Wild-Penguins Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins have kept winning in spite of Evgeni

Malkin’s absence and an extremely short-handed defense. The

Minnesota Wild will try to do the same while goaltender Josh

Harding is out.

The Penguins will seek a season-high sixth consecutive victory

and ninth in a row at home Thursday night while the Wild will try

to extend their streak to three games.

Pittsburgh (25-10-1) kept its win streak going Wednesday with a

4-3 shootout victory on the road against the New York Rangers.

Brandon Sutter scored one of the Penguins’ two third-period goals

and was the only player to find the net in the shootout after his

team blew a two-goal lead.

Malkin missed his second straight game because of a lower-body

injury suffered in a 4-1 victory in Detroit on Saturday and is not

expected to return until after the visit from the Wild (20-11-5).

Pittsburgh had won seven in a row with him in the lineup.

The Penguins, 10-1-0 in their last 11, have also overcome an

injury-plagued set of defensemen that includes Kris Letang (upper

body), Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (leg) and Brooks Orpik

(concussion). Fellow defenseman Deryk Engelland has three games

remaining on a suspension, but forward James Neal is expected to

return from his five-game ban Thursday.

“I don’t think how we play – expectations, style of play, game

plan – really changes much by getting one or two players back or

getting everybody back,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

Minnesota, meanwhile, learned Wednesday that it won’t have

Harding available until Dec. 27 at the earliest as he tries to

adjust the medication for his multiple sclerosis. Harding has been

one of the top goaltenders in the NHL this season with an 18-5-3

record and a 1.51 goals-against average.

Niklas Backstrom, 2-5-2 with a 2.93 GAA in 12 games, is expected

to get the majority of starts while Harding is out. Johan

Gustafsson was recalled from the minors to take Harding’s spot and

might see some time in net if he has an extended absence.

“Over the next week, Josh will make a minor adjustment to his

treatment protocol,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “Josh

feels great and he looks forward to rejoining out team for our game

in Winnipeg on Dec. 27.”

Harding led the Wild to back-to-back shootout victories,

including a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Tuesday. Charlie Coyle scored

the tying goal in the third period and Jason Pominville had the

only one in the shootout for either team.

A 2-1 shootout victory over Colorado on Saturday snapped an

0-4-1 road skid. Minnesota has won back-to-back road games just

once this season from Nov. 20-23 and a visit to Pittsburgh wouldn’t

appear an ideal way to register another such win streak.

The Penguins are 15-3-0 at the Consol Energy Center this season

and have won 30 of their last 35 regular-season games there since

the beginning of a franchise-record, 12-game streak Feb. 22.

The Wild, though, have won their last six games in Pittsburgh

but the most recent was on Jan. 8, 2011. Pittsburgh’s 4-2 win in

Minnesota on Oct. 18, 2011, snapped a four-game losing streak in

the series.

Penguins star Sidney Crosby, owner of an eight-game point

streak, has three goals and four assists in five all-time games

against Minnesota.

The Wild’s Zach Parise faced Pittsburgh more recently while with

New Jersey and has six points (three goals, three assists) in his

last five matchups. Pominville’s most recent meeting was with

Buffalo on April 2, and he has eight points in his last six games

against Pittsburgh (one goal, seven assists).