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Penguins continue to struggle with elite

| Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012

The Penguins can't beat the Eastern Conference elite at Consol Energy Center.

As a result, they find themselves 10 points out of the Atlantic Division lead. And they also might be without center Jordan Staal for a while.

Despite outplaying the Rangers much of the game, the Penguins dropped a 3-1 home decision Friday night. And with 4:45 left, Staal awkwardly took a knee-on-knee hit from former teammate Mike Rupp.

Staal remained on the ice for about a minute and appeared to be in significant pain. He was helped off the ice and did not return. After the game, coach Dan Bylsma said he had no update on Staal's status.

"I'm in a position of turning; I've got my legs out for a wide base, and he's coming by," said Rupp, who was given a two-minute penalty for kneeing. "I try to get a piece of him. I don't move my knee to get contact, but I understand the call ... I hope he's all right."

Already without center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang because of concussions, the Penguins could be in serious jeopardy of sliding down the standings should Staal miss significant time. The Penguins are now only two points removed from being out of the conference playoff picture following their third consecutive loss.

The defeat dropped the Penguins to 0-12-2 against the Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals in a season and a half at their new home.

Defenseman Ben Lovejoy gave the Penguins an early lead, and they played arguably their finest period of the season in the opening 20 minutes. At one point, the Penguins held an 11-1 shot advantage but were only able to beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist once. Lundqvist made a number of spectacular saves while stopping 37 of 38 shots.

"On most nights," Penguins left wing Matt Cooke said, "when you hold a team to 16 shots, you're giving yourself a chance to be successful."

After being dominated for 18 minutes, the Rangers took charge. Center Brad Richards evened the score late in the first, and center Brandon Dubinsky scored a short-handed goal in the second to give the Rangers the lead. A misplay by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury led to another New York tally early in the third.

This goes down as one of the more devastating losses of the season for the Penguins. They had five days off to prepare, while the Rangers had the distraction of playing in the Winter Classic against the Flyers on Monday and an overtime game Thursday against Florida.

Adding to the Penguins' frustration, right wing James Neal appeared to bring them within a goal in the third period, but his tally was waved off because it was ruled that left wing Chris Kunitz interfered with Lundqvist.

"It's not desperation time," Cooke said. "But we obviously want to win games."

Note: Center Richard Park, playing for the first time in more than a month after breaking his foot, left in the third period after being hit in the eye by the butt end of Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel's stick. He did return to the game.

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