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Penguins vs. Panthers Game Preview

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins

Home: 11-6-1-23
Road: 11-4-1-23

WHEN: Dec. 22, 2010 - 7:00 pm   |   WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
FSN  |  LISTEN: Pens HD Radio, 105.9 FM
Florida Panthers
Home: 7-6-0-14

  Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Florida Panthers 
Stephen Weiss
C  -  #9
  8 Goals
  11 Assists
  19 Points
• Played two seasons under current Florida head coach Pete DeBoer from 1999 to 2001 as a member of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, where DeBoer coached from 1997 to 2001.

• Has flourished since DeBoer was named head coach of the Panthers two seasons ago, putting up a career-high 61 points (14G-47A) in 2008-09 and following that with 60 points (28G-32A) last season.

• Is the longest-tenured Panther on the 2010-11 squad after being drafted by Florida in the 1st round (4th overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Bryan McCabe
D  -  #24
  4 Goals
  13 Assists
  17 Points
• Florida is the fifth team the 35-year-old veteran has played for in his career, having spent stints with the New York Islanders, Vancouver, Chicago and Toronto.

• Has led the team’s defensemen in scoring in each of the past two seasons since being traded to the Panthers on Sep. 1, 2008.

• The 6-foot-2, 225-pound blueliner, who was named team captain on Sep. 23, 2009, provides a physical presence on the ice as he leads the team with 49 hits.
Tomas Vokoun
G  -  #29
  13 wins
  2.48 GAA 
  .921 SVPT
• Spent eight seasons with the Nashville Predators organization from 1998 to 2007, where he holds eight different franchise records.

• Represented the Western Conference in the 2004 NHL All-Star Game before suiting up for the Eastern Conference in the 2008 NHL All-Star Game.

• Backstopped the Czech Republic to gold-medal wins in both the 2005 and 2010 IIHF World Championships and won bronze with his native country in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Although the Florida Panthers were out of playoff contention as of Tuesday, ranking 11th in the Eastern Conference and 25th in the league, they’ve been hitting their stride over these past two weeks. They’ve won five of their past seven games, cumulating with a 6-2 victory over Buffalo on Dec. 16 and a 5-0 win over league-leading Philadelphia on Monday.

While Florida doesn’t have one player that’s recorded more than 20 points through 30 games played, the Panthers have still managed to outscore their opponents by a 14-6 margin over their past three contests. They’ve dispersed that scoring all over the lineup, with five different players getting on the board against the Flyers on Monday.

The Panthers' recent surge has been a total team effort, but the Penguins will need to keep an eye on the line of Shawn Mattias, Marty Reasoner and Evgeny Dadonov. The trio has combined for 13 points (5G-8A) over the past three games.

While the Panthers are enjoying an offensive surge, their back-end players are playing solid as ever. They’ve long been a team that’s relied on the stellar goaltending of Tomas Vokoun and their fast, skilled blueliners, and those players haven’t disappointed.

Vokoun has been the glue of the Panthers defense, making 26 saves against the Flyers to earn his fourth whitewash of the season. He's now tied for third in shutouts in the National Hockey League. He also ranks 8th among league goaltenders with a .926 save percentage and is tied for 10th with a 2.38 goals-against average.

Leading the way in front of Vokoun is captain Bryan McCabe, who injects a solid veteran presence into a youthful squad. McCabe paces the defense with 17 points (4G-13A), including four points (2G-2A) over his past three games. He’s joined by Mike Weaver, Jason Garrison and Dennis Wideman in the top four.
  • The red-hot Evgeni Malkin has been on a tear in his past three games since returning to the lineup. He’s figured on eight of the Penguins’ nine goals, scoring five and assisting on the other three.
  • With his goal and two assists on Monday, Sidney Crosby extended his career-high point streak to 21 games. He’s one away from tying the longest scoring streak since the lockout, set by Ottawa’s Dany Heatley in 2005. Crosby has recorded 42 points (21G-21A) over the stretch. Only two players (Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis) have more points over the entire season than Crosby does during his streak.
  • Chris Kunitz returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing the previous two contests with an undisclosed injury. The Penguins’ only two defeats in their last 14 games came in those games. The forward is fourth on the team in scoring with 20 points (8G-12A).
  • Kunitz isn’t the only Chris playing well on the Penguins roster. Pittsburgh has gone 15-2-1 since recalling Chris Conner from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Nov. 12, including a 14-0-1 unbeaten stretch that spanned from Nov. 12 to Dec. 11 and a 12-game winning streak that stretched from Nov. 17 to Dec. 11.
  • Conner, who scored his fourth goal of the season against the Coyotes on Monday, notched the game-winning tally the last time Pittsburgh and Florida met on Nov. 22. Conner scored with 7:04 remaining in regulation to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory over the Panthers.
  • The Penguins PK unit’s success rate jumped to 88.2 percent, good for 1st in the NHL after killing off eight straight Phoenix penalties on Monday. Pittsburgh’s power play has also been hot, scoring two or more times in one game on five different occasions in their past 13 games.


Shots from the Point: Tyler Kennedy set up a screen in front of Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera on Monday that allowed Kris Letang’s  scorcher from the blue line to find the back of the net. Plays like will be key against a Florida squad that likes to collapse down low in front of Vokoun and smother the opposing team’s forwards. “They play really deep in their zone,” Letang said. “The points are going to be open, so it’s going to be important to put the puck on the net and make sure we get some shots through.”

Score First: The Panthers have started off with a bang in each of their past three games, outscoring their opponents 9-0 in the first period. In each of those contests, they sent the other team’s starting goaltender to the bench by the start of the middle frame. Florida is riding high, so it will be crucial to take the wind out of the Panthers’ sails and end their first-period domination on Tuesday by getting off to a fast start in the opening 20 minutes.

C Jordan Staal, broken right hand (up to 2 weeks)
F Mike Comrie, lower-body (10)
RW Byron Bitz, sports hernia (indefinitely)
RW Rostislav Olesz, finger (1 week)
LW Cory Stillman, back (at least 1 week)
RW Radek Dvornak, shoulder (January)
Crosby (27) Santorelli (9)
Crosby (30) Wideman/McCabe (13)
Crosby (57) Frolik/Weiss (19)
Engelland (74) Hordichuk (32)
Letang (+18) McCabe (+10)
Crosby (9) Three tied with (2)
Cooke (2)
Weiss/Dvorak (1)
Fleury (15-7-1) Vokoun (13-12-0)
Johnson (2.18) Vokoun (2.38)
Johnson (.923) Vokoun (.924)

Kris Letang - While Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have been dynamite up top for the Penguins power play, Kris Letang has been a force on the back end with the man-advantage. He put together a two-point effort Monday night against the Coyotes by tallying a goal and an assist on the power play. He now ranks second in scoring among NHL blueliners with 29 points (6G-23A) through 34 games.
Marty Reasoner - The forward stretched his point streak to three games on Monday after being held pointless over the previous 10 contests. Reasoner notched an assist in Florida’s 4-3 loss to Carolina on Dec. 15 before exploding for a two-goal effort in a 6-2 win over Buffalo on Dec. 17. He added a helper on linemate Shawn Mattias’ goal against the Flyers, which totals to four points (2G-2A) over that three-game stretch.

Sixteen Penguins Excited to Participate in First Winter Classic
Crew Preparing to Start Rink at Heinz Field
Malkin Joins Crosby, Letang Among Potential All-Star Starters
Penguins Report: Practice 12/21/10 
Penalty Kill Punctuates Win
Two-Headed Monster
Aftermath: Penguins 6, Coyotes 1

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Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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