Erik Gudbranson and Kris Letang Source: Jason Cohen Reuters

Game Day Preview: Penguins vs. Panthers. No Sid The Kid

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: 11-5-3 (25 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 9-6-3 (21 PTS.)

GAME TIME: 7:30 Eastern

OPPOSITION SITE: PENS LABYRINTH (WRITERS WANTED)

TSN GAMEDAY

The last time these two teams met was early in the season in the only nationally televised game of the year for the Florida Panthers.  The Panthers lost that game to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 4-2, however the fabulous over zealous analysts on the broadcast made it appear that the Penguins had skated circles around Florida all night long.  Not the case, but since that game the Panthers have moved on, and have been making the NHL take notice as they sit in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Coming into this game Florida, like Pittsburgh has lost two of three including the lethargic and sloppy effort on Thursday night to the hard charging St. Louis Blues.  Not the follow up that was expected after the trouncing of the Dallas Stars two nights before, beating the Western Conference opponent in a lopsided 6-0 victory.  Instead of using that victory to energize them, it appeared that there wasn’t much interest in paying attention to detail, as well as forcing the play.  Bluntly put, the Panthers were out hustled, outworked, and sloppy.  That will have to change tonight, and I’ll bet that coach Kevin Dineen and his staff are doing what they can to make the boys realize that playing consistently is one of the key ingredients to being a playoff team.

One area that is cause for concern is the power play.  Zero for 3 Thursday night, and 0 for 14 previously, that well has run dry after going 14 for 58 (24.1%).  The Panthers need to take advantage of those opportunities when they get them, and can ill afford those numbers to get worse.  Another area for concern is the record on home ice which is 2-2-3 (really 2-5). Forget winning for the fans for a moment (while that would be nice), the boys need to string together some victories at home, where we are supposed to have all the advantages.  It’s our building, make it tough for teams to come in here and win.

Kris Versteeg still leads the team in goals with nine and points with 20, as the top line which includes Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann continues to generate about a third of the offence.  While we praised the trio during our Podcast which took place prior to the Blues game, I’ve noticed that in losing situations, that line seems to be completely shut down.  Admitting to myself that it’s hard to bring it every night,  the bottom line is your best players have to be your best players.  I expect more from them in tougher games, and more difficult situations.  Tonight will be no exception.  We can talk about how happy we are with the teams current position in the playoff race which is fantastic, however games like this one tonight will test our resolve.  We cannot be a one line team, and winning this game will take a collective effort from all four lines, and all three pairs of defencemen.

The Penguins come into this game fourth in the Eastern Conference as well as the entire NHL.  They have a glitzy home record of 6-1-1, but are 5-4-2 away from the Igloo home.  Rumors were swirling that Sidney Crosby would be making his season debut tonight, and he even participated in yesterday’s full team practice.  However it was later announced that he will NOT play today.  The Penguins are coming off a 4-1 loss to Tampa on Thursday even though they outshot the Lightning 34-18, they share a current common problem with the Panthers.  Their power play that night was 0 for 7.

Slow starts seem to be plaguing the Penguins as they’ve dug themselves a hole early in each of their previous three games.  We all know that quick starts are easier to deal with than slow one’s, so be concerned that Pittsburgh comes out with a bit of angst tonight.   One bit of good news however is that Pittsburgh has lost four of it’s last five road games.  The bad news is they’ve beaten the Panthers five straight including the previous two here at the BAC.

James Neal leads Pittsburgh in goals with 12 and points with 20 and like Versteeg for the Panthers is on his way to a career season.  Neal is “hot” as you might say with 9 points in his previous six games.  Also piling up the points are Evgeni Malkin with 9 in his past 7 games, and defenceman Kris Letang who has 8 points in his last 8 games.

The Thanksgiving feast of four home games begins tonight.  Eight points on the line with these games that are all against Eastern Conference teams.  This segment will tell us a lot about the Panthers.

Nerdy Stats:

* The Florida Panthers have now lost 46 man games to injury.

* The Florida Panthers lead this series all time with a 30-28-4-8 record.

* The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost 81 man games to injury.

* The last five games these two have played finds Pittsburgh outscoring Florida 17-9.

* Like the Chicago Blackhawks who were here earlier this month, this is the Dad’s trip for Pittsburgh.

* The Penguins penalty kill unit is ranked 2nd in the NHL.

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Tags: Evgeni Malkin Florida Panthers James Neal Kevin Dineen Kris Letang Kris Versteeg Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby Stephen Weiss Tomas Fleischmann

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