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
Penguins star Sidney Crosby, owner of an eight-game point
streak, has three goals and four assists in five all-time games
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).