One game after making an emphatic case that they don't always need Sidney Crosby to score in order to win, the Pittsburgh Penguins certainly seemed to miss their captain when he wasn't on the ice at all.
The Penguins hope for a better effort Saturday night as they continue their stretch without the injured Crosby by hosting the Minnesota Wild, who look to stay perfect in January by winning a sixth straight game in Pittsburgh.
Crosby is the clear favorite to take home a second Hart Trophy as he leads the league in goals (32) and points (66), making it all the more surprising that he was limited to one assist in the Penguins' 8-1 rout of Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
But the star center suffered a mild concussion, which kept him out for Thursday's game at Montreal and is expected to sideline him for another week.
Pittsburgh (26-12-4) looked a bit unsure of itself offensively against the Canadiens without Crosby. Arron Asham scored early in the first period but the Penguins didn't score again, falling 2-1 in a shootout after failing five times to get a puck past Montreal's Carey Price.
"I think we played well in certain aspects of the game but we didn't manage the puck well," defenseman Kris Letang said. "We turned the puck over in the neutral zone and that's what killed us because we could have kept that 1-0 lead the whole game."
That was the first game this season Crosby has missed, but Pittsburgh has struggled when he's failed to chip in offensively. The Penguins are 1-3-2 when he's played and been held without a point, and they've scored just nine goals in those six contests.
"We play 40 minutes a game without Sid on the ice, so we're comfortable with knowing how we need to play and how it's going to be," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We're going to keep playing exactly that same way and figuring out ways to win hockey games."
The Penguins have had trouble finding a way to beat Minnesota (20-15-5) even when Crosby's been healthy. They're 2-7-1 with a tie against the Wild, and have totaled just six goals in losing five straight in the series in Pittsburgh.
Crosby had two goals and an assist in the most recent meeting, a 4-3 Minnesota home win last Jan. 11.
The Wild are making their first visit to the new Consol Energy Center, but they seem to be in good shape to extend the dominance they held over the Penguins across the street at Mellon Arena. Minnesota is 6-1-2 in its last nine road games, and it improved to 3-0 overall in 2011 on Thursday, winning 3-1 at Boston.
"Early on in the year, things weren't going well and confidence was an issue," coach Todd Richards said. "But you walk through that room right now, and you can see the confidence starting to build."
Winger Cal Clutterbuck, who leads the NHL with 186 hits, has played a big part in Minnesota's growing confidence. He has four goals and three assists in his last eight games, and the Wild are 11-3-2 when he records a point.
Starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom, 3-0-0 with a 1.62 goals-against average versus Pittsburgh, will miss a fourth straight game with a groin injury.
Aside from the fact that Jose Theodore has won three straight in his place, the Wild should feel good about going with their backup Saturday. Theodore is 16-1-2 with a tie and a 2.16 GAA in his last 20 starts versus Pittsburgh.
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