November 29, 2014

While the Pittsburgh Penguins hope their recent goose egg was a mere hiccup during a hot stretch, the Carolina Hurricanes expect a rejuvenated attack after four days off.

The rested Hurricanes open a favorable stretch in the schedule Friday night as the visiting Penguins look to get back on track in a matchup of Metropolitan Division foes.

Pittsburgh (27-19-7) was the league's best team offensively from Jan. 21-Feb. 8, averaging 4.14 goals while winning six of seven games - including a big outburst in Monday's 6-2 win over Anaheim.

Sidney Crosby scored at least once in each of those seven contests for a career-best goal streak, helping the Penguins finally resemble the up-tempo team most expected entering the season.

Then New York Rangers pumped the breaks and beat Pittsburgh 3-0 on Wednesday. Crosby didn't record a shot on goal to end his 11-game point streak and the Penguins were shut out for the first time in 18 games.

Pittsburgh failed to find the back of the net on 34 shots and moved to 1 for 11 on the power play over its last four games, looking more like the team that averaged 2.19 goals through Dec. 19 - more than only Anaheim (1.84) and Philadelphia (2.09).

"We had some good chances," said Crosby, who totaled 12 goals and 22 points during his point streak. "They capitalized on theirs and we didn't. That was the difference."

Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury suffered his second loss in three starts after winning five in a row. That run started with one of his four shutouts when he made 22 saves in a 5-0 victory over the Hurricanes on Jan. 17.

Crosby scored twice as the Penguins snapped Carolina's three-game win streak in this series, including a 2-1 final Dec. 19 and 3-2 overtime victory at Carolina on Jan. 12.

Fleury's shutout ended a dismal stretch against the Hurricanes in which he went 2-3-1 with an .888 save percentage and 3.14 goals-against average dating to December 2013.

Carolina goalie Cam Ward, who has a .947 save percentage while winning three of his last four starts against Pittsburgh, may earn a third straight start since Eddie Lack allowed five goals against the Penguins last month.

Ward missed the most recent matchup in this series due to a concussion, but the 11-year veteran returned with two strong performances over the weekend. He made 33 saves in a 5-3 win at Winnipeg on Feb. 5 and finished with the same amount in a 2-1 shootout loss at Montreal two days later, helping Carolina wrap up a 1-1-1 trip.

The Hurricanes (24-21-9) open a key stretch with eight of 10 games at PNC Arena, where they are 6-1-2 since Dec. 26. They had scored five goals in each of their wins on a 3-1-0 run that stretched over the All-Star break before finishing with just one and missing all five shootout attempts against the Canadiens.

Jeff Skinner is riding a five-game point streak, but captain Eric Staal has only two assists in his last 10 games.

"We got rested up. We're good," coach Bill Peters said. "We'll get ourselves in a good rhythm here coming into this stretch and take advantage of our schedule being at home."

It opens with back-to-back games against the Penguins and Islanders as the Hurricanes celebrate the 10th anniversary of their 2006 Stanley Cup title this weekend.

Pittsburgh, which is 1-2-2 on the road since Jan. 12, is a bit banged up with Evgeni Malkin staying home to nurse a lower-body injury and Trevor Daley a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury.

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