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Pittsburgh vs. Florida Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (26-15-1-53) vs. Florida Panthers (16-18-7-39)
Where: BankAtlantic Center

When:
Sunday, January 3, 5 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV:
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.
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View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Florida finish off what has been an entertaining season series. While the Penguins have captured each of the first three contests, all by a 3-2 decision, the Panthers have earned a point in every game as the first one was decided in a shootout and the past two have ended in the overtime session. The Panthers grabbed 2-0 leads in the first two games but the Penguins fought back on both occasions 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. In the most recent matchup on Dec. 12 it was the Penguins who gave away a third-period lead as Stephen Weiss scored 4:39 into the final period. Evgeni Malkin’s power-play goal 37 seconds into overtime proved to be the difference.

 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Fedotenko-Malkin-Guerin
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Talbot

Defense
Letang-Orpik
Eaton-Goligoski
McKee-Skoula

Netminder
Fleury


Last Meeting: Dec. 12, 2009
  PIT 3 - FLA 2 OT
Game Highlights
AP Recap
 
KEY TO VICTORY
Secondary Scoring: The Penguins have gone cold in the goal-scoring department. In their past seven games they have scored one goal or fewer on four separate occasions. They need more supporting players joining Bill Guerin and Sidney Crosby find the back of the cage.

Stopping Nathan Horton:
The Penguins have a 3-0 record against the Panthers this season but they will need to contain power forward Nathan Horton if they want to make it four straight. Against the Penguins Horton has registered four points (1G-3A) in three games. In his past 15 games Horton has posted 17 points (7G-10A) as the Panthers have gone 6-6-3 after a 0-3-2 stretch.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE PANTHERS
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, which beat the Penguins at home in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, for second-most wins in a season. Heading into Saturday’s games the Panthers have the third-least points in the Eastern Conference with 39, but sit only three points from a playoff position after a 7-5-3 record in December. The Panthers enter Sunday having lost three-straight games.

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.
 
NEW FACES
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 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. 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-6 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).
 
FORWARDS
If somebody was asked to name the top-five goal-scoring teams in the Eastern Conference it’s highly unlikely the Florida Panthers would make most people’s lists. However that is exactly where the Panthers find themselves heading into Saturday’s games with 117 goals in 41 games despite having last season’s top scorer, David Booth, for only nine games. Booth, who lit the lamp 31 times in ’08-09, has been sidelined with a concussion since Oct. 24 when he was blindsided by the Philadelphia Flyers Mike Richards. In his absence Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss have stepped up to lead the way offensively. Drafted third-overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, Horton is emerging as a superstar for the first time. He leads the Panthers in assists (25) and points (39). Horton has used his 6-foot-2, 229-pound frame to become a force on the power play. He leads Florida with six man-advantage scores. Weiss is a solid, two-way performer who also excels on the faceoff dots for the Panthers. His game has shown improvement for the fourth-consecutive year as he has become a consistent goal scorer for the Cats. Weiss lit the lamp 18 times through the first 41 games, leaving him two tallies short of tying his career high of 20 set in ’06-07.

Second-year wing Michael Frolik has also taken great strides with 24 points (12G-12A) in 41 games to sit fourth on the squad. Frolik also leads the Panthers with 114 shots entering Sunday’s tilt. He lit the lamp 21 times as a rookie last season and is on pace to better that total in year two. Offseason addition Steven Reinprecht has been one of the steals of the summer with 29 points (12G-17A) in 41 games. Reinprecht has been an anchor on the team’s second line. Former first-round pick Rostislav Olesz, with 19 points (7G-12G), 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 six goals and 10 assists in 35 games in ’09-10. A rash of injuries up front has former Penguin Jeff Taffe seeing action for the Panthers. In 16 games Taffe has one assist.
 
DEFENSEMEN
Losing Jay 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, who was named to the German Olympic team on Thursday, is second among all Florida defenders with 14 points (1G-13A).

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 20 points (5G-15A) while averaging a team-high 22:41 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. He has 13 points (3G-10A) in 41 games. 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 53 penalty minutes while dressing for 38 of 41 games after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
 
GOALTENDING
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 has an 11-12-7 record in ’09-10 but his .921 save percentage ranks ninth in the NHL while he has seen 1,035 pucks thrown his way, fourth-most of any goaltender. He has a 4-1-1 record in his past 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. Clemmenson had a rough beginning to his Panthers’ career but better play in the month of December has improved his record to 5-5 with a 3.53 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: CORY STILLMAN
Florida has a nucleus of still-developing forwards whose better days are still ahead. One reason to expect the young Panthers to continue their upward trend is the experience they are receiving playing next to veteran Cory Stillman. Brought on board as a free agent during the 2008 offseason, Stillman provides the Panthers with a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

An eight-time 20-goal scorer, Stillman posted 17 goals and 49 points in 63 games during his first season with Florida. He has been one of the Panthers’ most consistent sources of offense this season with six goals and 14 points in 21 games. Stillman has five points (3G-2A) in his past five games.
 
INJURY UPDATE
Florida enters this matchup with the Penguins a little healthier than the previous three games.
- 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. Booth is back skating and is eyeing a late-January return.
- Rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is currently sidelined with a knee injury.
- Winger Kenndal McArdle will miss a few more weeks because of an injured shoulder.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"Florida plays a lot like we do system-wise. They play an up-tempo pace. It always seems like it’s a real competitive game with Florida.”

- Brooks Orpik

 
POINT OF INTEREST
28: Nathan Horton has posted 28 points (10G-18A) over his past 25 games.
  
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Author: Jason Seidling

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