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Pittsburgh vs. Florida Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (21-10-1-43) vs. Florida Panthers (11-14-6-28)
Where: Where: Mellon Arena

When: Saturday, December 12, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 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.
View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Florida meet for the third time in 2009-10, with the Penguins capturing the first two contests in dramatic fashion. The Panthers grabbed 2-0 leads in both games but the Penguins fought back on each occasion to send the game past regulation thanks to some late heroics. On Oct. 23 at Mellon Arena it was Sidney Crosby tying the score, 2-2, by notching a shorthanded goal with 3:19 left in the final frame and then scoring the deciding goal in the shootout. Mike Rupp tallied with 2:32 to play in the third period on Nov. 23 to knot the score, 2-2, setting the stage for Crosby’s game-winner in overtime.




Last Meeting: Nov. 23, 2009
PIT 3 - FLA 2 SO
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Faster Start: Sure, the Penguins have spotted the Panthers 2-0 leads in both contests this season. Yes, the Penguins have come all the way back in both games to record victories. That being said, it is never a good formula in the National Hockey League to spot your opponent a two-goal cushion and expect to make a habit of coming back. Look for the Penguins to come out flying against Florida.

Special Teams:
Florida netminder Tomas Vokoun has been sensational against the Penguins in ’09-10, suffering two hard-luck losses. If Vokoun stands on his head again, the game could come down to special teams. The Penguins should have a slight advantage here as Florida has the league’s fourth-worst power play at 15.2 percent and second-worst penalty-killing unit at 76.4 percent.
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 last seasons’s 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. Florida came into the last matchup with the Penguins as one of the hottest teams in the league, having won eight of 11 games, including a three-game sweep of road trip through Buffalo, Detroit and New York (Rangers). However, the loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 23 began a season-worst stretch which has seen them go 1-5-4 heading into Friday night’s visit to New Jersey.

Peter DeBoer became the 10th head coach in franchise history 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. Seidenberg, who signed with the Panthers late in the summer, is a smooth skater who has settled in nicely as the Panthers No. 3 option defensively. Koistinen is more offensive-minded, although his statistics so far (1G-3A) are not an accurate barometer of his skill set. Florida recently sent Koistinen down to Rochester of the American Hockey League and thus far has kept him there after he went through re-entry waivers unclaimed earlier this week. First-round selection Dmitry Kulikov was a surprise addition to the team’s opening-day roster. He has been a bright spot offensively with 12 points (3G-9A), although he still needs to improve in his own zone, as evidenced by his minus-10 rating. 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).
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. Booth had only three points (2G-1A) through the first nine games of the season prior to suffering a serious concussion that has sidelined him since Oct. 24. Second-year wing Michael Frolik has also taken great strides with 14 points (7G-7A). He lit the lamp 21 times as a rookie last season. Stephen Weiss, the Panthers’ leading scorer in ’08-09, ranks second behind Nathan Horton (See Player Spotlight below) with 24 points (13G-11A). His 13 goals are just one off his total from last season and seven less than his career high of 20 set in ’06-07. Weiss has developed into a solid, two-way performer.

Cory Stillman has been in and out of the lineup due to injury this season for the Panthers, but when he has dressed, he continues to provide his usual production. In 20 games the wily veteran has 13 points (6G-7A). Offseason addition Steven Reinprecht has been one of the steals of the summer with 23 points (10G-13A) in 31 games. Reinprecht has been an anchor on the team’s second line. Former first-round pick Rostislav Olesz, with 13 points (6G-7G), has already surpassed his point total (9) of 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. He has three goals and four assists in 25 games in ’09-10. A rash of injuries up front has former Penguin Jeff Taffe seeing action for the Panthers. In 10 games Taffe has one assist.
Losing Bouwmeester weakens a defense core which exceeded expectations a year ago. Adding Leopold and Seidenberg helps minimize his loss. Leopold is a solid defensive presence. 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 at moving the puck out of his own zone. Seidenberg is second among all Florida defenders with 12 points (1G-11A) and has a plus-4 rating, making him the only current defender on the Florida roster with a positive rating.

Bryan McCabe and Keith 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. This season McCabe again paces the Florida defense offensively with 15 points (3G-12A) while averaging a team-high 22:54 of ice time. Ballard was second on the squad with a plus-14 rating and added 34 points of his own (6G-28A) in ’08-09. Even though he received national attention when he accidently struck Tomas Vokoun in the head following an Atlanta goal late last month, Ballard has played tough, physical defense for the Panthers. Bryan Allen, one of the key components to the 2006 Roberto Luongo trade, is a physical presence on the back end with a team-high 45 penalty minutes while dressing for 29 of 31 games after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
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 Vezina Trophy winning Tim Thomas. Vokoun, who recently had to overcome an accidental slash to his head from teammate Keith Ballard, has a 7-10-6 record in ’09-10, but his .923 save percentage ranks eighth in the NHL even though he has seen 801 pucks thrown his way, fourth-most of any goaltender.

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 last season, 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. Despite a winning record Clemmensen’s numbers are well off the ones he posted last season. He is 4-3 with a 4.01 goals-against average and a .880 save percentage.
He might not receive the credit he deserves because he has yet to post superstar numbers, but Nathan Horton has developed into a very solid goal scorer for the Florida Panthers. Drafted third overall in 2003 after Florida exchanged picks with the Penguins, Horton has scored 20-or-more goals in four consecutive seasons, including a career-high 31 in ’06-07.

Horton leads the Panthers through their first 31 games with 25 points (8G-17A) as he continues to mature into a dominant physical specimen in front of the net and in the corners. He has been a bright spot on a struggling Florida power play with four of his eight goals coming on the man-advantage. While some power forwards struggle playing a two-way game, Horton has posted a positive plus/minus rating in four of his six seasons, including a plus-2 rating in ’09-10.
Like many of the teams around the league this year, Florida has been hit hard by the injury bug.
- David Booth, a 31-goal scorer last season, has not played since suffering a concussion following a blind-side hit from Philadelphia’s Mike Richards on Oct. 24.
- Veteran sniper Cory Stillman is expected to miss a couple weeks after injuring his left knee last Friday against Detroit.
- Forward Gregory Campbell is day-to-day with possible symptoms of a concussion.
- Enforcer Nick Tarnasky has been out since the preseason after undergoing facial surgery following a fight with Ottawa’s Chris Neil.
"Obviously, you don’t score, you can’t win."

  - Tomas Vokoun talking to the Miami Herald following the Panthers’ 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

12: Number of times the Panthers have gone past regulation in their first 31 games, tied for most in the league with Dallas Stars. Florida is 6-6 when the game stretches beyond 60 minutes, including a 0-2 mark against Pittsburgh.

Author: Jason Seidling

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