Looking to extend their winning streak to seven games, the Pittsburgh Penguins must get past a team they haven’t defeated at home in their last three tries - and do so without their No. 1 goaltender.
The Penguins look to break their skid against the Minnesota Wild at Mellon Arena when the teams meet Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh (11-4-2) is 2-5 with one tie all-time versus Minnesota, although the Penguins took the last matchup 4-2 on Oct. 30, 2007. That win was at St. Paul, and Pittsburgh’s last home victory in the series came Feb. 14, 2001 by a 2-1 score - the teams’ first meeting at Mellon.
If the Penguins continue their improved offensive play, however, Pittsburgh could make it two victories in a row over the Wild. Pittsburgh has 32 goals during its six-game run after managing 26 during a 5-4-2 start.
Evgeni Malkin has sparked the offensive surge with a 13-game point streak, recording six goals and 21 assists in that span. He tied a season high with four points in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Buffalo, his third straight multi-point performance and third consecutive game with a goal.
Malkin leads the NHL with 23 assists and 30 points.
“I think he knows how good he is,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “He has a lot of confidence.”
Crosby has three goals and three assists in the past three, and put together one of his best performances of 2007-08 against Minnesota last Oct. 30. He recorded a goal and three assists for one of his two four-point games of the season.
Malkin had two goals and an assist in that contest - his only one against the Wild (10-4-1).
Pittsburgh, though, won’t have top goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on Tuesday night, as he’s out with an undisclosed injury suffered during the third period Saturday.
“It’s not a major injury,” Therrien said Monday. “We just don’t want to take a risk.”
Fleury, 8-3-0 with a 2.86 goals-against average on the season, will be replaced by Dany Sabourin, 3-1 with a 1.68 GAA.
While the Penguins will be going with their backup goalie, Pittsburgh’s talented offensive players will likely face Minnesota’s goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who’s allowed five goals over the last four games.
Backstrom won three of those four starts, lowering his goals-against average from 2.34 to 2.00 to put himself among the league leaders.
“He’s really focused,” right wing Antti Miettinen said. “He’s calm in there and seems to be in the right spot.”
Backup Josh Harding played in place of Backstrom in the most recent meeting with Pittsburgh. Backstrom, who has started six straight games, has never faced the Penguins.
If not for inconsistent offense, the Wild might also be carrying a lengthy winning streak into Tuesday’s game. Minnesota won its second straight Saturday, 3-2 in a shootout over Columbus, but the Wild went 2-4 prior to the consecutive victories, managing 10 goals during that stretch.
The Wild’s top two scorers are battling through slumps. Mikko Koivu (15 points) has a goal and assist in his last eight games, while Miettinen (12) has three assists in that span, although he scored the winning goal in Saturday’s shootout.
Defenseman Marek Zidlicky, acquired from Nashville in July, has two goals and four assists in his last four contests after managing one assist in his first seven. Eric Belanger has a goal and three assists in the past four games for the Wild.