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.