Pittsburgh (16-8-4) at Philadelphia (16-7-3)

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By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Thursday, Dec 8, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:00 pm EST Thu Dec 8, 2011

Once again, the Pittsburgh Penguins are without Sidney Crosby(notes).

Claude Giroux(notes) and the Philadelphia Flyers would like to capitalize on that and move atop the Atlantic Division.

The Penguins will try to withstand another absence from their captain Thursday night when they open their season series against the red-hot Giroux and the Flyers in Philadelphia.

Crosby is out two games after inadvertently slamming into teammate Chris Kunitz(notes) in the neutral zone during the third period of Monday’s 3-1 loss to Boston.

The superstar center, who has two goals and 10 assists in eight games, was examined Wednesday and showed no recurrence of concussion-like symptoms.

“I don’t know what I hit my knee on, if it was his leg or, yeah, just kind of a bit of a stinger,” said Crosby, who is hoping to return Tuesday against Detroit. “Nothing major.”

A concussion forced Crosby to miss the second half of last season along with the playoffs, then the first 20 games of 2011-12. Pittsburgh (16-8-4) began 11-6-3 without him.

The Penguins split two games against Philadelphia (16-7-3) without Crosby last season after going 1-3-0 with him.

The Flyers enter this meeting having won five of six to move within one point of Pittsburgh for the division lead.

Giroux is the NHL’s top scorer with 36 points, while his 16 goals put him among the top five. He’s netted five goals while assisting on five others in his last six games.

The center came up big again Wednesday, scoring in overtime after getting three second-period assists to help rally Philadelphia from an early three-goal deficit for a 5-4 win at Buffalo.

“That’s the type of team we are, we don’t quit,” Giroux said. “We have a lot of character, and we’re having a lot of fun here. The second period we played our game, and the third period, too.”

Giroux has five goals in his last six games against Pittsburgh.

Scott Hartnell(notes), second on the team with 12 goals and 23 points, has scored in three consecutive games. The left wing, though, has just one assist in his past five home games.

While the Flyers lead the league with 3.6 goals per game, the Penguins could use more production from James Neal(notes) and Jordan Staal(notes).

Neal leads Pittsburgh with 14 goals and 25 points, but he’s been kept off the scoresheet for three games in a row after misfiring on six shots Monday.

The left wing has one goal in six career meetings with the Flyers.

Staal is second to Neal on the Penguins with 12 goals, but is enduring a four-game point drought. The center doesn’t have a point in his past six matchups with Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) figures to be in net even though he went 1-4-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average against the Flyers last season. He hasn’t been at his best lately, allowing three goals or more five times in his last six starts.

The Flyers may counter with Ilya Bryzgalov(notes), who would be getting a taste of the Pennsylvania rivalry for the first time.

He’s 2-1-1 with a 1.73 GAA and a shutout against Pittsburgh, and he stopped 20 shots Wednesday to improve to 8-1-1 with a 2.49 GAA in his last 11 starts.

Team Stat Leaders

Goals
Assists
Points
Plus/Minus

Scoreboard

Thursday, Dec 8