Sidney Crosby's prolonged absence after returning for eight games seemed to cast a dark cloud over the Pittsburgh Penguins' season, but their captain's status is far from their only concern.
Jordan Staal and James Neal are the latest Penguins to suffer long-term injuries, leaving Pittsburgh with a tough hill to climb as it tries to avoid its first five-game losing streak in two years Tuesday night against the visiting Ottawa Senators.
Crosby experienced post-concussion symptoms again after a hit Dec. 5 against Boston and little has been heard of his progress since, leaving the Penguins (21-15-4) wondering if and when their biggest star will be back.
They're 5-7-0 since Crosby was re-injured, but suddenly treading water seems like a step in the right direction. Pittsburgh has totaled five goals in its four straight losses, and now has to move on without Staal and Neal.
Staal injured his knee in Friday's 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers, then Neal suffered a broken foot in Saturday's 3-1 defeat against New Jersey. On Sunday, the bad news came with a bit of a timeline - Staal will miss four-to-six weeks, while Neal is out "weeks."
Those two, who have combined for 36 goals, join Crosby, top defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and forwards Arron Asham (upper body), Dustin Jeffrey (knee) and Craig Adams (knee) on the injured list.
"Obviously we're missing some high-end talent, but this isn't the first time that we've had to battle that," defenseman Ben Lovejoy told the team's official website. "We know how to win without everybody in the locker room and without everybody perfectly healthy. We have to get back there starting Tuesday night."
Fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik took things a step further after the loss to the Devils.
"The accountability in this room has to be a lot better," Orpik told the NHL's official website. "We aren't reacting to adversity very well right now. You can't feel sorry for yourselves."
The Penguins haven't lost five straight since Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010, and if they're going to avoid matching that skid, they could use more from Evgeni Malkin. After producing 18 points in the first eight games Crosby missed, Malkin has been held to one goal and one assist over the four-game slide.
Malkin had a goal and assist in each of Pittsburgh's two meetings with Ottawa (22-15-6) this season - a 6-3 home win Nov. 25 and a 6-4 loss at Scotiabank Place on Dec. 16.
The latter is the score by which the Senators won Sunday. After having a four-game winning streak snapped with Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss at Philadelphia, Ottawa bounced back at home against the Flyers, rallying from a 4-2, third-period deficit to score four unanswered goals.
"We have a group of guys here who believe in each other,'' said defenseman Filip Kuba, who put home the game-winner. "If we go into the third down by two goals, we know that we can do it and come back.''
After starting the season 2-5-0 on the road, the Senators are 6-2-5 since - encouraging news since Tuesday's game opens a stretch of nine in 10 away from home around the All-Star break.
To have even more road success, Ottawa could stand to improve its power play. In that 13-game road stretch in which the Senators have taken at least a point 11 times, they're a woeful 4 for 44 with the man advantage.
Pittsburgh, however, has the league's second-best penalty-kill percentage (90.7) at home.