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Penguins-Panthers Preview @NHLdotcom

For all their dazzling offensive talent, the key to the Pittsburgh Penguins' season may rest with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Judging by his recent performances, the Penguins may have cause for concern.

Fleury will be on the bench Thursday night as the Penguins try to rebound from their first regulation loss in five weeks when they visit the Florida Panthers.

The Penguins (32-18-9) appeared to be on their way to extending their point streak to 17 games Monday, but Mike Sillinger's seemingly harmless wrist shot eluded Fleury with 26.8 seconds remaining and gave the New York Islanders a 6-5 victory.

The loss ended Pittsburgh's six-game win streak and was its first defeat in regulation since Jan. 10 at Florida.

"Guys in here are disappointed and upset, and that's a good thing," said veteran forward Mark Recchi, who had two goals and three assists. "We played three hockey games in such a short time, and to see people unhappy after losing the third one is a good sign."

Monday marked the fourth time in six games that the Penguins blew a lead of at least two goals, but they had won all the others.

"When you score five goals on the road, you've got to win those games," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

Ryan Malone recorded his second career hat trick and Sidney Crosby had four assists for Pittsburgh, which went 14-0-2 during the run to move into a tie with Ottawa for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

Fleury was far from sharp, allowing four goals or more for the fifth straight game. He had Sunday off against Washington after starting 14 of 15 games, and ranks 27th in the NHL with a 2.92 goals-against average.

On Wednesday, Therrien said he would sit Fleury, the top overall pick in the 2003 draft, and start backup Jocelyn Thibault against Florida.

"We're not satisfied. He's got to upgrade his game and he knows it," Therrien said after practice. "It's part of my responsibility to make sure that he'll get better."

The Penguins' uncertain situation in goal means their young offensive stars, led by Crosby, will need to keep producing. Crosby leads the NHL with 95 points despite recording only one goal in 11 games. He has a goal and eight assists during a five-game point streak.

Another one of those rising stars, Evgeni Malkin, had an assist Monday to give him three goals and five assists during his five-game streak.

Florida (23-26-12) still has playoff aspirations, but has to be considered a longshot at 13th in the East and nine points out of the final spot.

Seeking their fourth win in five games, the Panthers lost 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday at Tampa Bay and dropped to 1-12 in games decided after regulation.

Nathan Horton scored both goals for Florida, which was short-handed eight times.

"I thought we got a really big game out of Nathan Horton," coach Jacques Martin said. "We did a good job. I thought we had a strong effort. We took too many penalties."

The Panthers have only four goals on 26 shootout attempts this season.

"Penalty shots are not our specialty, I guess," forward Ville Peltonen said.

Center Jozef Stumpel, Florida's third-leading scorer with 42 points, returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing five games with a shoulder injury.

Florida has won two of three meetings with Pittsburgh this season and 14 of the last 16. The Panthers have taken eight of nine at home in the series since the start of the 2001-02 season.

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