The Pittsburgh Penguins host one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference when the Florida Panthers visit PPG Paints Arena on Friday, the first of back-to-back games going into a nine-day bye/All-Star Game break.
The Penguins (21-17-6) have had a few days to stew over a mega-frustrating, two-loss trip west. It was the first time they lost two in a row in regulation since Dec. 6 and 8. They have lost three regulation games in a row just once, Oct. 18-24.
Florida (29-14-4) is coming off a 6-2 win over Arizona.
The game starts a little after 7 p.m.
It’s not just that the Penguins lost to Vegas and Arizona on their trip; it’s that the losses were largely self-inflicted.
Against the Golden Knights, they blew a two-goal lead by giving up three unanswered goals in the third, goals that derived from Penguins mistakes.
Against the Coyotes, the pivotal moment came in the third, trailing by a goal, when franchise players Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin were involved in an own-goal.
And just like that, the Penguins have lost four of five (1-2-2).
Even though it’s just three games past the halfway mark of the season, stretches like that make the playoffs seem really tough to reach. There are three teams between the Penguins and the second wildcard spot in the East.
At practice Wednesday and Thursday, the Penguins shook up their second and third lines (see below), and it looks as if they will at least open Friday’s game with the new look.
The Penguins are expected to use both goaltenders in the back-to-back games, with Alex Nedeljkovic starting against Florida.
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Florida, which sits second in the Eastern Conference, won nine in a row beginning just before the Christmas break. The Panthers then started to look a little human by losing four straight (0-2-2), but they now have won two in a row by a combined 10-3.
Sam Reinhart had a goal and an assist against Arizona to stretch his point streak to 11 games (12 goals, 4 assists). Nine other Panthers had at least a point in that game.
Also in that game, Florida got back captain Aleksander Barkov (lower-body injury), who had missed four games. He had an assist.
Expected Penguins Lines
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Drew O’Connor-Evgeni Malkin-Colin White
Rickard Rakell-Lars Eller-Valtteri Puustinen
Jansen Harkins-Noel Acciari-Jeff Carter
Marcus Pettersson-Kris Letang
Ryan Graves-Erik Karlsson
P.O Joseph-Chad Ruhwedel
Expected Panthers Lines
Eetu Luostarinen-Anton Lundell-Sam Reinhart
Carter Verhaeghe-Sam Bennett-Matthew Tkachuk
Evan Rodrigues-Aleksander Barkov-Mackie Samsoskevich
Jonah Gadjovich-Kevin Stenlund-Ryan Lomberg
Gustav Forsling-Aaron Ekblad
Niko Mikkola-Brandon Montour
Oliver Ekman-Larsson/Dmitry Kulikov
Penguins Special Teams
Penguins power play: 13.3%, 31st
Penguins penalty kill: 82.8%, 8th
Panthers power play: 22.3%, 13th
Panthers penalty kill: 82.4%, 10th
Penguins Game Notes
The Penguins dropped the first meeting between the teams, 3-1 Dec. 8 in Florida.
In 15 career games against the Panthers, Jake Guentzel as 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists).
In the three-game series last season, Kris Letang had seven points (4 goals, 3 assists).
Guentzel leads the Penguins at home with 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 21 games.
Sidney Crosby is two points away from hitting 50 for the 17th time in his career.
Crosby has 577 career goals, tied with Mark Recchi all-time in the NHL, and will move into 21st place alone with his next goal.
Erik Karlsson has a nine-game point streak (1 goal, 9 assists).
How to Watch
TV: SportsNet Pittsburgh
Radio: 105.9 FM The X
Also visit sister site Florida Hockey Now