How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, Fox Sports Florida
Opponent Track: This is the game one of a five game road trip for Florida that will see them go to Western Canada next. Since Christmas break they’re 2-2-1, losing a 4-3 OT contest to Columbus on Saturday for their last time out.
Pens Refresh: The eight game winning streak has disappeared due to the Pens’ inability to beat Chicago like, ever
Season series: Surprisingly enough, this is the first PIT/FLA matchup now 42 games into the season. The teams will see each other again February 7th in
Miami err Sunrise and then March 5th again in Pittsburgh to close out the yearly series.
SBN Team Counterpart: Litterbox Cats
Tale of the tape
—The one area that really stands out as a surprise is the strength of the Florida power play, checking in at a remarkable 27.8% on the season. New addition Mike Hoffman has 20 goals so far overall, 10 coming on the man-advantage (which ranks 4th in the league). Keith Yandle’s 22 power play points rank 1st overall among all NHL defenseman this season.
—Two other players also have 16+ points on the PP (Jonathan Huberdeau, 19 and Aleksander Barkov 16). By comparison, Florida’s four players with 16+ PPP is two better than Pittsburgh so far this season (Phil Kessel, 20 and Evgeni Malkin, 16). So it’s a very concentrated group but with Yandle at the back and Hoffman pulling the trigger and Huberdeau + Barkov working the puck around, it’s quite the talented unit that is in a groove.
—The majority of these stats for Florida are very impressive. They are a top-third team in the league in suppressing shots. Even better at 3rd overall in taking shots. They score a ton of goals. One area majorly holding Florida back is the PDO monster - they shoot poorly and don’t get many saves. The latter area is especially troubling as neither Roberto Luongo (who turns 40 later this spring) nor James Reimer have provided very good goaltending this season.
Cats look to avoid the costly mistake
From LBC’s preview, it looks like the Panthers, now 40 games into the season, are still trying to really figure it all out on get on track.
”I don’t know if we’re trying to do too much or if we do too little,” Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle recently said. “We’ve got to find that happy medium of just really dialing in on what the coaches tell us to do. Obviously, it’s a work in progress, but we’ve got to continue to work at it.”
Saturday in a 4-3 overtime loss at home against Columbus, a Florida turnover led to a Blue Jackets goal that gave them Columbus a 3-2 lead seven minutes into the third period. The Panthers managed to tie it 11 minutes later, but Seth Jones scored in the first minute of overtime.
”The one big mistake keeps haunting us,” Florida coach Bob Boughner told reporters. We’ve got to get better at (not doing) that.”
The coach’s words are reflected well in the stats above. Looks like a pretty good all-around team with a good process - they just need to make that one extra save or maybe not make that one bad turnover leading to a danger chance against.
Getting this deep into the season and taking an extended road trip, the message for Florida will no doubt be to try and have a “season-defining” type of swing that starts tonight. They need to make up some ground and time is a’ tickin’.
Player stats at a glance
—Barkov is one of the finest two-way centers around, possibly among the most under-rated...Even though when guys get national buzz for being “under-rated” are they really still all that under-rated at all coughBackstromcough. Food for thought. Barkov’s a beast though and probably deserving of being a Selke finalist, if not winner based on his efforts this season.
—Hoffman on pace for 40 tucks has to be exactly what Florida imagined when they got ihm in a trade for a discounted rate due to off-ice baggage and concerns.
—Yandle fairly quietly scored 56 points last season and is on-pace for 72 this year. He doesn’t get a lot of attention or recognition either but at age-32 he remains one of the finest offensive-defensemen in the game today.
—Sucks to see Vince Trocheck get hurt earlier in the year, his loss was a big one down the middle.
Lines (from Monday’s practice)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Frank Vatrano - Henrik Borgstrom - Mike Hoffman
Troy Brouwer - Jared McCann - Denis Malgin
Micheal Haley - Juho Lammikko - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle / Aaron Ekblad
Michael Matheson / Mark Pysyk
Bogdan Kiselevich / Mackenzie Weegar
—Borgstrom, 21, is a prospect to watch. He was a top pick in 2016 and scored 22 points in 24 AHL games earlier in the season to start his pro career and is now up for NHL action, playing in his 11th game tonight (3g+1a so far in the show). The big Finn put up 52 points in 40 games at the University of Denver last season and he could be a big-time player in the future.
—A “Bogdan Kiselevich” sounds like the long-lost European cousin of Brett Kiesel. Wonder if he can grow a great beard too?
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off last Sunday’s game)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-Reese- Matt Cullen - Riley Sheahan
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Juuso Riikola
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Derek Grant (healthy), Jamie Oleksiak (healthy)
—We’ll have to see if Mike Sullivan shuffles things up at all after finally losing a game but it probably stands to reason he’s not looking to reinvent the wheel tonight for what’s mostly been getting results.
—Casey DeSmith giving up four goals and getting a loss almost surely has to mean the Pens turn back to Matt Murray for this one.
Since we always feature the other team, a quick snap-shot of the Pens.
—Crosby’s 51 points rank tied-12th in the league. If he didn’t miss three games earlier in the season he could be a bit higher there, but still well behind league leader Nikita Kucherov’s 69.
—Zach Aston-Reese’s line is looking better and better. He should be cracking double-digit goals and at least 25ish points this season if he stays healthy which is a pretty encouraging season coming off the broken jaw.
—Have to wonder what the plus/minus would be for the Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, Letang types who get a ton of empty net goals against charged on them. It’s a dumb stat but still one commonly used, would be nice to see ENG not count for or against players.
—Simon quietly a half point-per game player, just keeps chugging along.
—If Hornqvist played every game, he would be on pace for 37-goal season. He’s missed nine games to injury so he won’t get there, but it’s been a very fine goal scoring season for him in year one of his contract extension.
—Only five Pens still have “perfect attendance” with 42 games played. Last year, nine players had 78+ GP and they were most all very important ones (Malkin, Letang, Kessel, Crosby, Guentzel, Dumoulin, Sheary, Hagelin and Maatta).
—This year, just halfway in, only nine players are on pace for 78+ games, which obviously could fall off. This list also includes some unimportant players (Sheahan, Johnson). So big picture for health and more importantly who is staying healthy, the 2018-19 Pens aren’t quite as fortunate as the 2017-18 Pens. However the latter was probably exceptionally fortunate, especially for this franchise.