First-place Panthers face injured Penguins

First-place Panthers face injured Penguins

Published Jan. 13, 2012 10:00 a.m. ET

Tune into FOX Sports Florida at 7 p.m. to watch the Florida Panthers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. NHL Panthers territory.

The injured Sidney Crosby was on hand to watch his Pittsburgh Penguins suffer yet another loss in their latest game. The star center's presence seemed to provide a fitting reminder of how much his team misses him.

Looking to avoid a seventh straight defeat, the punchless Penguins again will try to get untracked offensively Friday night as they visit the first-place Florida Panthers.

Crosby's absence due to concussion symptoms has been evident throughout Pittsburgh's six-game skid, during which the club has managed six goals. The Penguins (21-17-4), who scored 24 goals over the six contests prior to the losing streak, are on their longest slide since Crosby's rookie season of 2005-06.

Crosby is ready to resume skating on his own, but there's still no timetable for his return. He watched his team fall 1-0 at Washington on Wednesday and is planning to accompany the Penguins on the last two games of their three-game trip.

Pittsburgh has outshot all six of its opponents during the slide and eight in a row overall, but the finishing ability of Crosby, who's sat out 14 games since an eight-game return, has been sorely missed by his teammates.

"(The puck) doesn't seem to find the back of the net right now," forward Pascal Dupuis told the team's official website. "It seems like every little mistake we make, it ends up in the back of our net. (Wednesday) feels like one step towards the right direction. We'll get it back."

The Penguins, who also remain without center Jordan Staal (knee) and star defenseman Kris Letang (concussion), will have to find offense from within for now. Leading scorer Evgeni Malkin showed signs of getting on a roll with a goal in two straight contests coming into the Capitals game, but he was held without a point for the third time in five games despite getting six shots on goal.

"We did the right things tonight," said forward James Neal, who leads the team with 21 goals but hasn't recorded a point during the losing streak. "It's tough to keep going in and out and trying to talk about what we need to do better, we just need to get a win and that's the bottom line."

Pittsburgh, which hadn't been shut out all season before Wednesday, will face a Florida team that ended a five-game skid in the series with a 3-2 home victory Nov. 19. The Penguins held a 41-31 edge in shots, but Jose Theodore made 39 saves and Stephen Weiss' power-play goal with 3:30 remaining was the winner.

Theodore is 20-5-2 with one tie, four shutouts and a 2.37 goals-against average versus Pittsburgh, but he is on injured reserve with a knee problem and coach Kevin Dineen called him a "remote possibility" to play Friday.

Backup Scott Clemmensen stopped all 14 shots he faced in the third period Monday to preserve a 2-1 win over Vancouver and help the Panthers (21-13-8) avoid a third straight loss.

Four of Florida's last eight opponents have been first-place teams, and all but one currently have winning records. The surprising Panthers have gone 3-3-2 in that span.

"Right now it's a good test for us. We're playing the top teams in the standings," center Marcel Goc said after scoring the winner midway through the second period Monday. "We want to do well and stay with the pack up top."

Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury has won his last three starts against Florida while posting a 1.62 GAA.