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What To Watch For: Pens vs. Panthers

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (21-17-4) vs. PANTHERS (21-13-8)

WHEN: Jan. 13, 2012 - 7:30 pm  |  WHERE: BankAtlantic Center

WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

The Florida Panthers are proving that they’re the real deal, as their 21-13-8 record is their best start since the 1999-2000 campaign. If they can remain consistent over the second half, the Panthers will almost certainly make the playoffs for the first time since that season – ending what’s currently the NHL’s longest postseason drought.

Brian Campbell is Florida's lone representative at the All-Star Game (Getty Images).
Panthers GM Dale Tallon completely overhauled his roster last summer to remedy that, and his moves are paying dividends. But the one that’s arguably getting the biggest return is hiring Kevin Dineen to take over behind the bench. named Dineen their midseason favorite for the Jack Adams Award because of what the first-year head coach has been able to do with this Panthers squad.

And although the Panthers have won just three of their last nine, Florida has been No. 1 in the Southeast Division since November 19 – a streak of 54 straight days. Because of their divisional standing, they rank third overall in the Eastern Conference behind the Rangers and the Bruins despite having less points than the fourth and fifth place teams (Flyers and Senators, respectively). In addition, they’ve hit their stride at the BankAtlantic Center as the Panthers are 9-2-2 in their last 13 home games.

The Panthers are also dealing with a host of injuries, as forwards Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Jack Skille and Marco Sturm have all missed extended time. But luckily for Florida, their top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg is intact and has driven them offensively over the first half of the season. The trio has accounted for an impressive 40 percent of Florida’s goal output, led by Versteeg’s 17 tallies.

But a big factor in their success has been contributions from the back end. Florida’s lone All-Star representative Brian Campbell ranks second among NHL blueliners in both assists and points. The 32-year-old nicknamed ‘Soupy’ is an integral part of Florida’s power play and has six assists in his last six games and nine points (1G-8A) in his last 10 games. Meanwhile, Jason Garrison leads all rearguards with 11 tallies. All of his goals have come on slapshots from the point and the Panthers are 8-1-2 when he notches a goal. He leads the team with seven power-play goals this year after totaling just seven goals in his career entering this season (113 games, 2009-11)

Goalie Jose Theodore is on injured reserve with a knee injury, and Dineen called him a “remote possibility” to play Friday. The Pens are hoping they don’t see him, as Theodore is 20-5-2 in his career versus Pittsburgh. They’re more likely to see Scott Clemmensen in goal, who’s 2-0-1 in his last three starts.

PANTHERS – TOMAS FLEISCHMANN: Fleischmann has been held pointless in his last three games, but it wouldn’t be surprising for him to come up big on Friday as the Czech forward tends to bring it against the Pens. Fleischmann, 27, enters the contest with seven goals and 12 points in 15 career games against Pittsburgh – including three points (2G-1A) in two games this year. Look for the silky smooth winger on the power play, as 14 of his 34 points (5G-9A) have come while averaging 3:40 minutes per game on the man-advantage.
PENS – PASCAL DUPUIS: After scoring in consecutive games, Dupuis has been held goalless for the duration of the Pens’ six-game losing streak. But look for him to come alive against the Panthers, as he has five goals and eight points over his last nine games against Florida. He’s got a surprisingly big shot that he’s unleashed 17 times during Pittsburgh’s winless stretch, and the Pens will need him to start burying those chances and to add his tremendous energy and tenaciousness to the BankAtlantic Center come Friday.

Over the past three seasons the Penguins have gone 8-2 against the Panthers, including a 3-2 mark at the BankAtlantic Center. Prior to Florida knocking them off with a 3-2 win on Nov. 19, the Penguins had won five straight contests against the Panthers dating back to Nov. 22 of last season.

Pens coach Dan Bylsma announced Wednesday that center Sidney Crosby joined the team in Washington that night and will skate during a two-game road trip in Florida. There is no timetable for his return.

Bylsma also said that defenseman Simon Despres will be out roughly 2-4 weeks with "a Grade 1 MCL."

Dustin Jeffrey returned to the lineup against the Capitals and skated between Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy. It was his first NHL game action since Nov. 3 at San Jose. He had been on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 11 while continuing to rehab a knee injury suffered March 25, 2011 vs. Philadelphia.

F Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (14)
D Simon Despres, Grade 1 MCL (1)
D Kris Letang, broken nose and concussion (18)
F Jordan Staal, knee (3)

F Scottie Upshall, hip (26)
F Jack Skille, upper body (9)
F Sean Bergenheim, lower body (8)
F Marco Sturm, upper body (7)
G Jose Theodore, lower body (2)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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