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Penguins try to snap slump in Florida

by Sergei J. Feldman
PENGUINS (21-17-4) at PANTHERS (21-13-8)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 4-6-0; Florida 4-4-2

Season Series: This will be the third of four meetings; each team has won once at home. Pittsburgh beat the Panthers 4-2 on Oct. 11 and lost 3-2 at the BankAtlantic Center on Nov. 19.

Big Story: News broke Wednesday that Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby will resume skating on his own during the team's two-game trip to the state of Florida. He has not played since concussion symptoms surfaced following a Dec. 5 matchup against Boston. The injury-riddled Penguins have missed their captain terribly -- they've dropped six in a row and are out of the top eight in the East. Meanwhile, Florida looks to build on its Southeast Division lead over Washington and Winnipeg.

Team Scope:

Penguins: The new year hasn't welcomed the Penguins warmly -- they've lost all three games they've played in 2012, extending their slide to six in a row. That includes Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Washington in the opener of a road trip.

To get back in the playoff picture, at least for the time being, they'll have to do so with Crosby on the sidelines -- he'll skate on his own in Florida, but there's no timetable for his return.

"I don't think he's anywhere close to coming back," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "You can't really wait for him."

Panthers: The surprising Panthers responded after two straight defeats with an impressive 2-1 win against the visiting Vancouver Canucks Monday night in the opener of a three-game homestand. They continue to remain atop the Southeast Division as they look for their first playoff berth since 2000.

"It's the mentality of this team," goaltender Scott Clemmensen said. "It's the new guys coming in, everything that has started from day one, that changeover from years past. We wanted to compete now. We expect to compete. We expect to win."

Who's Hot: Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has two goals in his past three games -- big numbers for a team that has scored just six times during its six-game losing streak. … The Panthers have gotten reliable play out of blueliner Brian Campbell, who has collected three points in his past five games.

Injury Report: In addition to Crosby, the Pens are without Jordan Staal (knee; 4-6 weeks), Kris Letang (concussion; indefinitely), and rookie defenseman Simon Despres (lower body; day-to-day). The Panthers are without the services of forwards Marco Sturm (concussion; day-to-day), Jack Skille (shoulder; day-to-day), Scottie Upshall (hip/abdomen; 6-8 weeks) and Sean Bergenheim (groin; day-to-day), as well as goaltenders Jose Theodore and Jacob Markstrom, both of whom are sidelined with knee injuries.

Stat Pack: The Penguins and Panthers enter the game with the exact same numbers on the power play -- both teams are 31-for-164 (18.9 percent). … Pittsburgh has outshot the opposition in its last eight games, including 31-20 at Washington.

Puck Drop: Despite his team's struggles, Penguins general manager Ray Shero has no doubt about where the Penguins will be come mid-April -- and it's not on a golf course.

"We're making the playoffs, put it that way," he said. "Anything less is unacceptable."

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