October 26, 2014

Sidney Crosby's production lacked during a frustrating start to the season that forced the Pittsburgh Penguins to change coaches with the club sitting toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Now the Penguins are rolling during a more customary Crosby tear with Evgeni Malkin sitting out.

Pittsburgh can win a season-high seventh consecutive game by taking a third straight meeting with the visiting New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

Crosby scored only six times during the Penguins' 15-10-3 start, but they've gone 25-14-5 since Mike Sullivan took over for the fired Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, with Crosby posting 25 goals and 32 assists in that stretch.

He had two assists in Sunday's 6-2 rout of NHL-leading Washington, giving him six goals and 14 assists during a 12-game streak. Crosby is the only player in the league this season with two point streaks of at least 10 games, and the latest has helped the Penguins surge back into the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of playoffs.

"He's the driving force of everything," said winger Chris Kunitz, whose four goals over his last six have all been assisted on by Crosby. "He's taken on the responsibility when 'Geno's' been out. Throughout the year he matches up against the other team's top line. When he's on the streak he's on, it drives our team."

The last five of Pittsburgh's season high-tying six-game winning streak have come without Malkin, who is expected to miss at least another month because of an upper-body injury. The Penguins have outscored opponents 23-11 during the streak, with Crosby having a hand in 10 goals.

"We're a team that other teams are scared of (because of Crosby)," forward Carl Hagelin said. "When he gets going he creates something out of nothing. He's always a threat out there."

Crosby scored in a 2-0 win over the Devils on Jan. 26 and had two assists in a 6-1 rout March 6 at New Jersey. The Devils have dropped their last five games at Pittsburgh.

New Jersey (35-31-7) has gone 6-10-0 in its last 16 and slipped six points back of Philadelphia and Detroit for the East's final playoff spot. They've won four of their last six, though, beating Columbus 2-1 on Sunday behind Scott Wedgewood's 27 saves in his first NHL start.

Cory Schneider hasn't played since injuring his knee March 4 and he'll be out at least the next two despite having returned to practice. Keith Kincaid has allowed 13 goals over his last three starts, and coach John Hynes felt Kinkaid was being worn down from the shift to a No. 1 role.

''For a long time I had replayed (the debut) in my head,'' Wedgewood said. ''I felt like it was just another hockey game, when it comes down to it. I felt I belonged here. Those things helped me step in and stay calm.''

Wedgwood also will get the start against the Penguins, who are likely to go with Marc-Andre Fleury in net.

Fleury has started five games during the streak with a 1.77 goals-against average. He made 25 saves Jan. 26 and has a 1.00 GAA in his last four starts against New Jersey, posting two shutouts.

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