The Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning concluded 2009 heading in completely different directions. Somewhat surprisingly, the defending Stanley Cup champions weren't the ones piling up victories.
In each team's first contest of the new year, the slumping Penguins look to avoid matching their longest losing streak of the season Saturday against the Lightning, who seek their fifth win in seven games.
Pittsburgh (26-14-1) is in the thick of the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference, but it hasn't been playing like an elite team lately.
The Penguins have lost three straight and four of five after an 11-2-1 stretch. This is their longest skid since losing four in a row from Nov. 5-12.
Led by Sidney Crosby and his 23 goals, Pittsburgh is third in the league with 130, but its high-powered offense has been shut out twice in the last five games. The Penguins had been held scoreless only three times in their first 36 contests.
Crosby and the Penguins fired 32 shots on New Jersey's Martin Brodeur on Wednesday night, but couldn't get one past the future Hall of Famer and all-time shutout leader in a 2-0 loss.
"I know our team battled hard and we played a good game," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "We played the way we needed to play. We would have liked to have gotten one by Brodeur and tied that game up."
While the Penguins stumbled into the new year, the Lightning (15-15-10) are playing some of their best hockey of the season.
Tampa Bay, which had the second-fewest points in the league last season with 66, is 4-1-1 since Dec. 18 after going 1-8-2.
The Lightning, who are two points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, are coming off Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss to Montreal.
"We had a couple of bad bounces, but we still got a point out of this one after a hard third-period effort," St. Louis told the Lightning's official Web site. "Our goaltending was strong and it would have been nice get two (points), but we've just got to keep pushing."
Mike Smith stopped 33 shots, and is 3-1-1 with a 2.38 goals-against average since Dec. 21. Smith didn't play in the Lightning's 4-1 loss to the Penguins on Oct. 17, but turned aside all 15 shots in his last start against them, a 2-0 win on Dec. 23, 2008.
Pittsburgh has won four straight over Tampa Bay since then, and Marc-Andre Fleury has been in net for each of those games, posting a 2.21 GAA.
Fleury is expected to get the nod for the Penguins after he was given the night off Wednesday, snapping his string of seven consecutive starts. He is 1-3-0 with a 4.04 GAA since Dec. 21 after going 10-1-1 with a 1.80 GAA in his previous 12 games.
Fleury made 22 saves against the Lightning in October, while Crosby had two assists and Sergei Gonchar added a goal and an assist.