After a strong start, the Pittsburgh Penguins are experiencing their first rough stretch of the season. Facing the Minnesota Wild might not make it easy for them to get back on track.
The visiting Penguins look to avoid a fourth consecutive loss while trying to end a four-game skid to the Wild on Tuesday night.
With Evgeni Malkin (knee) and Tyler Kennedy (concussion) out of the lineup, Pittsburgh (3-2-2) dropped its third straight one-goal decision, 2-1 at Winnipeg on Monday. The Penguins allowed a goal 8 seconds into the game and were never able to catch up in dropping three in a row (0-2-1) after winning three of their first four.
"It was about being ready to start this game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh is already minus superstar Sidney Crosby as he tries to return from a concussion sustained in January, and could play without Malkin for a third straight contest and Kennedy for his second game in a row.
Being without some of their top players certainly won't help the Penguins, who are 0-3-1 against the Wild since winning 4-2 at Minnesota on Oct. 30, 2007. That is Pittsburgh's only victory in five games at Xcel Energy Center.
The Penguins fell 4-0 at home to the Wild on Jan. 8.
Despite Minnesota's past success against the Penguins, first-year Wild coach and former Pittsburgh assistant Mike Yeo knows his team faces a huge challenge regardless of who takes the ice for Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
"They have a lot of good players, they have a good recipe for winning," Yeo told the Wild's official website. "They have a very good understanding of what their game is and how it should work out."
After scoring four times over the previous three games, James Neal was held without a point for the second time this season. He has two goals with two assists in his last five games against the Wild - all while playing with Dallas.
Though Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves against the Jets, there is a good chance backup Brent Johnson will make his third start in this contest. Johnson, 0-0-2 with a 1.88 goals-against average, is 3-3-1 with two ties and a 1.60 GAA versus Minnesota but has not faced the Wild since 2006.
Niklas Backstrom, 3-0-0 with a 1.62 GAA versus Pittsburgh, is likely to be back in net for the Wild after Josh Harding made 38 saves in his first start in more than a year in Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit.
Greg Zanon and Cal Clutterbuck each scored as the Wild blew a 2-0 lead to lose for the first time in three homes games.
"We let our foot off the gas in the middle of the game and gave them some life," said Wild center Matt Cullen, who has a team-leading three goals.
More production from its top line would surely benefit Minnesota. Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi have totaled three goals with four assists this season and gone without a point the last two contests.
Heatley, responsible for three of his line's seven points, has 20 goals and 11 assists in 27 career games against the Penguins.