FLAMES (17-11-2) at PENGUINS (18-6-3)
TV: TVA SPORTS 2, SNW, ROOT
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will get two key players back but be without their superstar when they face the Calgary Flames at Consol Energy Center on Friday.
Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist (undisclosed) and defenseman Kris Letang (groin) are expected to play against Calgary after each participated in Pittsburgh's morning skate Friday. Letang and Hornqvist, who also practiced Thursday, missed five and two games respectively, which added to an already lengthy injury list.
Forwards Chris Kunitz (foot fracture), Beau Bennett (lower body) and Pascal Dupuis (blood clot) have each missed significant time, and defenseman Olli Maatta did not play against the New York Rangers on Tuesday because of an upper-body injury.
Without Hornqvist and Kunitz, Pittsburgh has struggled to generate goals from around the crease. Penguins coach Mike Johnston said he hopes they can influence the rest of the lineup when healthy.
"We've got two of the best, as I talked about earlier in the season, in Kunitz and Hornqvist around the net," Johnston said. "I think a lot of our players can learn from them. How they play in front of the net. How they're good at not only setting a screen, but at times, providing a stick for deflections."
The Penguins had another health scare on Thursday when forward Sidney Crosby did not practice with an undisclosed illness. It was the second time in 10 days Crosby did not participate in a practice or morning skate while sick.
Crosby said early Friday he would play after taking the ice for the optional skate, but later in the afternoon the Penguins said he would miss the game against the Flames and Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets after further tests came back.
"There is no indication at this time that this is the mumps, but we are going to hold him out as a precaution," general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We'll have additional test results in a few days."
With an optional skate, the Penguins did not perform line rushes. But Hornqvist will most likely return to the top line, where he has scored the bulk of his 11 goals this season, second on the team behind Evgeni Malkin.
Hornqvist and Letang have been catalysts to the Penguins power play, which leads the NHL with a 29.1-percent conversion rate. Despite its efficiency, Pittsburgh has struggled on the man-advantage recently, and Letang hopes his addition to the lineup, along with Hornqvist, can provide a spark.
"I'm just going to try to do what I do on the power play, just try to bring some shots and maybe calm things down when it's out of control," Letang said. "But I'm just going to bring what I bring usually, and hopefully it's going to get the power play going again."
Calgary did not hold a morning skate after losing 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. The Penguins and Flames don't often play each other, but Johnston said he is aware of the firepower Calgary's top-four defenseman provide.
"You look at the minutes they play, you look at how active they are in the rush, how active they are in the offensive zone," Johnston said. "They present anybody with a lot of problems."
Here are the projected lineups:
Joe Colborne – Sean Monahan – Paul Byron
Johnny Gaudreau – Josh Jooris – Jiri Hudler
Curtis Glencross – Markus Granlund – David Jones
Brandon Bollig – Matt Stajan – Mason Raymond
Mark Giordano – TJ Brodie
Kris Russell – Dennis Wideman
Ladislav Smid – Deryk Engelland
Scratched: Brian McGrattan, Raphael Diaz, Michael Ferland, Lance Bouma
Injured: Mikael Backlund (abdominal), Sam Bennett (shoulder)
Nick Spaling – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Jayson Megna – Brandon Sutter – Blake Comeau
Rob Klinkhammer – Marcel Goc – Steve Downie
Zach Sill – Andrew Ebbett - Craig Adams
Kris Letang – Paul Martin
Christian Ehrhoff – Robert Bortuzzo
Simon Despres – Rob Scuderi
Scratched: Brian Dumoulin
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Beau Bennett (lower body), Chris Kunitz (foot fracture), Olli Maatta (upper body), Scott Wilson (leg)
Status report: Johnston said he does not have a timeline for Bennett (lower body) or Kunitz (foot fracture). He said each are "a ways away." … Engelland is expected to play against the Penguins for the first time in his career. He played his first five NHL seasons in Pittsburgh. Smid and Stajan return to the lineup, while Diaz and Bouma will sit.
Who's hot: Malkin, who leads the Penguins with 15 goals, has scored three goals in his past two games and has averaged a goal in his past four. He has scored at least one point in 22 of Pittsburgh's 27 games … Giordano is on a six-game scoring streak with two goals and four assists during that span.