Season series: This is the first of four meetings between the Pens and Cats. Last year, the Penguins took three of four from the Panthers, with two of those wins in overtime and one via the shootout. Florida won the last game of the series 6-2 at the BankAtlantic Center on January 3rd.
Big Story: Both teams enter the game playing some of their better hockey of the season while gaining ground on other Eastern Conference foes. The Penguins will look to continue their dominance against the Panthers, while Florida will attempt to make last season's series look like an aberration.
Penguins: Coming off a 5-4 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Penguins have been rolling of late, going 5-1-1 in their past seven games. The biggest difference for the Pens has been the play between the pipes. Marc-Andre Fleury, after a rough start to the season, has seemingly returned to familiar form, going 4-0-1 in his past five starts. Florida will mark the first of a two-game road trip for the Penguins, who will take on Buffalo Wednesday night.
Panthers: Like the Penguins, the Panthers have been playing some of their best hockey of late. Winning four of their last six games, the Panthers will begin a three-game home stand after being on the road the previous four contests. Leading the way for the Cats is Matt Santorelli who is coming off a two-goal effort against the New York Islanders Saturday night.
"I'm just trying to improve," he said of his performance and recent strong play. "Playing with great players certainly helps."
Who’s hot: Chris Kunitz has seemingly found his place under the sun on a line with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis. Against Carolina Friday night, Kunitz collected two goals and finished nearly every check to become a physical presence on the Penguins’ top line. He’s been a plus player in five consecutive games.
For the Panthers, save for one hiccup effort against the Boston Bruins, goalie Tomas Vokoun has allowed just one goal in four of his past five games.
Injury Report: Rostislav Olesz is doubtful for the Panthers with a broken finger, while Stephen Weiss is questionable with an ankle injury. For Pittsburgh, the Penguins still await Jordan Staal to return, which won’t be the case for another four weeks. He did, however, take to the ice for the first time Friday morning.
Stat pack: Fleury enters the game with a 2.95 GAA for the year, marking the first time he’s played under 3.00 since the season opener.
Puck drop: Crosby will continue his chase to eclipse Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos for the most points in the League. Entering the game, Crosby trails Stamkos by one point (34 to 33).