Sidney Crosby will make his return to the ice after missing 61 regular-season games with a concussion when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the struggling New York Islanders on Monday. The 2007 NHL MVP, who was cleared for contact in mid-October, last played Jan. 5 against Tampa Bay after he had 66 points in the first 41 games of the 2010-11 season. Crosby has 18 goals and 62 points in 32 career games against the Islanders. New York is in a free fall after a promising 3-1 start with two wins in its last 13 games. Pittsburgh has won five of the last six against the Islanders, including both this season.
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ABOUT THE ISLANDERS (5-9-3): The Islanders started the season with three goalies on the roster. One is left, and it isn’t likely the one you would expect. Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov are hurt and often-injured Rick DiPietro is healthy - backed up by rookie Anders Nilsson. Forwards John Tavares (16) and P.A. Parenteau (14) have scored almost one-third of the team’s points. Kyle Okposo, without a goal in 14 games, is expected back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in three straight. David Ullstrom, a forward with 12 goals in 17 American Hockey League games, was called up Sunday.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (11-6-3): Crosby, who reportedly will play with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, hopes to help the Penguins break out of a 1-3 slide. Evgeni Malkin, who had been on an upswing, produced 11 shots and no points in the two-game trip to Florida. James Neal was also held pointless. Neal leads the team with 12 goals and 20 points, and Jordan Staal has 10 and 16, respectively. Marc-Andre Fleury had the night off Saturday against the Florida Panthers and should be back in net Monday with a 10-3-1 record and 2.04 goals against average.
1. The Penguins, who led the NHL in penalty killing Thursday morning, are only 6-for-10 the last two games.
2. Islanders forward Matt Martin led the NHL in hits with 77 through Saturday.
3. Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang is among the league leaders in ice time at 26:38 per game.
PREDICTION: Penguins 5, Islanders 1. Crosby sparks the Penguins to an easy victory over the dreadful Islanders.
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