Predators-Penguins Preview

The Associated Press

It's hard to believe any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could have trouble scoring goals, but that's been the biggest problem for the Pittsburgh Penguins lately.

With a pedestrian offense and the absence of their No. 1 goaltender, the Nashville Predators' slump is much easier to explain.

The Penguins look to avoid their first four-game skid in nearly two years Friday night when they host a Predators team hoping to end a three-game slide of its own.

After averaging 3.75 goals during a 7-1-0 start, the Penguins appeared on their way to dominating a mediocre Metropolitan Division. But they've been limited to 20 goals during a 4-6-0 stretch that includes one in each of the last three games.

Those offensive issues were apparent again Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to visiting Philadelphia. Crosby scored his first goal in eight games, but Malkin's drought reached 11 and Pascal Dupuis, a 20-goal scorer last season, has gone 12 straight without one.

''We're not doing enough around the net and in those areas to get the goals,'' coach Dan Bylsma said. ''We had opportunities, but we were not able to get in their end and finish.''

Pittsburgh (11-7-0), which hasn't dropped four straight since a six-game skid Dec. 29-Jan. 11, 2012, is 11-2-0 when scoring three or more goals.

''I think the chances are there, we just have to put them in,'' Dupuis said. ''It's definitely not a fun time, but you just have to find ways to score.''

After struggling in the playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury's play in net hasn't been a concern for the Penguins. He's allowed two goals or fewer in 11 of 15 starts and ranks among the league leaders with a 2.07 goals-against average.

Nashville (8-8-2) has traditionally relied heavily on goaltending to carry the club, but that formula hasn't been successful with an injury to Pekka Rinne, who hasn't played since Oct. 22 due to a hip infection and is out indefinitely.

In Rinne's place, Carter Hutton, who entered this season with one NHL appearance, has struggled in the starting role. He is 4-3-1 with a 3.53 GAA and served as Marek Mazanec's backup Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

Despite a strong 30-save performance from Mazanec, the Predators lost their third in a row and dropped to 2-3-1 on a seven-game trip. They were headed for a third straight shutout before Patric Hornqvist scored with 5:30 remaining.

''We were slow to the puck all night and they did a better job winning the 1-on-1 battles,'' coach Barry Trotz said. ''We're going through a tough time. We have to tighten up and put together better efforts.''

Trotz's team ranks near the bottom of the league with 2.11 goals per game and those struggles have been compounded by an .898 save percentage.

Penguins defenseman Paul Martin could return after missing the past two games with a lower-body injury.

"Paul Martin was back on the ice today and practiced in the optional practice," Bylsma told the team's official website. "We saw him in battle drills and skating. He looked pretty good."

Pittsburgh has won two straight against Nashville, including 5-1 at home in the most recent meeting March 22. Malkin scored twice and James Neal had a career-high four assists.

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