The Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils are looking like two of the top contenders to come out of the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins hope their offense - one of the league's best - will come through again Saturday as they visit the Devils and their stifling defense.
Pittsburgh's 3.5 goals per game and New Jersey's 2.1 goals-against average are both among the top marks in the NHL. It was the Penguins breaking through the Devils' defense for a 5-1 home victory last Saturday, the second win on the team's five-game run.
After a 3-3-0 start, Pittsburgh (8-3-0) is resembling the squad that boasted last season's top scoring offense. During their winning streak, the Penguins are putting 16.6 percent of their shots in the back of the net, averaging 4.6 goals. They scored 2.7 goals per game over their first six contests.
Sidney Crosby tallied three points while leading Pittsburgh to a five-goal second period in a 5-2 home win over Washington on Thursday. Crosby, whose 12 assists are tied for second in the NHL, had a goal and two assists to increase his point streak to six games.
"I think right now we're confident in the way we're playing and believe in the way we're playing," said Crosby, whose streak is the longest since registering a point in 25 straight contests from Nov. 5-Dec. 28, 2010.
An improved power play, with adjustments from coach Dan Bylsma, has helped fuel the Penguins' streak. After scoring on 22.7 percent of their advantages through their first six games, they're 7 of 19 (36.8 percent) on power plays over the last five. Bylsma shifted forward James Neal to play closer to the net while giving Crosby more freedom to operate.
Pittsburgh scored on three of four power plays against Washington, its third straight game with at least one power-play goal.
"As long is everybody is working and we're shooting the puck, good things will happen," Neal said.
The Penguins, however, went 0 for 3 with the man advantage against New Jersey last week.
Crosby had a goal and an assist in that one giving him three goals and seven assists in his last four games versus the Devils.
New Jersey (6-1-3) has since bounced back from last Saturday's defeat - its most lopsided loss of the season - outscoring opponents 10-3 during a three-game winning streak.
The Devils are giving up 22.0 shots per game during their run after yielding 4.0 goals per game on 31.3 shots during an 0-1-3 stretch. The Penguins had 30 shots.
The Devils held Tampa Bay - which came in scoring on 32.5 percent of its power-play opportunities - scoreless on four chances with the extra skater in a 4-2 home victory Thursday. New Jersey has killed all 19 penalties in its last four games.
"I think it's just getting effort from everyone," captain Bryce Salvador told NHL's official website. "Everyone is buying in and everyone is sacrificing to get the job done. When things weren't going our way earlier in the season, we needed to work harder because when you're not working hard, you create bad bounces."
An appearance on Saturday would mark goaltender Martin Brodeur's 1,200th career game. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner, who is 5-1-2 with a 2.44 goals-against average this season, stopped 25 shots against the Penguins last weekend dropping to 0-3-0 with a 4.70 GAA in the last three in the series.
Penguins All-Star defenseman Kris Letang was a late scratch against the Capitals due to a lower-body injury. Letang has recorded nine points - including a goal versus New Jersey - in 10 games.
The Associated Press News Service
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