Mired in an awful slump and ensconced at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers and their fans haven’t had much to cheer about lately.
Crosby looks to continue his scoring surge and help the Penguins record consecutive wins for the first time in nearly a month Thursday night against the Oilers, who will try to avoid losing their sixth in a row.
Crosby, named alternate captain for the Canadian Olympic hockey team Dec. 30, scored his 30th goal of the season - one shy of San Jose’s Patrick Marleau(notes) for the NHL lead - during Wednesday’s 3-1 win in Calgary.
The 22-year-old center, who had 33 goals in 77 games last season, has now scored in four straight contests, tallying six goals and two assists in that span. He has not scored in five consecutive games since lighting the lamp in a career-best six straight Dec. 5-15, 2006.
Although Crosby is finding the back of the net at an astonishing rate, it hasn’t led to many victories for Pittsburgh (29-18-1).
The Penguins have alternated wins and losses in their last six games and are 3-7-0 since Dec. 27. They haven’t posted consecutive victories since a five-game winning streak Dec. 10-19.
Wednesday marked Crosby’s second career game in Calgary, and this will be five-year veteran’s second time playing at Rexall Place.
“Maybe a little higher expectations in front of a full house, especially only once every two or three years,” said Crosby, a native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
In Pittsburgh’s last visit to Edmonton on Dec. 5, 2007, Crosby had three assists to help the Penguins win 4-2. That was Pittsburgh’s first trip to Rexall Place since a 4-3 loss Dec. 6, 2003 - when Crosby was 16 years old.
The Penguins, who beat Edmonton 5-4 at home last season, have defeated the Oilers twice in a row overall and in six of the last eight meetings.
Edmonton (16-24-5) has lost five straight, is 1-11-1 since Dec. 15 and eight points back of the next-worst team in the West - 14th-place Columbus.
Making matters worse for the Oilers, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) will have surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back and is expected to miss 12 weeks. Khabibulin, who signed a $15-million, four-year contract with Edmonton over the summer, hasn’t played since Nov. 16.
“We can’t worry about who’s here and who’s not here,” defenseman Sheldon Souray(notes) said. “The guys who are playing each and every night just have to keep getting better individually and as a team we’ll keep trying to grow. There’s no sense worrying about who we don’t have.”
Goaltending has been a major problem lately for the Oilers, who have allowed at least four goals in each of their last four games.
Edmonton’s de facto No. 1 netminder without Khabibulin, Jeff Deslauriers is 1-9-1 with a 3.66 goals-against average in 11 starts since Dec. 15. Rookie backup Devan Dubnyk(notes) is 0-2-0 with a 4.42 GAA in four games this season.
Dubnyk, who stopped 13 of 14 shots in relief of an ineffective Deslauriers in the second period of Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Nashville, is expected to get the start against the Penguins.
With backup Brent Johnson(notes) on injured reserve, Fleury will likely get another start over the recently called up John Curry(notes), who hasn’t played for the Penguins this season. Another Canadian Olympian, Fleury has started each of Pittsburgh’s last two victories over the Oilers, posting a 3.01 GAA.