Who: Florida Panthers (10-2-1, 21 points, 1st place Atlantic division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-4, 12 points, 8th place Metropolitan division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
Opponent Track: After starting the year 10-0-1, the Panthers have come down to earth ever so slightly, losing their last two games. On Monday night Florida fell 4-3 to the New York Rangers on the road, and then on Tuesday night the Panthers dropped the second half of their back-to-back with a surprising 7-3 blowout loss in New Jersey. Slow starts have been somewhat of a recent issue, falling behind 4-0 to NYR and going down 2-1 after one period in NJ.
Pens path ahead: The Pens get their first back-to-back of the season up next, with some fairly long travel as they’re in Ottawa on Saturday night and then play in Washington on Sunday night. Widening the focus, November is a busy period for Pittsburgh — Tuesday started a stretch of 13 games in just 23 days, with nine of the 13 games coming on the road. The Pens don’t have two consecutive days off again until December 2nd and 3rd, the rest of November is going to be very busy compared to what was a pretty inactive first month of the season (they played just 11 games in 28 days from Oct 12 - Nov 8).
Season Series: This will be the second and PIT/FLA game of the season, with the Panthers taking a 5-4 OT on a Carter Verhaeghe goal to win back on October 14th in just the second game of the Pens’ season. The teams only meet one more time this season after tonight, it will be in Pittsburgh on March 8th.
Random fact: In his last 20 regular season games dating back to last season (April 9, 2021), Bryan Rust has picked up 18 points (9G+9A).
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Litterbox Cats for all the Panthers news you could hope for.
—After being a hot mess in his first two seasons with Florida, is Sergei Bobrovsky good again? The 33-year old sure looks like he’s been able to recapture whatever magic he had that won him Vezina trophies in 2013 and 2017. Obviously won’t stop 95% of the shots he sees forever, but if Bobrovsky can sustain being one of the league’s very best goaltenders once again throughout this season, Florida goes way high up on the list of legitimate championship contenders. Bob looked totally lost and shot just months ago, now he’s suddenly and inexplicably playing well again. Goalies, man...
—Since Joel Quenneville resigned on October 28th for his role in the Chicago Blackhawks Kyle Beach sexual assault scandal, Anthony Duclair has eight points (3G+5A) in six games. The coaching change hasn’t cooled Sasha Barkov who has 6G+1A in five games under interim coach Andrew Brunette
—Not too many are too cold, but Sam Reinhart only has 1G+2A in six games since the coaching change. He was at a point/game (2G+5A in seven games) for his initial start with Florida.
—Neither Carter Verhaeghe nor Jonathan Huberdeau have scored a goal in six games a piece since Quenneville left the team. They do have 10 combined assists between the two of them. Verhaeghe has that pile of assists, but two goals on the season came against the Pens back on Oct 14, and he’s only scored one goal since.
—Patric Hornqvist only has one goal on the season in 12 games, scored on the power play — if you can believe it.
Barkov sets franchise record in goals
Tuesday’s blowout loss against NJ was a game to forget for Florida, but one small positive was captain Aleksander Barkov setting the Panther all-time franchise record for goals in a career. Barkov, only 26, signed an eight year contract extension that kicks in next season, so there’s no telling just how many more he will add over his career but he will likely hold this mark for a long, long time. From the Panthers website:
“I think you’re going to find out in short order as you talk to his teammates,” Zito said. “You’ll see it resonate both in the words they use and the tone in the matter in which they use them how appreciated he is as a teammate and as a leader and as an example with his attention to detail.”
On the surface, it’s easy to see why anyone would like to play with Barkov.
In addition to being the NHL’s reigning Selke Trophy winner, he also currently ranks 11th in the league in scoring with 308 points (116 goals, 192 assists) since the start of the 2017-18 season.
And by lighting the lamp in New Jersey on Tuesday, he broke a tie with former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen for the most goals in franchise history with the 189th score of his career.
“I know so many great players have played for this organization, and Olli Jokinen played for a long time, played unbelievable hockey here,” Barkov said after netting his record-setting goal against the Devils. “To be in the same category as him, it was never even a dream, and now it’s a reality. I’m happy about it, but at the same just need to keep going and keep getting better.”
Tuesday Game Lines
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Owen Tippett
Sam Reinhart - Anton Lundell - Maxim Mamin
Frank Vatrano - Eetu Luostarinen - Patric Hornqvist
Mackenzie Weegar / Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling / Radko Gudas
Lucas Carlsson / Brandon Montour
Probable Starting Goalie: ?
Scratches: Ryan Lomberg, Kevin Connauton, Christopher Gibson (G)
IR: Joe Thornton, Markus Nutivaara, Mason Marchment, Olli Juolevi, Noel Acciari (LTIR)
—Bobrovsky had a minor upper body injury and was on the bench as a backup but did not play, even as Spencer Knight got shelled. Third string goalie Christopher Gibson was on the NHL roster as recently as yesterday for insurance.
—Bennett recently returned from COVID protocol and gives a big lift to Florida down the middle of the lineup.
And now for the Pens..
Wednesday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Jeff Carter - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evan Rodrigues - Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Drew O’Connor - Brian Boyle - Zach Aston-Reese
Mike Matheson / Kris Letang
P.O Joseph / John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel
Probable Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Dominik Simon, Taylor Fedun, Juuso Riikola, Mark Friedman
COVID non-roster list: Sidney Crosby, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Chad Ruhwedel
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee)
—The Pens roster size would be over-limit by two if they bring both Pettersson and Ruhwedel off the COVID list today. Both defensemen are listed as game-time decisions officially, with it sounding like the decision will be a favorable one barring any unexpected troubles ahead. Fedun is easy to knock back to the AHL, then the team will have to decide on sending back one of Lafferty, Simon, Riikola or Friedman to stay under the 23 healthy player limit.
—For the third period of Tuesday’s game the team opted to move Aston-Reese away from Blueger, a rare occurrence that was repeated at practice yesterday. The move seemed to benefit both lower lines in small spurts in the game, it might give a fresh look for players to work with again tonight.
Big minute Kris
With a depleted lineup, it’s no surprise that Kris Letang is getting a ton of ice time. In fact, he was the league leader as of yesterday afternoon. From the Pens PR team:
Defenseman Kris Letang is no stranger to logging big minutes on the blueline. He has led Pittsburgh in time-on-ice per game in each of the last eight seasons (including 2021-22), and since the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign (last 12 seasons), he has been the Penguins’ time-on-ice per-game leader in all but one season (2013-14, 2nd).
This season, the 34-year old hasn’t skipped a beat. He enters tonight’s game averaging the most minutes played per game in the entire NHL:
Kris Letang 27:31
Thomas Chabot 27:16
Brent Burns 27:05
Zach Werenski 26:13
Seth Jones 26:13
Letang enters tonight’s game with four points (1G-3A) in his last two appearances versus the Panthers. In 38 career games against them, he has 27 points (7G-20A).