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Pittsburgh vs. Florida Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (8-1-0-16) vs. Florida Panthers (2-5-0-4)

Where: Mellon Arena
Friday, October 23, 7:30 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.

Season Series:
The Penguins and Florida Panthers meet for the first of four meetings. They split the season series in 2008-09, each team winning once on home ice and once in the other’s building. Tyler Kennedy was the leading scorer against Florida for the Penguins with four points (2G-2A).




Last Meeting: FLA 4, PIT 2
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Don’t Overlook Florida: The Penguins have been so successful early in the season due in large part to their ability to focus on a singular task at hand – the game in front of them. Playing a struggling team such as Florida 24 hours before hosting a divisional rival in the New Jersey Devils could pose a trap game where they lose focus. Come out, play your game and grab the two points. If the Penguins do what they have all year this will be the case.

Fast Start:
Neither Tampa Bay nor St. Louis had much chance to win as the Penguins have started 2-0 on this five-game homestand. Each team trailed 2-0 after the opening period, with the Penguins getting the first seven shots against the Lightning and the first 10 against the Blues. Putting teams away early allows Dan Bylsma to continue rotating all his players through the lineup, keeping them fresh for all these quick turnarounds as the Penguins play 14 games the opening month. 

In an effort to make only their second playoff appearance this decade, and first since 2000, the Panthers elected to hold onto highly-coveted Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline (Traded later, read New Faces). Ultimately they came close, tying the Montreal Canadiens for the final postseason spot, but finished ninth due to a tiebreaker. Florida’s 41 victories in 08-09 tied the 1995-96 squad that beat the Penguins at home in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals for second-most wins in a season.

Peter DeBoer became the 10th head coach in franchise prior to last season when he was given his first shot behind an NHL bench. The long-time Kitchener Rangers bench boss is one of only six coaches in the history of the Ontario Hockey League to record over 500 career wins. His team won the Memorial Cup in 2003 and was runner-up his final season, 2007-08.

Florida’s most significant move of the offseason was trading Bouwmeester’s rights on draft day to the Calgary Flames for another D-man, Jordan Leopold, and a third-round draft pick. Leopold, a native of Golden Valley, Minnesota, had split his six-year career between the Flames and Colorado Avalanche. He is dependable in his own end and capable of moving the puck up ice, but his high-scoring numbers at the University of Minnesota have never translated to the NHL level.

The Panthers further deepened their depth on the back end by signing former Nashville Predator Ville Koistinen and former Carolina Hurricane Dennis Seidenberg. Koistinen and Seidenberg are two of only five Panthers with a positive plus/minus rating as each is plus-1. Seidenberg, who signed with the Panthers late in the summer, leads the team in average ice time at 22:58 per game. Koistinen is tied with another newcomer, 18-year-old first-round selection Dmitry Kulikov, for the team lead among defensemen with three points (1G-2A). Kulikov starred for Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, earning awards for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Best Professional Prospect and Best Defenseman.

Former Penguin Dominic Moore, who spent 59 games in Pittsburgh during the 2005-06 season, signed with Florida midway though training camp. He had a career year last season split between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres, setting personal highs in goals (13), assists (32) and points (45). Solid, two-way center Steve Reinprecht was acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes. He is currently tied for second on the Panthers with four points (2G-2A).

Florida has a talented collection of young wingers filled with promise who just need to begin consistently finding the back of the net. David Booth is one who has established himself, scoring a team-high 31 times last season. Second-year wing Michael Frolik has also taken great strides, leading the team in points with five (2G-3A) through the early going. He lit the lamp 21 times as a rookie last season. Stephen Weiss, the Panthers’ leading scorer in ’08-09, has four points (2G-2A) through the first seven games.

Two wingers off to slow starts are Cory Stillman and Nathan Horton, the Panthers third and fourth leading scorers from a year ago, respectively. Stillman has only one assist while Horton has two goals, but his minus-6 rating is tied for second worst on the team. Former first-round pick Rostislav Olesz was recently promoted from the third line to the first, as his four points (2G-2A) are halfway to his total of nine last season. Speedy Radek Dvorak continues to play at a high level in his second tour of duty with the Panthers. He received a two-year deal in the offseason after scoring 15 goals in ’08-09, his most since reaching the same figure with Edmonton in ’03-04.

Losing Bouwmeester weakens a defense core which exceeded expectations a year ago. Adding Leopold and Seidenberg helps minimize his loss. The two have teamed up and recently began receiving more minutes than the top pair of Keith Ballard and Bryan McCabe. Seidenberg spent last season with the Carolina Hurricanes, contributing 30 points (5G-25A) in 70 games. His positioning is solid and he is very adept and moving the puck out of his own zone.

McCabe and Ballard joined the Panthers in last season’s defensive makeover, with each adding both an offensive and defensive presence. McCabe tied Bouwmeester for the team lead in goals by a defenseman with 15 while finishing with 39 points. Ballard was second on the squad with a plus-14 rating and added 34 points of his own (6G-28A). Each proved dependable, appearing in all 82 contests. Bryan Allen, one of the key components to the 2006 Roberto Luongo trade, is working his way back into game shape after playing only twice in ’08-09 before a knee injury ended his season prematurely. DeBoer has eased him back in, trying to keep his minutes around 15 per game.       

Tomas Vokoun has provided the Panthers with quality play between the pipes since arriving from Nashville three summers ago. The two-time all-star has won 25-plus games each of the previous six seasons. Last year he nearly teamed with the since-departed Craig Anderson to lead the Panthers to a surprise playoff appearance when he went 26-23-6 with a 2.49 goals-against average, and a .926 save percentage which ranked second in the NHL behind Boston’s Tim Thomas. This season Vokoun has won only once in six starts.

Anderson provided a quality sidekick to Vokoun in ’08-09, but departed to become the No. 1 man in Colorado during the offseason. Replacing him is longtime New Jersey Devil backup Scott Clemmensen. Given his most significant playing time at the NHL level with Martin Broduer sidelined, Clemmensen responded with a 25-13-1 record and 2.39 goals-against average. His strong play enabled the Devils to secure the Atlantic Division title when most pundits wrote them off after Broduer’s injury.

Sharp-shooting David Booth is arguably Florida’s most lethal offensive weapon since Pavel Bure departed in ’02. He led the Panthers in goals last season with 31 and finished second to Stephen Weiss in points with 60. Booth has seen his goal-scoring totals rise from 3 to 22 to 31 over the course of his three seasons.

Blessed with underrated goal-scoring prowess because of Florida’s low-profile as a team, Booth play four years at Michigan State, where he lit the lamp 45 times over four seasons, or 14 more than he totaled in the NHL last season. Signed to a long-term contract by the Panthers in the offseason, Booth is off to a slow start this season, scoring only once during the first seven games. He will be strongly considered to represent the United States during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Florida does not have too much to report on the injury front. Tough guy Nick Tarnasky is on injured reserve after sustaining a facial injury during a preseason fight with the Ottawa Senators Chris Neil.
"This kid, he's the real deal. He's done everything we've asked … He gives us a dimension on our power play that we don't really have back there, a guy that really sees the ice and can distribute the puck very well, which is pretty incredible for a young kid."  

- Florida head coach Peter DeBoer addressing the likelihood 18-year-old first-round selection Dmitry Kulikov will remain with the big team beyond nine games to the Sun-Sentinel.

36.6: Amount of shots given up per game on average by the Panthers in ’09-10, highest in the NHL. 

Author: Jason Seidling

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