Panthers go for second straight road win vs. Penguins
PANTHERS (12-14-6) at PENGUINS (21-10-1)
Last 10 -- Florida 2-5-3; Pittsburgh 7-2-1
Season series -- Pittsburgh leads the season series 2-0 after taking a 3-2 shootout win on Oct. 23, and a 3-2 overtime victory a month later at BankAtlantic Center.
Big story -- Florida will to get into the East's top eight with a second straight win, while the Penguins will try to gain a lead in what is shaping up to be an intense battle for the Atlantic Division crown.
Panthers -- Florida has not had an easy ride of late, dropping four straight games before snapping the funk Friday night in New Jersey. Scott Clemmensen delivered a strong 26-save outing in his former stomping grounds, but with the Cats on the second half of a back-to-back, Tomas Vokoun will likely get the call Saturday in Pittsburgh. Vokoun is in a stretch almost rougher than the team as a whole, going winless in his last seven starts with a 2.95 goals-against average. Still, despite his recent track record, the Czech netminder hasn't been given much help by his offense. Vokoun has lost four games in which he gave up two goals or fewer.
The Panthers are hoping their win over the Devils might have given the offense the jolt it needed, however. After missing the scoresheet for two straight games, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton both notched two assists, while Michael Frolik lit the lamp twice. If the Cats can pull it together again in Pittsburgh, the boost of consecutive wins over the top two teams in the Atlantic Division -- and two of the top three teams in the conference -- could propel them back into the thick of the East playoff race.
Penguins -- Pittsburgh has won three of its past five and gotten points in four of those, but until Thursday there was some worry settling in at the Igloo. After becoming the first team in the League to win 20 games, the Penguins had lost two in a row before Pascal Dupuis' knuckler got past Montreal's Carey Price in the third period Thursday. Pittsburgh had to make do without the team's leading scorer having an impact as Sidney Crosby was held without a point. Crosby had been red hot with 12 points in the previous four games.
Knocking off the Canadiens is surely a relief for the Penguins, who nipped any potential losing skid in the bud with two valuable points, but a victory over the Panthers would be a boon, as Pittsburgh has found itself jockeying for position with the Devils. While the Pens benefited from New Jersey's loss to Florida Friday night, they are still tied with the Devils with 43 points. Having played two more games than their rivals from the Garden State, the Penguins could use a cushion.
Who's hot -- Despite his two-game pointless streak, Weiss has still been the offensive horse for the Panthers this season. His recent performance is no exception, as Weiss has 11 points in last nine games. In Pittsburgh, Sergei Gonchar has been producing from the blue line with eight points in his last eight games, including the 650th of his career Thursday against Montreal.
Injury report -- Florida's Kenndal McArdle is out indefinitely with a left shoulder injury, while Gregory Campbell may be out again with concussion-like symptoms after missing Friday night's win in New Jersey. Pittsburgh will be without Chris Kunitz, who is still on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.
Stat pack -- Both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held scoreless Thursday night. The last time Pittsburgh's two offensive stars were scoreless when both were in the lineup was two months ago in a 4-1 win over Ottawa on Oct. 12.
Puck drop -- Florida has multiple young weapons to throw at the defending champions in Weiss and Horton, and with the Panthers outside the East's top eight looking in, they may be more desperate than the established Pens. But with the Cats playing for the second night in a row, Pittsburgh stands a good chance of overwhelming a tired squad.