PENGUINS (25-10-1) vs. WILD (20-11-5)
WHEN: December 19, 2013 - 7:00 p.m. | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
Last 10: Minnesota 5-4-1; Pittsburgh 9-1-0
Season series: This is the first of two games between the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins. The teams will play each other again on April 5 at Xcel Energy Center.
Big story: Injuries to their top four defensemen (Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi) and center Evgeni Malkin haven't stopped the Penguins at all. Pittsburgh enters Thursday riding a five-game winning streak after it edged the New York Rangers 4-3 in a shootout on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Wild: Minnesota opens a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh without No. 1 goaltender Josh Harding, who is undergoing changes in his treatment plan to deal with his multiple sclerosis. Harding (18-5-3, 1.51 goals-against average, .939 save percentage) was placed on injured reserve, but is expected back immediately following the holiday break.
The Wild have recalled Johan Gustafsson from the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League in Harding's absence.
"Over the next week, Josh will make a minor adjustment to his treatment protocol," Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "Josh feels great and he looks forward to rejoining our team for our game in Winnipeg on Dec. 27."
Penguins: The victory Wednesday gave Pittsburgh wins in 10 of its past 11 games. Not only have the Penguins been without their top defensemen and Malkin, but they were also without forward James Neal for the past five games. Neal has finished serving his suspension and is eligible to return Thursday.
"To go through what we're going through and still find ways to win, I think it says a lot. That's not easy. It's really a combined effort from everyone to find a way," said Penguins captain Crosby, who had two assists against the Rangers. "It seems like it's someone different who steps up every night. I think the consistent things have been our goaltending and our defensive play."
Who's hot: Wild captain Mikko Koivu has a goal and three assists in his past five games. … Crosby has an eight-game point streak. He has six goals and seven assists over that span. Forward Chris Kunitz has nine goals and nine assists over the past 15 games.
Injury report: Wild center Mikael Granlund (concussion) could return during this road trip. … Malkin (lower body) did not play Wednesday against the Rangers, will not play Thursday against Minnesota and will be re-evaluated for the weekend. Forwards Tanner Glass (broken right hand) and Jayson Megna (lower body), along with defensemen Letang (upper body), Martin (broken tibia), Orpik (concussion) and Scuderi (broken ankle) are on injured reserve.