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Wild Warmup: Minnesota at Pittsburgh

Sidney Crosby could return from a nine-week injury absence as Wild heads east to take on the Penguins

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /
The essentials

Who: Minnesota Wild (20-19-6) at Pittsburgh Penguins (28-12-5)

Puck drop: 6:08 p.m. CT

Watch: NBCSN

Listen: KFAN FM 100.3, Wild Radio NetworkWild NHL App

Follow: @mnwild; @mnwildscribe; GameCenter

The Wild Warmup is presented by Bryant Heating and Cooling

PITTSBURGH -- The Wild head east to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to face the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night.

It's yet another one-game road trip, but that doesn't mean it won't be uneventful.

The Penguins, who return home following a perfect three-game western road trip, could be getting reinforcements back in the form of captain Sidney Crosby, who has missed the past nine weeks following core muscle surgery. 

That could put an emphasis on a strong start to the game for the Wild. Usually, teams struggle in their first games back from a long road trip, but that effect could be mitigated by Crosby's emotional return. 

Video: Monday practice update

The Wild will once again have lineup decisions to make. 

Brad Hunt was the extra defenseman at practice at TRIA Rink on Monday before the team's flight to Pittsburgh. That could indicate that Greg Pateryn will once again be in the lineup. He made his season debut against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, playing more than 12 minutes.

Up front, Victor Rask was healthy scratched against the Canucks as Ryan Donato played center on the fourth line. Those two, along with Jordan Greenway and Ryan Hartman rotated on the fourth line at practice. 

Getting more from that group, as well as others, is a priority for Wild coach Bruce Boudreau as the Wild preps to play three red-hot teams this week. 

After playing Pittsburgh (14-3-1 in its past 18 games), the Wild comes home to host Tampa Bay, who had a 10-game winning streak snapped Sunday in New Jersey. After that, a date with the Dallas Stars (11-4-1 in its past 16 games) looms on the horizon. 

"We had 13 players and we're looking at [Rask] and who should come out? You know? He's been doing OK. But we could throw a blanket over the guys that are doing OK," Boudreau said after the game on Sunday. "We need people to excel, and we're pretty bland in that situation.

The Penguins have managed to weather a number of injuries this season, ailments to key players too. Crosby has been out since Nov. 9. Jake Guentzel will miss the rest of this season with a shoulder injury. Nick Bjugstad has been dealing with the same core muscle injury Crosby has had. Justin Schultz had dealt with a leg injury.

Despite all that, Pittsburgh has found ways to thrive and has counted on a number of people to either expand or define their roles.

Evgeni Malkin has been outstanding, leading the way with 44 points in 32 games. His 31 assists leads the club.

Bryan Rust, who has been a bottom-six forward for much of his career, has 18 goals and 38 points in 31 games, already tying career highs in both columns. 

Jared McCann's 13 goals are also a career high as the 23-year-old forward has finally found consistent playing time and a niche in the lineup. 

Rookie defenseman John Marino has been outstanding, scoring four goals and 22 points in 43 games. 

That's been true in net as well. While Matt Murray has struggled most of the season, Tristan Jarry has picked up the slack, going 15-6-1 in 22 games (20 starts) with a 2.08 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. He'll play in his first All-Star Game later this month. 

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