Wild-Penguins Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild are both having trouble scoring, but the Penguins still have managed to come away with points recently after a prolonged skid.

Thanks to some leaky goaltending, the Wild’s slide doesn’t show signs of ending anytime soon.

The Penguins try to make it four wins in six games Tuesday night against the visiting Wild, who look to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat.

Pittsburgh (25-10-6) totaled seven goals during a 0-3-1 skid from Dec. 22-29, and it’s scored two or fewer in four of its last five as well. But the Penguins have picked up seven points in that stretch, notching their third win Saturday by beating Montreal 2-1 on Sidney Crosby’s overtime power-play goal.

That was just Crosby’s third goal in his last 18 games and Pittsburgh’s fifth tally with the man advantage in 62 chances (8.1 percent) over the last 20. That’s the lowest percentage in the league since Thanksgiving after the Penguins were a league-best 33.3 percent in their first 21 contests.

"We need to start getting better there and it’s hurt us in games for sure where we could change momentum with it and sometimes ultimately win games," Crosby said. "So (Saturday) it was obviously a big difference in overtime, and we need to find a way to get better there."

Pittsburgh at one point in December was missing 12 injured players, and though that number is down to four, one key name might not be coming back. Defenseman Olli Maatta, who’s already missed time after having a cancerous tumor removed from his thyroid and due to the mumps, will reportedly miss the rest of the season after re-injuring his surgically repaired shoulder.

The Wild (18-18-5) are currently without starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who is out with a lower-body injury, but lately it hasn’t mattered who’s been between the pipes. Kuemper allowed eight goals on 47 shots in the first two games of Minnesota’s current skid – raising his goals-against average since Nov. 26 to 3.62 – and Niklas Backstrom hasn’t been much better in the last three, posting an ugly .877 save percentage.

"It doesn’t get any easier," said former Penguin Matt Cooke, who scored the Wild’s lone goal Sunday in a 4-1 loss at Chicago. "No one’s just going to give us a win. We have to go out and keep tipping the scales the other way. We’re only half the season in, there’s still lots of time. But today’s the day, now’s the time."

Minnesota has scored one goal in four of its last seven games, and one of its top scorers is closing in on a month without finding the back of the net. Nino Niederreiter was tied for ninth in the NHL with 14 goals as of Dec. 16, but he hasn’t scored in his last 12 games.

The Wild have converted on 18.6 percent of their power-play opportunities over their last 11 – a significant improvement over their 12.4-percent mark through 30 games – but they won’t be able to count on producing with the man advantage against the Penguins. Pittsburgh has been short-handed 31 times in its last nine games and has killed 30 of those penalties.

The Penguins wiped out all four of Minnesota’s chances Nov. 4 in St. Paul, and Chris Kunitz scored a power-play goal in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win.

Evgeni Malkin had the primary assist, and he’s been one of the few Penguins producing offensively of late. Malkin has a goal and an assist in three of his past four games and is tied for fourth in the league with 47 points.