Although the New York Rangers have found little in the way of consistency this season, one thing they've capitalized on is their games within the Metropolitan Division.
With Henrik Lundqvist back in net Monday night, the Rangers will try to continue that trend against the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Rangers (11-10-4) are 6-2-1 against the division, but have just two wins in nine other games against Eastern Conference foes. After sweeping a home-and-home against rival Philadelphia, New York has dropped back-to-back games against two of the top teams in the Atlantic, losing 6-3 at home against Tampa Bay on Dec. 1 and 3-2 at Detroit on Saturday.
The Lightning have handed the Rangers three of their four losses since Nov. 17.
Backup goaltender Cam Talbot got his second start in four games and made 31 saves against the Red Wings, but Lundqvist gets the nod Monday looking to help the Rangers avoid matching a season high with three straight losses.
"We need points, we need wins," Lundqvist said. "We need to win consistently."
Lundqvist has been performing well below his usual standards, posting a career-worst 2.70 goals-against average. He has allowed five or more goals four times, including last week's loss to Tampa Bay in which he gave up five on 20 shots.
The 10-year veteran, however, has been impressive in two games against Pittsburgh, giving up a combined two regulation goals on 71 shots.
"They're one of the best teams in the league, and they have a lot of skill," he said of the Penguins. "When you don't play focused and smart against them, they really expose you. You have to be aware of where they are, and you have to be sharp in every shift.
"That's the mindset you need against every team, but when you know who you're facing on the other side, especially against Pittsburgh, you have to step up."
Pittsburgh (18-6-2) failed to get past Lundqvist in a 5-0 loss at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 11 before edging New York 3-2 in a shootout at home Nov. 15.
The Penguins suffered their second shutout with a 3-0 defeat against Vancouver on Thursday before keeping pace in the division with Saturday's 3-2 win over Ottawa.
"It's always important to have a rebound game," coach Mike Johnston told the team's official website. "We talked about that as a group.
"Following that (Vancouver) game, I think everybody was anxious," he added. "Let's just get back at it, let's play another one."
While injuries have slowed Pittsburgh, forwards Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have kept it afloat. Malkin leads the team with 14 goals, while Crosby has 25 assists.
"I think it's a very important moment for us," Malkin said of him and Crosby. "We (need to provide) leadership. We know everyone looks to us."
Chris Kunitz (foot), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot) and Beau Bennett (lower body) remain out for the Penguins, and Patric Hornqvist, who has 25 points but is dealing with a possible concussion, could also miss this contest.
Marc-Andre Fleury started each of the previous two meetings and will likely get his third crack at the Rangers, who have scored seven goals against him on 66 shots. He has won his last two starts overall and owns a career-best 2.07 GAA this season.