RED WINGS (31-12-9) at PENGUINS (30-15-8)
TV: NBCSN, TVA SPORTS, SN1
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' struggling offense could be bolstered by forward Blake Comeau's potential return against the Detroit Red Wings at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday.
Comeau, who has not played since sustaining an upper-body injury Dec. 22 against the Florida Panthers, was on a line to the left of center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Patric Hornqvist during the morning skate Wednesday. He is sixth on Pittsburgh with 11 goals in 32 games, six more goals than he scored with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
Penguins coach Mike Johnston did not confirm if Comeau will return against Detroit.
"It feels good," Comeau said. "I had a good, hard skate Monday with the team. I skated yesterday. Third one today and it reacted really well, so hopefully I can get in there tonight. … I've been skating without a puck for probably two-and-a-half weeks now and I've been skating with a puck for 10 days. So it was nice to get on the ice on Monday.
"I feel good, feel confident."
Comeau's absence, as well as injuries and illnesses to several other players, has stalled what was one of the NHL's more productive offenses through the first two months of the season.
Pittsburgh has failed to score more than two goals in 13 of its 20 games since Comeau last played. During that stretch, the Penguins have been shut out four times and have gone 8-9-3. They have been shut out in their past three losses, to the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals.
Before being held without a point in each game of a home-and-home series against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 20 and 22, Comeau had scored one goal in three of his four previous games. Pittsburgh was 4-0-2 in the past six games Comeau played.
If Comeau returns, the Penguins' injury list will have been reduced to three names over the past few weeks and Hornqvist said he thinks Pittsburgh now has the tools to re-establish its early-season success.
"No more excuses here," Hornqvist said. "It's up to us. We know we have a good team. We just have to show everyone that."
Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to start displaying its newly found health against possibly the best team in the NHL over the past month. The Red Wings have won 14 of their past 18 games, including their past three by a combined score of 10-2.
Maybe most impressive is that much of Detroit's success during that stretch has come without goalie Jimmy Howard, who has not played since Jan. 10 with a groin injury. Goalie Petr Mrazek, who will most likely face Marc-Andre Fleury on Wednesday, has won eight of his 10 starts since Howard left the lineup.
"It's been a great month," Mrazek said. "I think we had nine (wins) in January, or 10, so that was a great month for us, for the team. So we can be happy with that."
Here are the projected lineups:
Gustav Nyquist – Henrik Zetterberg – Justin Abdelkader
Darren Helm – Pavel Datsyuk – Tomas Tatar
Stephen Weiss – Riley Sheahan – Luke Glendening
Drew Miller – Joakim Andersson – Tomas Jurco
Jonathan Ericsson – Niklas Kronwall
Kyle Quincey – Danny DeKeyser
Brendan Smith – Alexey Marchenko
Scratched: Daniel Cleary, Jakub Kindl
Injured: Johan Franzen (upper body), Jimmy Howard (groin)
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – David Perron
Blake Comeau – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Steve Downie
Zach Sill – Maxim Lapierre – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Derrick Pouliot – Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Beau Bennett, Mark Arcobello
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion protocol), Olli Maatta (upper body)
Status report: Crosby will become the eighth player to play in 600 games for the Penguins, joining Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Jean Pronovost, Rick Kehoe, Brooks Orpik, Ron Stackhouse and Ron Schock. … Bennett will most likely be a healthy scratch for a fourth consecutive game, and the fifth time in six games.
Who's hot: Fleury has not allowed a goal in 131:40, shutting out the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames in his past two starts. Fleury earned a franchise-record eighth shutout of the season in Pittsburgh's 4-0 win against Calgary on Feb. 6. … Tatar had a goal and two assists in the Red Wings' 3-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 7. Tatar leads Detroit with 23 goals, three more than Nyquist.