Red-Hot Penguins

On a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it's easy to overlook Ty Conklin. The goaltender that began this season in the minors, though, may just be the Pittsburgh Penguins' most important player.

Conklin and the red-hot Penguins (26-16-3) seek their seventh straight home victory Friday night when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning (17-24-5) for the second time this month.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Pittsburgh -175 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 6 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 69% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh -175 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

While Crosby and Malkin have supplied plenty of offense during Pittsburgh's current 9-0-1 run, there's little doubt that Conklin has been the biggest reason for that success.

Conklin became Pittsburgh's No. 1 goaltender only after backup Dany Sabourin struggled in place of starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who has not played since suffering a high ankle sprain Dec. 6.

Conklin, released by three teams in two years, has been nothing short of spectacular since making his season debut Dec. 11. He has yet to lose in regulation, going 10-0-1, and his 1.72 goals-against average and .949 save percentage would lead the league if he had played enough games to qualify.

"It's a whole team thing, really,'' said Conklin, recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL on Dec. 7. "Everybody is playing well and you just want to continue to stay confident and continue to do the things that made you successful in the first place.''

Behind Conklin, the Penguins have moved into a first-place tie with New Jersey in the Atlantic Division. Pittsburgh is 18-5-1 in its last 24 games overall, and has outscored opponents 23-8 during a six-game home win streak.

With three games in the next four days, Sabourin could make his first start since Dec. 21.

While Conklin has been one of the league's biggest surprises, Crosby and Malkin are providing the production expected of the team's biggest stars.

Crosby, tied for the league lead with 63 points going into Thursday's play, has five goals and 15 assists in his last 12 games. Malkin has 12 goals and three assists during that same span.

Malkin recorded his second hat trick in 11 days, and Conklin stopped a career-high 43 shots in a 4-1 victory over the visiting New York Rangers on Monday.

"It's been the same story. It's like a broken record (with Conklin),'' Crosby said. "He's been so consistent and made some key saves, some big ones when we needed him to and gave us a chance to chip away.''

Jordan Staal scored twice as Pittsburgh ended a 12-game losing streak (0-9-3) against Tampa Bay with a 4-1 victory Jan. 10. The Penguins, though, are 0-3-3 in their last six home games versus the Lightning since a 5-3 win on Nov. 2, 2002.

After beating Florida for just their second win in 10 games (2-6-2), the Lightning turned in a dismal effort Tuesday in a 3-0 loss to Colorado. They managed only 10 shots over the first two periods before registering 22 in the final 20 minutes.

"It's probably the most embarrassed and disappointed I've been since I've been here,'' coach John Tortorella said. "I've never been more embarrassed.''

Tampa Bay, last in the Eastern Conference with 39 points, is a league-worst 5-14-3 on the road despite winning its last two away from home.

Star center Vincent Lecavalier, tied with Crosby with 63 points, has gone without a point in a season-high three consecutive games. He hasn't been pointless in four straight since Nov. 22-27, 2005.

Lecavalier has 20 goals and eight assists in his last 24 games against the Penguins.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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