PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: 21-17-4 (46 Pts.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 21-13-8 (50 Pts.)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: PENS LABYRINTH
The Pittsburgh Penguins who at one point in the season were flying high, come into the Bank Atlantic Center tonight to face the Florida Panthers in hope to avoid their seventh straight loss. Injuries have piled up with the obvious and most significant being to star centre Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have missed his scoring as they’ve only found the back of the net six times during this recent skid. For a change that stat isn’t attached to the Florida Panthers. While Crosby has begun skating again, he’s still suffering from concussion symptoms, and there’s no timetable for his return which isn’t a good thing for him, nor the NHL.
There is not doubt that Crosby is the straw that stirs the Penguins drink, and as markee player of the league, this injury, and these symptoms have had a significant impact. While the Penguins have outshot their opponents in their last eight games, it’s the presence and the ability of Crosby being able to finish that Pittsburgh misses most.
Crosby is on the current road trip and watched his powerless team lose to Washington Wednesday night 1-0, in a game where former Panther Tomas Vokoun was stellar. You can see the frustration in the comments from forward Pascal Dupuis to the teams website:
“(The puck) doesn’t seem to find the back of the net right now,” forward Pascal Dupuis told the team’s official website. “It seems like every little mistake we make, it ends up in the back of our net. (Wednesday) feels like one step towards the right direction. We’ll get it back.”
Besides missing Crosby, Pittsburgh continues to be without Jordan Staal (sprained left MCL) and Kris Letang (concussion), both important cogs in the Penguins weaponry. James Neal leads the team in goals with 21, but is scoreless during the current tailspin, and needs to get back on track for Pittsburgh to have any success. Evgeni Malkin seems to be finding his game and leads Pittsburgh in points with 45, 17 of which are goals. After Neal and Malkin though, the scoring drops off, with as many as seven players with no points in at least their past four games, including Matt Cooke who’s scoreless in 12.
Marc-Andre Fluery was in goal for the loss in Washington, however backup Brent Johnson traditionally gives Florida fits. His career record against the Panthers in 17 games is 10-4-1. The Penguins however can’t rely only on stellar goaltending, they need to get their scoring touch back. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this evening.
The Panthers who have been off since their 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, have an opportunity to bury a team while it’s down, and can’t take this Penguins team lightly. Even though Pittsburgh has struggled, the Panthers have the upper hand as they’re getting healthier, and are rested. A quick, and fast start with a quick goal or two is key to this game. There can be no let up tonight, as when you have a team like Pittsburgh in a tailspin, they are just looking for that one break to spark them and change their fortune.
Speaking of fortune, the goaltending situation is about to breathe a sigh of relief. While Scott Clemmensen had a tremendous game Monday in the win over Vancouver, he must have a repeat performance tonight, while Jose Theodore recovers from his knee injury. Theo is close and while he won’t dress for the game this evening, it is hoped that he will be ready for Monday’s game against the Boston Bruins. Meanwhile Jacob Markstom injured his knee in practice last Saturday, and will be out for two months, and that is a real blow that wasn’t anticipated. Brian Foster is the backup tonight.
All-Star representative Brian Campbell continues to sparkle for the Panthers with his gifted offensive play and steady defence. Soupy has six points in his last six games, remains second among defencemen in points behind Erik Karlsson of Ottawa. The FlashMob line is looking to get itself back on track and while the trio is still dangerous, they have only one point amongst them in their last three games. Again, the rest of the past few days, some hard work in practice should be enough medicine to get the boys back on track.
Thankfully Marcel Goc and Mikael Samuelsson who have recently returned form injury have been finding their names on the scoresheet. Goc was excellent in Monday’s game against Vancouver, and Samuelsson is looking more comfortable with each match that he plays. Those two veteran players realize how important they are to this teams success and will need to continue their contributions. Marco Sturm and Jack Skille have begun skating, but like Theodore aren’t ready to return.
Four of the last eight opponents that the Panthers have faced are first place teams, with only one of them currently having winning records. In those last eight games Florida’s record is 3-3-2, which is surprising with all the injuries that they’ve had to deal with. Another intersting stat is the Panthers have been invlolved in 23 one goal games this year and sport a 11-4-8 record in those games. When scoring first, the Panthers are 14-1-4, which is why getting that first goal tonight against a slumping team will be crucial.
By the way, rumor has it that NHL commish, Gary Bettman will be in the house. Make sure you say hi!
* The Panthers have lost 164 man games to injury, while Pittsburgh has lost 219.
* The Panthers are 11-0-3 when leading after two periods, while Pittsburgh is 3-14-1 when trailing after two periods.
* The Panthers have been in first place for 55 straight days, and 58 overall.
* Pittsburgh leads the series all time at 36-30-5.
* The series this year is tied at 1, with each team winning a game on home ice.
* Evgeni Malkin will be the only Penguins player to appear in this year’s All-Star game. It will be his fourth appearance.
* The Penguins are playing more physical as they were credited with 40 hits in the game against Washington, and 35 in their previous game against Ottawa.
* Panther forward Matt Bradley played one season in Pittsburgh accumulating 16 points. (7-g, 9-a).
* Former Panther tough guy Steve MacIntyre played 18 games for the Panthers. He had 17 penalty minutes.
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Topics: Brian Campbell, Evgeni Malkin, Florida Panthers, Florida Panthers Game Day, Friday The 13th, Jose Theodore, Marc-andre Fluery, Marcel Goc, Matt Cooke, Mikael Samuelsson, Pittsburgh Penguins Losing Streak, Scott Clemmensen, Sidney Crosby