Pens hope to snap slide in meeting with Panthers

The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to end their longest place Florida Panthers for tonight's battle at BankAtlantic Center.

The Penguins have dropped six straight games -- all in regulation -- and are mired in their longest skid since an 0-5-2 stretch from Jan. 26-Feb. 8, 2006. Pittsburgh also lost 10 straight in regulation from Jan. 6-23 of that season, which was Sidney Crosby's rookie campaign.

Of course, the Pens won't have Crosby to help them halt the streak tonight, as he's been sidelined since early December with concussion symptoms. Crosby has played in just eight games -- all this season -- since first encountering his concussion issues last January. There has been no timetable set for Crosby's return since he last played on Dec. 5, but he did join the team on its current three-game road trip and Pittsburgh's captain is expected to begin light skating today.

"I'm happy he's joining the team on the trip," Penguins GM Ray Shero told his team's website on Thursday. "Sid is a hockey player and he wants to play hockey. He wanted to join our team because we're in a tough stretch. He badly wants to play and be out there. But he's not cleared to play. We want to be very careful."

In addition to Crosby, Pittsburgh is also currently without defensemen Kris Letang (concussion), Robert Bortuzzo (concussion) and Simon Despres (lower body) was well as forward Jordan Staal (sprained left MCL).

Thanks in part to the recent slide, the Pens have fallen into a tie with Washington for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida, meanwhile, is leading the Southeast with 50 points and is also seeded third in the East.

The Penguins were shut out for the first time this season when they dropped Wednesday's 1-0 decision in Washington. Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves for the Capitals and Jason Chimera record the only goal in the decision at Verizon Center.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 20-of-21 shots for the Penguins, who have been held to one goal or fewer in five straight games.

"Certainly getting shut out 1-0 is not something we like, but we earned a lot tonight," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. "We're going to keep playing that way and we'll get wins playing just like that."

Pittsburgh is 10-10-2 as the guest this season and will complete its road trip Sunday in Tampa.

The Panthers began a three-game homestand in their last trip to the ice and skated away with a 2-1 victory over Vancouver. Scott Clemmensen made 25 saves and Marcel Goc netted the game winner for Florida as Monday's victory over the Canucks improved the Panthers' record on home ice to 11-4-5.

Dmitry Kulikov notched the other goal for the Panthers, who snapped a two-game skid and won for just the third time in nine games (3-4-2).

"We believe that we can beat anyone in the league on any given night," Clemmensen said. "Vancouver's one of the best teams in the league and we think we can beat them and we showed it tonight. It's the mentality of this team. We don't expect to compete, we expect to win."

The Panthers are currently playing without top goaltender Jose Theodore (right knee) and key forwards Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Jack Skille (shoulder), Marco Sturm (head) and Scottie Upshall (upper body).

Florida and the Penguins have split a pair of meetings this year, with each team winning on home ice. Pittsburgh had won five straight in this series before the Panthers notched a 3-2 win on Nov. 19. The clubs have split the last eight encounters at the BankAtlantic Center.