canucks coach John Tortorella.

Henrik Sedin recorded a goal and two assists, while Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa scored for Vancouver. Daniel Sedin finished with three assists and Eddie Lack did his best with 45 saves.

Lack got the start after Roberto Luongo got hurt in a collision in net versus the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. Luongo had just returned from a brief three-game absence caused by a lower-body injury.

It is unknown how long Luongo will be out and Lack is likely to get the start tonight, his first versus the Penguins.

Pittsburgh has won its last three versus Vancouver, the last two in a shootout. That includes a 4-3 home win on Oct. 19 in the first of two meetings this season.

Malkin had the winner in the third round and Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists as Fleury made 36 saves.

Luongo turned aside 25 shots in the setback.

The Sports Network

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