Penguins seek 4th in row vs. struggling Rangers

(AP) -- PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers hold the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference, but they seem to be heading in different directions going into their game Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Both clubs played their first game Saturday coming off their bye week, and both picked up where they left off.

Pittsburgh (23-19-3) beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 for its third straight win and fourth in five games.

The Rangers (22-19-3) lost 7-2 at home against the New York Islanders, their second straight loss and third in four games. They are 3-4-2 in their past nine.

Defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh is beginning to look like the dominant club it can be. It will try to match its season high with its fourth straight win.

The Penguins' big three -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel -- combined for four goals and five assists (nine points) against Detroit.

Malkin has 18 points in his past 13 games, Crosby has nine points and Kessel had six points in the last three games.

They have contributed to the top power play in the NHL. Pittsburgh has 12 power-play goals in its past 10 games, and has multiple power-play goals in seven games since Dec. 21.

"It's always fun when you win," Malkin said. "We have more confidence. The mood is better. Now we just need to stay on the same level."

It's not just the offense that is prospering. The Penguins' penalty killers have stopped opposing power plays on 23 of 24 chances over the past eight games.

"Maybe we just turned the switch," Pittsburgh winger Carl Hagelin said after collecting a point in consecutive games for the first time this season.

"It's hard to say. You can see guys are more enthusiastic at the rink and guys are bringing more energy every day. That's the type of team we need to be, and the plan is to keep doing that."

The Penguins and Rangers have split two games this season, with New York picking up an extra point in an overtime loss.

They haven't met in more than a month, and New York is searching for answers.

"You've got to put trust in your game plan and trust in your system," winger Rick Nash said. "Leaders gotta lead, and everyone's got to follow.

"The beautiful thing about a back-to-back is it's a huge game for us (Sunday), and we can put forth a good effort and turn the page on (the 7-2 loss)."

Defenseman and team captain Ryan McDonough was much harsher, citing a strong team meeting Friday with no follow-through Saturday.

"The main thing is we want a group in here that's willing to do whatever it takes to win, and right now we don't have enough guys going like that," McDonough said. "The only thing you can do is watch your game (against the Islanders) and come back ready to play hard for your teammates.

"We had a good meeting coming out of the bye week, and I did not foresee this happening like this. For us to be successful, we need everybody buying in. Right now, we don't want it.

"Fortunately, we get another opportunity. If we do the same thing (Sunday) it's going to be the same result. I hope our guys understand the importance of (Sunday). It's a huge game for us. I hope we come ready."

Updated January 13, 2018