Tomorrow night against the flying Pittsburgh Penguins, the Florida Panthers will look to put in a good effort if they want to stay atop the Atlantic Division. That position looks precarious right now since the Cats have been having some struggles winning.
They will be just coming off one of their most lopsided defeats of the season to the Nashville Predators losing by a convincing five goals with none of their own to show for it. So at home, they’ll try hard to avoid a fifth loss in six games when the Pens come to town, who have started to see theor star player, Syndey Crosby, fine his magic scoring toucha again.
Florida right now stands at 32-18-6, but they’ve dropped to 1-3-1 in their last five games, especially hammered down in Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Preds. The opposition was bale to score two goals in the opening nine minutes of the game, so within minutes the Panthers faced an uphill climb. Saturday was the third straight game in which the Panthers gave up at least four goals.
“Our team has been pathetic the last couple of games,” said coach Gerard Gallant. “It’s a tough spot but men get through it and you battle back. It’s two losses in a row that we were no good. We’re going to play another real good team in Pittsburgh. We’ll see what we’re made of.”
So far, the Panthers have lost 3-2 in overtime in both games they played against the Penguins this season. On Feb. 6 that loss ended the Panther’s five-game win streak and they have not recovered since, so this should be a good chance for Florida to get back at the Pens and get their mojo back, or whatever magic Pittsburgh stole away from them over a week ago. In both games against the Pens, Florida allowed two goals in the final 5:05 of regulation on its own home ice. So that’s something they cannot repeat a third time.
Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov scored a short-handed goal in the third period of the last game, but right now he won’t play because he is among the Panthers’ injured players. Barkov, who has an upper-body injury has joined team mates Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell on IR (injured reserve list).
Panthers’ Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury on Saturday when he was hit hard by Nashville’s Anthony Bitetto, and Brandon Pirri hurt his ankle the same nighty.
“Guys have to step up and find ways. It doesn’t matter who is in our lineup. We shouldn’t be giving up five goals,” said defenseman Brian Campbell to local media.
For the Pens, only Evgeni Malkin who has a lower body injury will bee missing for the Penguins, who are currently 28-19-7, but they have been on the upswing since Crosby has got his game back, getting back-to-back road wins for the first time since November, and that includes a confidence boosting 2-1 shootout win they got against Carolina on Friday.
“We’d like to play better. I don’t think we had great jump, but sometimes you have nights like that on the road,” said Pens’ center Matt Cullen said. “We just need to find ways to get two points. It’s a huge win and a gutsy win and we’ll take it.”
In their last nine games, Pittsburgh has won seven, and is it seems like they are building momemtum and getting back into playoff position in the Eastern Conference, as the race for the post season starts to ramp up.
Pens goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 big saves against Florida in October, and against the Panthers he has improved to 10-1-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average in his last 12 starts, so he’ll be tough to beat. Even their backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, made 42 stops in last weekend’s matchup. So it doesn’t matter right now who Florida faces in net.
Panthers netminder Roberto Luongo right now is not playing as confidently and is 1-2-4 with a 2.92 GAA in his past seven versus Pittsburgh. The backup, Al Montoya has even a worse record in the series, posting a 5.04 GAA, having lost his last three matchups.
Penguins captain Crosby in his last five games against the Panthers has three goals and seven assists, and has led his team to a 4-0-1 record versus the Panthers in the last five matchups. Penguins’ Kris Letang had two goals, including the overtime winner, and an assist against Florida last weekend. So the one two punch against Flordia has worked and will probably be showcased in the visit to the Panther’s home arena. The Cats just look too banged up to stop the Pens flow, so this should be a high scoring and fast paced back and forth affair.
Our Pick: Pens over Panthers, 4-1