Few teams need a healthier and happier New Year more than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Riddled with injuries and stuck in their worst losing streak in years, the Penguins hope the return of several key players Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes can help get them back in the win column.
Forwards Craig Adams (undisclosed) and Beau Bennett (lower body), goaltender Thomas Greiss (mumps), and defensemen Christian Ehrhoff (lower body) and Paul Martin (undisclosed) all practiced Tuesday and expect to rejoin the team soon.
"If you look at the guys who were out there today, Ehrhoff is really close, Beau Bennett is close and so is Adams," coach Mike Johnston told the team's official site. "Those are the three guys that could play (Wednesday) night."
Pittsburgh (22-9-5) has also been without Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), who will be out until at least May, as well as Patric Hornqvist (lower body), Olli Maatta (upper body), Blake Comeau (wrist) and Zach Sill (upper body), all of whose time tables are uncertain.
That thinned roster has led the Penguins to their first four-game losing streak since Dec. 29, 2011-Jan. 11, 2012, when they dropped six straight. The Penguins fell 3-1 at New Jersey on Monday after suffering a 3-0 loss to Washington on Saturday.
"Regardless of how many guys (return) and when, you still have to make sure you're playing the right way, so when guys do come back, it's an easier adjustment for them and you're on the right track," captain Sidney Crosby said. "Hopefully if we do get guys back it will be a boost. But regardless of that, we have to get our game back."
The Penguins remain atop the Metropolitan Division despite their skid, and play each of their next four contests against Eastern Conference opponents.
That stretch begins with last-place Carolina (10-22-4), which has lost 10 of 12 and managed only 15 goals over that span. The Hurricanes rank ahead of only Buffalo with 1.97 goals per game.
"We've hit a tough spot here where we're not scoring a lot of goals," Riley Nash said to Carolina's official site. "That's where you have to get dirty in front of the net and bang some home."
Jordan Staal returned to the Hurricanes on Monday after he missed the first 35 games with a broken fibula. The veteran center scored 15 goals for Carolina last season and picked up an assist in the Hurricanes' 3-1 loss to Montreal.
Jiri Tlusty also returned from injury with an assist after sitting out since Dec. 11 with an upper-body injury.
"When Jordan stepped on the ice and played his first shift, we were all excited for him. It's been awhile," said Tlusty, the team leader with 10 goals. "It's a good feeling for everyone in the dressing room today that he's able to play. He's a big piece of this team, and he brings the energy and brings a boost for the rest of the guys."
Penguins stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin been extremely productive against the Hurricanes in their careers. Crosby has 36 points in 28 meetings and Malkin has 29 in 26 games.
Pittsburgh and Carolina split a home-and-home set in late November with each team winning on the road.
Cam Ward figures to start in net for the Hurricanes. He's 1-2-1 in his last four starts despite allowing seven goals in that span.
He'll likely be opposed by Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 0-2-1 with a 3.54 goals-against average in his past four starts after going 6-0-1 with a 1.41 mark in his previous seven.