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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Panthers

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
PENGUINS (13-6-0) vs. PANTHERS (5-9-4)
WHEN: February 26, 2013 - 7:30 p.m.  |  WHERE: BB&T Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

Last season, the Panthers won the Southeast Division title last season and took the Devils to seven games in opening round of the playoffs. This season, it’s not looking like the struggling Panthers will advance to the postseason if they continue to spiral.

The Panthers have played just one game since losing to the Penguins 4-1 on Friday in Pittsburgh, but there’s definitely noteworthy items to discuss heading into Tuesday’s game in Florida. Let’s begin with the Panthers’ struggles at home.

Home isn’t so sweet for the Panthers, as they haven’t won there since Jan. 31. They lost their fifth straight game at the BB&T Center on Sunday when they fell to the Boston Bruins, 4-1. Overall, the Panthers have won just two of nine home games this season. That can’t have them feeling confident heading into Tuesday’s game, as they will be hosting one of the league’s best road teams in the Penguins. Pittsburgh has an 8-2 record on the road, which ranks second in the league behind the Chicago Blackhawks and first in the Eastern Conference.

Another takeaway from Sunday’s game is longtime Panther Stephen Weiss getting benched in the third period. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen started Weiss between Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller to start, but the line experimenting didn’t work and the Panthers’ all-time leader in games played found himself on the bench. Weiss has consistently been at or near the top of the team’s points list during his 11 seasons with the Panthers, but right now has just one goal and three assists through 14 games this season. UPDATE: Panthers beat writer George Richards of the Miami Herald reported Tuesday morning that Weiss will not play vs. Pittsburgh as his grandmother passed away. He flew to Toronto yesterday and will attend the services today.

Granted, the Panthers are dealing with injuries to key guys. Forwards Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg have all been out. But Florida needs its other top players in the lineup to step up. Usual top-liners Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky are crafty, dangerous players and mustn’t be underestimated, but they are capable of more. The bright spots have been rookies Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore along with Peter Mueller. They’ve been playing a lot of big minutes lately with their team struggling.

Rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom started in goal on Friday in Pittsburgh and played outstanding for his team. He looked confident between the pipes, making several flashy saves and keeping his team in the game despite seeing 40 shots. The 6-foot-6 netminder got a second straight start against the Bruins on Sunday and played another strong game despite the loss, being named the game’s Third Star after producing more sensational stops.

But despite Markstrom's solid efforts, the Panthers are sticking with veteran tandem Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmenson for now as they sent Markstrom back to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Monday. Theodore has handled the majority of the workload, going 4-6-2 in 12 starts for Florida. He has strong career numbers against the Pens, going 20-5-1-3 in 29 appearances, and will likely start Tuesday.

(Getty Images)

I’m big on this talented rookie, who leads the Panthers with eight goals and 13 points in 18 games and is part of their top power-play unit. Huberdeau may be pointless in his last two games, but had a four-point effort (2G-2A) against the Flyers the day before the Panthers visited Pittsburgh. And in Florida’s last game, a 4-1 loss to Boston on Sunday, Huberdeau played a season-high 20:42 minutes. The lanky but strong 19-year-old wants to do everything he can to help his team, so look for him to crank it up even more Tuesday.

The lines have been shifted with Evgeni Malkin out with a concussion, and Matt Cooke is one of the guys the Penguins are counting on to handle more. He delivered on Sunday against the Lightning. Cooke had a goal and an assist in the game, but more importantly he played strong defense against the league’s top offense. He began the game with Dustin Jeffrey and Tyler Kennedy, but moved up to play next to Brandon Sutter and Pascal Dupuis in the third period in a checking situation with the Penguins holding a lead. Look for the feisty winger to make an impact on both ends of the ice Tuesday against a struggling Panthers squad.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed defenseman Mark Eaton to a one-year contract, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero.
Eaton, 35, rejoins the Penguins for his second stint after previously playing four seasons with the team between 2006-10. He was a member of the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship squad and he helped the team reach the ’08 Cup Final. Full story and exclusive interview with PensTV here.

Pittsburgh enters Tuesday’s game having gone 5-1 in its last six games. During that span they have outscored foes by a 24-16 margin.

The Penguins are 10-3 in their last 13 games. During that span the Penguins have scored three or more goals in 11 of the 13 games. They have held their opponent to three or fewer goals in 12 of the 13 games.

Pittsburgh is the only team in the NHL that has scored in double digits on the power play at home (10 PPG) and on the road (11 PPG) this season.

Pittsburgh has won three straight games against the Panthers entering Tuesday. Overall, the Penguins have gone 16-5 in their last 21 games against the Panthers, including 11-2 in the last 13 meetings. The Penguins have won three of the last four games between the teams here in Florida.

The Penguins will once again be without the services of reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin for Tuesday’s game. Pittsburgh played its first game of the year without Malkin during Sunday’s 5-3 defeat of Tampa Bay. Since Malkin joined the Penguins for the 2007-08 season, Pittsburgh has posted a 36-34-6 (.513 pct.) with Malkin out of the lineup. Additionally, the Penguins have gone 17-12-1 all-time in games that Malkin has missed, but Sidney Crosby has been in the lineup.

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury owns a season-high five-game winning streak entering tonight. In his last nine starts, Fleury is 8-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average (18 goals allowed/538 minutes) and a .934 save percentage (228 saves/244 shots). Fleury’s 10 wins tie him for the NHL lead. Fleury leads all NHL goalies with eight wins during the month of February.

Tomas Vokoun would be making a homecoming if he played Tuesday. Vokoun played 248 games with the Panthers from 2007-11. He went 101-108-30 with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage with Florida. For his career, Vokoun is 4-2-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .936 save percentage against the Panthers.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin suffered short-term memory loss and has been diagnosed with a concussion as a result of falling hard into the end boards Friday in a game against the Florida Panthers. He did not make the three-game road trip with the team. The full update is here.

F Evgeni Malkin, concussion

LW Sean Bergenheim, lower body
D Michael Caruso, upper body
D Ed Jovanovski, lower body
LW Scottie Upshall, lower body
RW Kris Versteeg, upper body

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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