Ill Pens hope to stay hot against Avalanche

( - The Pittsburgh Penguins have gained five out of a possible six points without Sidney Crosby in the lineup the last three games, but they still hope to have their captain back Thursday when they host the Colorado Avalanche at Consol Energy Center.

Crosby has sat out the last three games with a case of the mumps, but he was back skating Wednesday morning and could be ready to go in tonight's clash with the Avalanche. He expects to be a game-time decision for Thursday's tilt.

"Not having skated for several days, that's more of our concern then obviously his time of having the mumps, because the mumps virus is basically cleared for him," said Penguins head coach Mike Johnston.

Crosby has 35 points this season on nine goals and 26 assists.

Pittsburgh has gone 2-0-1 without the star forward in the lineup recently. The Pens opened a three-game homestand with a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay in their last trip to the ice on Monday.

The Penguins picked up their fifth win in eight games on Monday, as four different players tallied in the victory over the Lightning. Brandon Sutter, Bryan Rust, Steve Downie and Brian Dumoulin each tallied as Pittsburgh improved to 5-1-2 over its last eight outings.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves in the win, but Pittsburgh's No. 1 goaltender may not be able to go tonight. Fleury missed Wednesday's practice with an illness and was being tested for the mumps. His test came back negative and Fleury was cleared for this morning's practice and tonight's game.

Backup goaltender Thomas Greiss is now being tested for mumps and has been isolated from the team. The Pens did recall goaltender Jeff Zatkoff on Wednesday when Fleury's status was in doubt.

Pittsburgh is also still awaiting results on mump tests for Robert Bortuzzo and Olli Maatta. But both players were already sidelined due to injury.

Colorado will aim for only its second win of the month when it visits the Steel City tonight. The Avs have dropped five of six games in December and ended a three-game homestand with a 1-1-1 record after falling in overtime to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.

T.J. Oshie scored 63 seconds into extra session to give the Blues a 3-2 win at the Pepsi Center.

Erik Johnson scored twice and Calvin Pickard stopped 39 shots for Colorado, which was coming off a shootout win against Winnipeg.

"They are a big team that goes to the net hard," Pickard said. "Our (defense) blocked them out very well."

The Avs had four days of rest before tonight's game and Pickard could use the extra time off, as head coach Patrick Roy has tabbed the youngster to start all three games on Colorado's upcoming three-game road trip.

Pickard has beaten Reto Berra for playing time while regular No. 1 Semyon Varlamov is sidelined with a nagging groin injury. The 22-year-old is boasting a 2.42 GAA and .927 save percentage in 10 games as a rookie and Thursday's test will mark his fourth straight start.

Colorado's road trip will end this weekend with stops in Buffalo and Detroit on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

The Avs have lost five of their last six meetings with Pittsburgh, but were able to halt a three-game slide in the Steel City when they notched a 1-0 win on Oct. 21 of last season.