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26-10-1

Wild-Penguins Preview

AP - Sports

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).

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