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Penguins provide tough foe for Panthers' home opener

by John Kreiser /
PENGUINS (3-0-0) at PANTHERS (1-3-0)


Season series:
The Pittsburgh Penguins make the first of two visits this season before the Florida Panthers come to Consol Energy Center on Jan. 20. Pittsburgh won two of the three games between the teams last season, with each team winning once at BB&T Center.

Big story: The Panthers return to South Florida for their home opener after a grueling four-game trip that left them with two points and several injuries. They didn't get the ideal opponent; the Penguins have won each of their first three games by three goals and have been off since beating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Tuesday night.

Team Scope:

With back-to-back games against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, the Penguins will give rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff a chance to show what he can do.

“Obviously, I’m excited,” Zatkoff said of making his NHL debut. “First one, been waiting for this for a while. But I think once the game starts, it’s another game, another two points that we need to get in the standings.”

At 26, Zatkoff has patiently waited for his chance to play in the NHL.

“I think the closer it gets, the better it will get,” Zatkoff told the team's website when asked if his nerves would worsen as the opening faceoff approaches. “I think the time up to it is always the worst, and then as you get into the game and right before it, then you’re just playing a hockey game like I’ve done a hundred times. It’s just that sometimes that buildup for that first one, the wait’s worse than playing.”

Zatkoff is on the roster because Tomas Vokoun is sidelined after undergoing surgery to treat a blood clot in his pelvis. Marc-Andre Fleury has been in goal for Pittsburgh's first three games, allowing only three goals to fuel a 3-0-0 start.

Panthers: This isn't the scenario coach Kevin Dineen planned for his team's home opener. The Panthers started the season with a road win against the Dallas Stars, but were routed 7-0 by the St. Louis Blues, lost 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers and were routed 7-2 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, when Steven Stamkos had a hat trick.

"We didn't respond well to pressure," Dineen said after the loss to Tampa Bay. "When they pressured our players, instead of responding to that, understanding that it was coming, I think it created turmoil for us."

Who's hot: Penguins center Jussi Jokinen is coming off a hat trick in a 5-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. … Brad Boyes has goals in each of Florida's past two games.

Injury report: The Penguins are without forwards James Neal (upper body) and Matt D'Agostini (undisclosed), as well as defenseman Kris Letang (lower body) and Vokoun. … Florida is missing goaltender Tim Thomas (groin), who didn't play after leaving Tuesday's game in the first period. Forwards Sean Bergenheim (groin) and Steve Pinizzotto (hip) and defenseman Ed Jovanovski haven't played this season.
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