The recent clearing of Sidney Crosby for contact has the Penguins hopeful that their captain can return this season. In the meantime, they'll continue to lean on star forward Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin looks to continue his latest scoring barrage and career-long domination of the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening in Pittsburgh.
Crosby has been limited to just eight games of action since suffering a concussion in January of 2010. He made a brief return in late November before again experiencing concussion symptoms. The center was also diagnosed with a soft tissue injury in his neck this past January, but resumed skating with the team in February. He was cleared for contact on Tuesday.
"We'll see how that goes. There is no real timetable, but it's a good step. Hopefully, I can keep the momentum and get out there soon," said Crosby.
Despite missing Crosby for most of the season, the Penguins sit fourth in the Eastern Conference with 83 points. That is two up on the fifth-place Flyers and eight back of the Eastern-leading Rangers.
Malkin has been a big reason the Pens have remained successful. The sniper is tied with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the NHL lead with 81 points while logging six goals and six assists over his current eight-game point streak. Malkin is one point shy of 500 for his career after logging an assist in Monday's 2-1 win over Phoenix.
Just as instrumental to Pittsburgh's success is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 36 saves to log his 35th victory of the season. That is one behind Nashville's Pekka Rinne for the most in the league.
"They came at us hard and he made so many unbelievable saves that we never thought he could keep it going," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek about Fleury. "But he did and he's the main reason why we won."
Michalek and Chris Kunitz had the goals on Monday as Pittsburgh won its sixth straight game. The club is 18-4-1 over its past 23 games, a run that began with a season-high eight-game win streak from Jan. 13-31.
Pittsburgh also won its fourth straight at home and improved to 10-1 in its past 11 as the host. It plays the second of a four-game residency this evening.
The Penguins are likely to get more production from Malkin tonight given the opponent. The former Art Ross and Conn Smythe Trophy winner has nine goals and 29 assists in 19 career games versus the Maple Leafs, picking up at least one point in 17 of those contests. He helped Pittsburgh rally from deficits of 2-0 and 4-1 in the previous meeting at Pittsburgh on Jan. 31, forcing overtime with 6.6 seconds left in the third with a goal before netting the game-winner in the shootout.
Toronto did bounce back the following night to record a 1-0 victory at home, getting 25 saves from James Reimer to halt Pittsburgh's longest win streak of the season.
The Maple Leafs hope to avoid a third straight setback in Pittsburgh tonight as they play their third game under new head coach Randy Carlyle. Toronto won in his first game on the bench Saturday in Montreal to snap a six-game losing streak, but lost Wilson's home debut last night by a 5-4 margin to Boston.
John-Michael Liles and Phil Kessel both scored on the power play for Toronto, which fell to 0-5 against the Bruins this season and trail the Jets by five points for the eighth spot in the East. Jonas Gustavsson allowed five goals on 33 shots in defeat.
"You've got enough goals to win the hockey game," said Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle. "It's the defensive aspect of it that needs to be improved upon."
Playing one day after signing a five-year, $27.5 million extension, Mikhail Grabovski scored his 21st goal of the season to cut the deficit to one with 6:47 to play. He has three goals and six points over his past four games.
Grabovski is also Toronto's leading scorer versus Pittsburgh this season with three goals and three assists in the three meetings.
Toronto is expected to be without a pair of forwards tonight in Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong. Lupul, second on the club with 25 goals and 67 points, suffered an upper-body injury on Tuesday night, while Armstrong left following a fight.