PANTHERS (26-20-12) at PENGUINS (33-17-9)
TV: FS-F, ROOT
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers are entering Sunday from different directions.
Pittsburgh will face the Panthers at Consol Energy Center, a day removed from its most impressive performance in 10 days. After two division losses following a 2-1 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Penguins rebounded with a 4-2 win against the St. Louis Blues.
The Panthers had a drastically different experience on Saturday. After two division wins following a 2-1 shootout loss to the Blues, Florida allowed four unanswered goals in a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Each team cancelled their Sunday morning skates.
If those results had been reversed, the Panthers would have been seven points back of Pittsburgh for the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, Florida would have surpassed the Boston Bruins, who will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, for the second wild card spot in the East.
The Penguins continue to battle among the top-half of the Metropolitan Division, which has four teams separated by five points. Pittsburgh is one point behind the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, who each trail the New York Islanders by four points.
Because of recent offensive struggles, Penguins coach Mike Johnston decided to tweak his top two lines on Saturday, moving forward Chris Kunitz from the first line to the second and forward Patric Hornqvist from the second line to the first.
Kunitz played left wing alongside center Evgeni Malkin after skating to the left of center Sidney Crosby over the past few months. Hornqvist returned to the top line, moving forward David Perron from Crosby’s right to his left, where he played throughout the early portion of the season.
“Anytime you feel your team isn’t playing as well as it should, you can mix and match some pieces on your lines,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said on Saturday. “Sometimes it works and gives you a jump and sometimes it doesn’t, but I thought tonight, it did.”
The changes seemed to work, at least for one night. Second-line right wing Blake Comeau scored twice against the Blues, and Hornqvist breathed some life into Pittsburgh’s dormant power play when he scored his 16th goal of the season, 6:26 into the second period.
Forward Brandon Sutter scored the Penguins’ fourth goal shortly after a power play expired. After scoring one goal in each of their prior three games, the Penguins were led by their top-six, which accounted for three goals and four assists on Saturday.
Pittsburgh played goalie Thomas Greiss on Saturday, making it likely goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will face Al Montoya on Sunday.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jussi Jokinen – Nick Bjugstad – Jimmy Hayes
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Brad Boyes
Tomas Fleischmann – Dave Bolland – Scottie Upshall
Tomas Kopecky – Derek MacKenzie – Shawn Thornton
Brian Campbell – Aaron Ekblad
Steven Kampfer – Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov – Alex Petrovic
Scratched: Sean Bergenheim, Vincent Trocheck, Dylan Olsen
Injured: Brandon Pirri (upper body), Willie Mitchell (upper body)
David Perron – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – Blake Comeau
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Beau Bennett
Zach Sill – Maxim Lapierre – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Derrick Pouliot – Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Steve Downie
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion protocol), Olli Maatta (upper body)
Status report: Ehrhoff, who has missed 11 games while undergoing concussion protocol, was removed from the injured reserve list on the Penguins’ website Sunday morning. Ehrhoff returned to practice last week and gradually started taking more contact as the week went on. … Jokinen, who spent parts of the past two seasons in Pittsburgh, will face his former team for a third time this season. Jokinen scored a goal when the teams last met, in the backend of a home-and-home series on Dec. 22. … Kulikov is back from a four-game suspension for his hit on Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin. Trocheck was recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League and defenseman Shane O'Brien was reassigned to San Antonio on Sunday.
Who’s hot: Comeau had three points and two goals against St. Louis on Saturday. He has scored 14 goals in 38 games this season, nine more goals than he scored in 61 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season … Huberdeau has registered one assist in each of his past two games. He is three points behind Bjugstad’s team-leading 36 points.