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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Panthers

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (31-10-0) vs. PANTHERS (13-21-6)
WHEN: April 13, 2013 - 7:30 p.m.  |  WHERE: BB&T Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

The Penguins finish their three-game road trip Saturday in Florida, where they will play the Panthers for the final time this season. The Panthers are coming off a heartbreaking 7-2 loss to Winnipeg on Thursday, where the Jets had a 3-2 lead after the first and eventually got four unanswered goals for a big win. However, the Panthers had won four of five games prior to that. They may rank last in the conference and they’re dealing with a lot of injuries (see the staggering list below), but they’re not mailing it in.

Florida lit up Pittsburgh for four power-play goals in their last meeting back on February 26. The power play fueled their recent 4-1 run, as they converted seven of 14 chances during that stretch. And overall, their unit is in the NHL’s top 10. All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell is the quarterback, and the mobile skater and solid puck distributor had a goal and two assists on the power play in that last game versus Pittsburgh. Two goals came from Tomas Kopecky, who got under the Penguins’ skin with his net-front presence reminiscent of former Red Wing teammate Tomas Holmstrom. Jonathan Huberdeau (who leads all rookies with 27 points and has seven in his last seven games), Dmitry Kulikov and Tomas Fleischmann are also threats on the man-advantage.

Let’s talk a little more about the two Tomases. Kopecky actually had a hat trick in the last meeting with Pittsburgh, and he has points in five of his last seven games. Linemate Fleischmann has also been hot, with points in seven straight games. And the Penguins know those two players are always ones to watch in this matchup.

Finally, the last time the Penguins and Panthers met, Florida was essentially rotating three goalies – veterans Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen and rookie Jakob Markstrom. With Theodore injured, Markstrom – who made 37 saves in a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Feb. 22 – is the No. 1 goalie and has started nine of the last 11 games. But after a tough night for Markstrom in Winnipeg, it’s likely he’ll get a rest to regroup and refocus and Clemmensen will go on Saturday. If he does, he’ll be looking to build off a 40-save performance in a 2-1 win over Ottawa on Sunday.

(Getty Images)

Jonathan Huberdeau - Shawn Matthias - Peter Mueller
Tomas Fleischmann - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Scottie Upshall - Nick Bjustad - Jack Skille
George Parros - Drew Shore - Quinton Howden

Brian Campbell - Tyson Strachan
Filip Kuba - Dmitry Kulikov
T.J. Brennan - Erik Gudbranson

(Getty Images)

It was tough to choose between Florida’s two Tomases for this category, but I ultimately went with Fleischmann. He enters Saturday’s game on a seven-game point streak and scored a goal and assist on Thursday against the Jets. Fleischmann is a crafty player in the offensive zone, with silky smooth moves in his repertoire. He works well with linemate Kopecky, and together they’ll be a lot for Pittsburgh to handle.

The most recently acquire Penguins have been coming up big as they’ve gotten comfortable in the lineup, but for this game we have to go with Pascal Dupuis for our player to watch. He’s coming off back-to-back three-point performances in the first two games of this road swing, scoring a goal and two assists against both Carolina and Florida. While it would be nice to see Dupuis finish the trip with a three straight three-point effort, of course that’s highly unlikely. But he’s sure to make an impact on the ice in so many other ways like he does each game – power play, penalty kill, responsible on both ends of the ice and creating space for linemates Jussi Jokinen and Brenden Morrow.

- Pittsburgh and Florida split the first two games of the series. With a win tonight, the Penguins will finish with a winning record against the Panthers for the fourth straight season.
- Overall, the Penguins have gone 16-6 in their last 22 games against the Panthers, including 11-3 in the last 14 meetings.
- The Penguins have gone 3-2 in their last five against the Panthers in Florida. -Pittsburgh has gone 18-2 in its last 20 games dating back to March 2. -The Penguins have gone 7-1 in their last eight road games. During that span they have scored 35 goals for an average of 4.4 per game.
- Since head coach Dan Bylsma took over behind the bench on Feb. 15, 2009, no NHL team has posted more road wins (91), road points (198) or a better road points percentage (.635) than Pittsburgh.

The Penguins currently own the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but they are going to have to hold off the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins in their quest to secure home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. Pittsburgh currently holds a five-point lead over Montreal (62-57) and a six-point advantage over Boston. The Penguins magic number to clinch home-ice advantage is 12. According to the website, the Penguins have an 85% chance to earn the No. 1 seed and a 15% chance to earn the second seed.

Kris Letang notched one assist in his return against Tampa Bay as he continues to chase his first Norris Trophy. He now has 29 points on the season, tying him with Minnesota’s Ryan Suter for second-most among NHL D-men. Letang and P.K. Subban (34 points) are the only two blueliners averaging a point per game this year. Over the last two seasons, the Penguins are 56-18-6 (.738 pct.) with Letang in the lineup, versus a 26-17 record (.605 pct.) without him. With Letang back in the lineup against Tampa Bay, the Penguins went 3-for-6 on the power play. In the six games that he missed prior to that contest, the Penguins were just 1-for-12 (8.3%) on the man-advantage.

Marc-Andre Fleury has a league-best 20 wins, the fifth-straight season and the sixth time in the last seven years he has reached that mark. Fleury enters Saturday’s game having gone 10-1 in his last 13 appearances dating back to March 4. During those games he has posted a 2.20 goals-against average (26GA/708MIN) and a .924 save percentage (314 saves/340 shots).

Evgeni Malkin has scored the game-winning goal in each of the last two games – which also marks the first time this season he has scored goals in two straight games. Malkin tied his season high with eight shots on goal against Tampa Bay – giving him 14 shots over his last two games. Malkin had registered a total of just 10 shots in the five games prior to the last two. Malkin’s goal against the Lightning was his 556th career point – moving him past Kevin Stevens into sole possession of seventh place on the franchise’s all-time point list.

Pascal Dupuis enters Saturday riding a season-high four-game point streak (3G-5A-8PTS) after notching back-to-back three-point games. Dupuis has nine multiple-point games this year – third-most on the team behind only Sidney Crosby (17) and Chris Kunitz (10). Dupuis ranks second on the team and sixth (tied) in the NHL with 20 goals. He reached the 20-goal mark for the second straight season and third time in his career with his goal against Tampa Bay on Thursday. His 17 even-strength goals are tied with Steven Stamkos for most in the NHL. Dupuis has points in eight straight road games entering Saturday (8G-6A-14PTS). This season the Penguins are 14-2 when Dupuis scores a goal and 19-3 when he records a point.

Chris Kunitz ranks fifth among NHL players with a team-leading 21 goals. He has scored 13 of his 21 goals on the road – the third-highest total in the NHL. Kunitz has scored at least once in six of his previous 10 road games (8 goals total). This season, Kunitz and Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis are the only NHL players that have yet to go two straight games without collecting a point. Kunitz leads the NHL with a plus-29 rating. The last Penguin to lead the NHL in plus-minus was Ron Francis in 1994-95 (+30).

Game notes courtesy of manager of communications Jason Seidling


F Sidney Crosby, broken jaw
D Paul Martin, broken bone in hand
F James Neal, concussion


C Drew Shore, upper body
LW Eric Selleck, upper body
D Ed Jovanovski, lower body
RW Kris Versteeg, knee surgery (out for season)
C Stephen Weiss, wrist surgery (out for season)
G Jose Theodore, lower body
D Mike Weaver, lower body
LW Sean Bergenheim, lower body (non-roster)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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