The New York Islanders had the misfortune of being front and center for Sidney Crosby's first game back, but the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar won't be on the ice for Saturday's rematch on Long Island.
Given the Islanders' dismal recent history against Pittsburgh, Crosby's absence might not matter.
The Penguins look for a fifth straight victory and 19th in 23 meetings against the Islanders in what they hope will be their last game without their star center for a while.
Crosby returned after a 68-game absence Nov. 21 when New York visited Consol Energy Center, and his season debut couldn't have gone much for Pittsburgh (16-9-4). The former Hart Trophy winner had two goals and two assists in the Penguins' 5-0 victory, giving him 31 points in his last 13 games against the Islanders.
Pittsburgh is 10-1-2 in those contests, but won't have him Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. After Crosby collided with teammate Chris Kunitz in Monday's 3-1 loss to Boston, the Penguins ruled him out for the next two games as a precaution while saying he did not suffer another concussion.
Pittsburgh fell behind Philadelphia 3-0 without him Thursday and a comeback attempt fell short in a 3-2 loss, but it's hopeful to have its captain back Tuesday against Detroit.
"It's been a long road back,'' Crosby told the team's official website Thursday, "and we want to err on the side of caution.''
In the meantime, the Penguins have reason to believe they can still beat the Islanders. They're 18-2-2 in their last 22 games against New York - going 6-1-0 with Crosby sidelined - and had won three straight in the series without him before last month's victory.
That visit to Pittsburgh was part of a dreadful 2-10-4 stretch for the Islanders spanning the last 12 days of October and the first 25 of November, but they seem to have turned it around. New York (9-11-6) rallied from two goals down to tie Chicago on Thursday before falling 3-2 in overtime, running its record to 4-0-2 in its last six games.
"We can take the positives out of this," defenseman Steve Staios told the NHL's official website. "We don't ever want to lose at home. We want to be a strong team to play against at home.
"But at the same time, we didn't have a first period that we were happy with. But we bounced back, which is encouraging. We are moving in the right direction as a team and there are going to be nights that you just don't have (the win)."
Former Penguin draft pick Matt Moulson has driven the Islanders offensively during the six-game point streak, compiling eight goals and three assists. He had two goals and an assist in New York's last win over Pittsburgh, the 9-3 fight-fest Feb. 11 on Long Island that featured 346 combined penalty minutes.
Just as key to the Islanders' recent success, though, has been goaltender Al Montoya, who has a 1.97 goals-against average over his last six starts. Montoya made 35 stops in a 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh on April 8, his only start in the series.
Perhaps the biggest problem for New York against the Penguins has been an inability to kill penalties. Pittsburgh has gone 15 for 64 (23.4 percent) on the power play during its last 13 games in the series.
Strange as it sounds, it might prefer to avoid 5-on-3s. The Penguins have had four minutes, 20 seconds of two-man advantages in the losses to the Flyers and Bruins, but couldn't score.
James Neal scored his team-leading 15th goal in a 5-on-4 edge Thursday.