The Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-4) have a Herculean task at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night. They will have to stop one of the best teams in the league, which is playing their best hockey. The Florida Panthers (10-2-1) are quickly establishing themselves as chief rivals to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Eastern Conference supremacy.
And Florida is good. This isn’t a hot start or a flash in the pan.
The Penguins earned a point in comeback style against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night. Jeff Carter scored a pair of third period goals to force OT and a shootout. However, Tristan Jarry’s shootout struggles continued, and Chicago won in the shootout, 3-2.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently last in the Metro Division, but only four points behind the Washington Capitals for third place, and the Penguins have one game in hand.
So, don’t panic just yet.
Tristan Jarry will start in goal for the Penguins. Acting coach Todd Reirden said there were no updates on head coach Mike Sullivan, captain Sidney Crosby or defenseman Brian Dumoulin. All are in the COVID protocol.
What to Watch vs. Florida Panthers:
Thursday will be Patric Hornqvist’s first game back in Pittsburgh since the 2020 trade in which the Penguins dealt him to the Florida Panthers for Mike Matheson. Hornqvist has helped transform the Panthers team attitude, and that emotion should come spilling out with a video tribute on Thursday night.
Look out for a monster game from Hornqvist. I would not want to be Marcus Pettersson or Chad Ruhwedel.
“I’ve seen my fair share of him, for sure. And he’s obviously a very strong character guy in terms of the passion he brings to the rink. Obviously, it’s well documented for his success that he’s had that here in Pittsburgh,” Reirden said. “On the ice in terms of what he does and his ability to go to the difficult areas right around the front and then obviously on the power play in Florida. This is something we have to be aware of…”
Those Penguins defensemen are officially game-time decisions but likely to play their first game in more than 10 days since each entered the COVID protocol.
The Penguins have difficulty scoring goals, in part because their power play is anything but an advantage and because they have not made a concerted effort to crack the scoring zones between the dots. The Penguins haven’t done much to fight inside the dots or make goalies uncomfortable.
So, with only a few exceptions, the Pittsburgh Penguins have not scored enough goals.
Perhaps a few more low battles could open the top of the zone for the Penguins talented defensemen, too.
The Penguins did shuffle the lines a little bit. Zach Aston-Reese, who has yet to score his first goal this season, was dropped to the fourth line with Brian Boyle, and Danton Heinen was elevated to the third line with Teddy Blueger.
The team will need to attack Florida.
“Our mindset, our mentality, we need to start playing the game the way we finished our game against Chicago. We (need to) play on our toes and play as five-man units all over the ice,” Todd Reirden said. “We feel we give ourselves a chance to have success every night, regardless of who’s in our lineup. So for us, that’s not changing…”
Florida has no trouble scoring goals, and Sasha Barkov recently became the Panthers’ all-time leading scorer. Second-line center Sam Bennett has been a significant pickup since Florida finally snagged him out of Calgary last season.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Rickard Rakell||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jason Zucker||Jeff Carter||Danton Heinen|
|Brock McGinn||Teddy Blueger||Evan Rodrigues|
|Mike Matheson||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Mark Friedman||Chad Ruhwedel|
Expected Florida Panthers Lines, per PuckPedia.com:
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||15.1% (11-73) 27th NHL||92.2% (5-64) 1st NHL|
|Anaheim Ducks||26.3% (20-76) 5th NHL||86.3% (10-76) 3rd NHL|
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes:
Position, Player, Status (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
Evgeni Malkin, lower body (11 consecutive, 11 total)
Sidney Crosby, COVID-19 protocol (3 consecutive, 10 total)
Brian Dumoulin, COVID-19 protocol (3 consecutive, 3 total)
Marcus Pettersson, COVID-19 protocol (3 consecutive, 3 total)
Chad Ruhwedel, COVID-19 protocol (3 consecutive, 3 total)
2021-22 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 51
*The Penguins have points in 16 of their last 19 meetings versus the Panthers (12-3-4 record) dating back to Dec. 20, 2014.
*The Penguins are 8-1-0 in its last nine games versus Florida at PPG Paints Arena. Going back further, the Penguins have won 16 of their last 18 games against the Panthers at PPG Paints Arena (16-2-0) dating back to March 10, 2009.
*Jeff Carter has 36 points (16G-20A) in 36 career games against the Florida Panthers.
*First-place PK: Teddy Blueger has won 60.0% of shorthanded faceoffs this season (15-10).
*Kris Letang leads all NHL players with 27:31 average ice time per game.
*Welcome back, you crazy Viking: Hornqvist spent six seasons with the Penguins from 2014-2020, recording 264 points (132G-132A) in 407 regular-season games, as well as 38 points (22G-16A) in 66 postseason contests.
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet; Radio: 105.9 The X