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Sid-less Penguins pay rare visit to San Jose

by Sergei J. Feldman

PENGUINS (8-3-2) at SHARKS (6-4-0)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 6-3-1; San Jose 6-4-0

Season Series: This is the only meeting of the season between two of the NHL's top teams. They last met in February when San Jose won 3-2 in overtime at Pittsburgh, with Patrick Marleau scoring two goals -- including the OT winner.

Big Story: The four-day break between games has given Penguins captain Sidney Crosby the chance to get some contact in practice as he works to return from the concussion that's kept him out since January. There was speculation that he could return against the Sharks, but he quashed all rumblings and said he would not be in the lineup for the Penguins' games in San Jose or Los Angeles two nights from now. Both teams are coming off losses in their final October games after winning their previous five.

Team Scope:

Penguins: October was a success for the Penguins despite Saturday's 4-3 loss in Toronto. But they were glad to get a breather after playing a League-high 13 games in the season's opening month. Among the benefits was the chance for Crosby to get some contact. He made the trip to California, though he won't suit up.

"I've got to go through more contact than I have so far," Crosby told the assembled media on Wednesday. "It's not just one day or one hit. I need to go consistently through a few days of contact and dealing with it well. That will be the biggest step and the biggest test. We'll see how it goes, but so far everything is going smoothly. I hope it keeps up."

Sharks: They didn't have a perfect road trip, but a 5-1-0 trek through the East, even though it ended in a 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Monday in New York. The game against the Penguins begins a six-game homestand, and the Sharks will try to avoid the problems that teams often face in their first game back after a long trip.

Playing a team as good as Pittsburgh should help the Sharks stay focused.

"We're playing the top team in the league right now," forward Ryane Clowe told Sharks Talk. "That will help our focus a little bit."

Who's Hot: James Neal has helped shoulder the load offensively for the Penguins and has three goals in his past five games, including points in four of five games. … San Jose's Joe Pavelski is riding a six-game point streak, including five multi-point games. He has six goals in his last six games.

Injury Report: Crosby isn't the only Penguin dealing with a concussion; Tyler Kennedy is also out, though he's skating again. Also sidelined for the Penguins is defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who is out until late November with a broken finger. … For the Sharks, Frazer McLaren is out indefinitely with a hip injury, while goaltender Antero Niittymaki is until late December after hip surgery. Dan Boyle (illness) and Martin Havlat sat out Wednesday's practice but are expected to play.

Stat Pack: With or without Crosby, the Penguins haven't fared well at the Shark Tank. Pittsburgh has lost its last seven visits to San Jose and is 0-8-1 since a 5-2 win on Oct. 22, 1997.

Puck Drop: Crosby's absence has triggered mixed feelings -- the Sharks know their chances of winning are better if the Penguins don't have their captain, but they still want a chance to play against a star they face only rarely.

"The competitive part of me wants to play against him," center Logan Couture told Sharks Talk on Wednesday. "I've only played against him once in my career. Great players like that, you appreciate their skill and you enjoy playing against them. To see them live, for some part of the game you're almost like a fan watching.

"So, yes, I'd like to play against him, but no, because he's a great player and I know they miss him. But, they've had some other guys step up and are a great hockey team without him."

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