The Pittsburgh Penguins are again facing an extended period without star center Evgeni Malkin. As long as Sidney Crosby is around, doubting their ability to remain a serious contender would appear unwise.
Crosby looks to lead the Penguins to their third straight win and within two points of the New York Islanders on Tuesday night when the Metropolitan Division rivals meet for the second time in a week.
Pittsburgh (36-24-8) received the news this past weekend that Malkin, second on the team with 27 goals and 58 points, would be sidelined six to eight weeks with a lower-body injury suffered in Friday's win at Columbus.
''It's a good opportunity for a lot of guys to get some secondary scoring to get some more minutes when a top guy like that goes down.'' said rookie Conor Sheary, who was recalled from the AHL late Saturday. ''Obviously, it's unfortunate for the team as a whole, losing a player like that, but it's good for younger guys and guys who don't get that many minutes.''
Sheary took advantage of his extra ice time with his first career two-goal game in Sunday's 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers.
''He's a terrific kid,'' coach Mike Sullivan said. ''You can see his offensive instincts, you see his vision when he has the puck.''
Sheary was one of four rookies in the lineup for Pittsburgh, which holds the first wild card in the Eastern Conference and is four points behind the Islanders for third in the division.
This isn't the first time this season that the Penguins have been forced to play without Malkin. They went 5-4-1 during his last absence in February and are 71-45-9 with him out of the lineup in his 10-year career.
With Malkin sidelined, Crosby takes on an even heavier offensive burden and he seems more than capable of fulfilling that role. Pittsburgh's captain had a goal and an assist Sunday, giving him four and nine during an eight-game point streak.
A matchup with the Islanders (38-21-8) isn't likely to slow Crosby, who has nine goals and 17 assists in his past 16 meetings.
The Islanders held on for a 2-1 victory over the visiting Penguins last Tuesday in a game that saw No. 1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak lost for six weeks with a lower-body injury.
New York was in danger of losing its third straight since with former Penguin Thomas Greiss in net, but it erased a two-goal deficit with a dominant third period Monday in a 3-2 victory over Florida.
''In the third, we played to our identity,'' coach Jack Capuano said. ''We were fortunate to get some bounces and we got two points.''
Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck scored in a 5 1/2-minute stretch as the Islanders improved to 12-3-2 in their last 17 to draw within one point of the Rangers for second in the division with two games in hand.
''It was a huge win for us,'' Okposo said. ''Everyone around us is getting points every night. We are fighting for home ice and fighting to get into the playoffs, so every win is big.''
Greiss could make his second start this season against his former team unless Capuano decides to go with rookie Jean-Francois Berube, whose last appearance came in relief Feb. 6.
Captain John Tavares had his three-game goal streak snapped Monday but has a chance to extend his run against the Penguins to four. He has four goals and three assists during a five-game point streak in the series.
Pittsburgh stopped a four-game losing streak to the Islanders with a 5-2 victory Jan. 2 behind Crosby's two goals.