Lemieux hopes he is healthy enough to return as Pittsburgh continues a five-game road trip against the Florida Panthers in a matchup of two of the league’s youngest teams.
Lemieux missed his first game of the season Tuesday at Toronto with a strained muscle in his left hip and did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He is listed as questionable for Friday, although Penguins coach Ed Olczyk said the injury has improved.
“We’ll see how he is Friday morning,” Olczyk said. “If it improves as much as it did from Saturday to Tuesday, that’s a good sign, because he said it felt a lot better Tuesday than it did on Saturday.”
Without their captain, the Penguins’ 2-0-1 streak ended Tuesday with a 4-2 loss at Toronto.
Rico Fata scored one goal and set up another for Pittsburgh, which was coming off consecutive wins over Chicago and Boston.
Marc-Andre Fleury, the top overall pick in the 2003 draft, stopped 34 of 38 shots in his fourth straight start. It was the first NHL appearance in Canada for the former Quebec junior star.
“For sure I was nervous a little bit, but I just tried to stay calm,” Fleury said.
Fleury is scheduled to start Friday, while backup Sebastien Caron is expected to get the nod Saturday at Tampa Bay. The Penguins are 3-3-2 with Fleury in goal and 0-2-1 when Caron starts.
Pittsburgh entered the season knowing it needed some of its young players to elevate their games, and Fata has done that. He scored seven goals in his first 100 NHL games, but already has six in 11 games this season.
After falling behind by three goals Wednesday against visiting Los Angeles, Florida could not come all the way back in a 3-2 loss.
The defeat was the fourth straight at home for the Panthers, who won a franchise-low eight home games last season.
“We didn’t play desperate the whole game,” left wing Kristian Huselius said. “It’s always tough to lose, but it’s especially hard in your barn. We have to get desperate, and we have to get on track.”
Huselius recorded 43 goals in his first two NHL seasons, but is off to a slow start in 2003-04. He has no goals and just two points in his last 10 games.
Pittsburgh is one of the few teams that Florida has been successful against of late. The Panthers are 6-0-1-1 in the past eight meetings.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 5): Penguins - 9 points, 5th place, 5 PB, Atlantic Division. Panthers - 10 points, 3rd place, 6 PB, Southeast Division.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 5): Penguins - Power play: 12.1 percent (7 for 58), 26th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.0 percent (42 for 50), 13th. Panthers - Power play: 11.7 percent (7 for 60), 28th. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (66 for 78), 13th.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 4-0.
LAST MEETING: March 16; Panthers, 4-2. At Pittsburgh, Niklas Hagman scored twice and Jokinen had a goal and two assists, leading Florida to a season sweep.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 1-3-1-0 on the road; Panthers - 1-4-1-0 at home.