Who: Florida Panthers (38-13-5, 81 points, 1st place Atlantic Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (34-14-9, 77 points, 2nd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, Bally Sports Florida down south, ESPN+
Opponent Track: This is the second night of a b-2-b for the Panthers, they were in Buffalo last night defeating the Sabres 6-1 for their third straight win. It’s been a very streaky FLA team since the All-Star break — before this three-game winning streak they lost three straight games (EDM, CBJ, NSH). Prior to that, they won three in a row (CHI, MIN, CAR). Time for another three game losing streak to start?
Pens Path Ahead: Pittsburgh plays Vegas next on Friday, followed by Carolina coming back to the ‘Burgh for a Sunday afternoon game. The first part of March has been really slack for the Pens, with only four games in the first 12 days of March. But starting with the Hurricanes on 3/13, Pittsburgh plays 10 games in the remaining 19 days of the month.
Hidden Stat: In the 35 games that Bryan Rust has played this season, Pittsburgh has a 21-7-7 record (h/t Pens PR).
Hidden Stat Part II: Evgeni Malkin has recorded at least one point in all 11 home games he has played this season.
Season Series: This is the third and final PIT/FLA game of the regular season. Each team has a 1-0-1 record against the other, with both of the previous games going past 60 minutes. The Panthers won the first game in Florida, a 5-4 OT win back on October 14th (the second game of the season for Pittsburgh). The Pens won a 3-2 shootout decision over the Panthers about a month later on November 11th in Pittsburgh.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Check out Litterbox Cats for the news to know about the Panthers.
(note: does not include last night’s game)
—With a league-high 4.09 goals/game entering last night’s contest, Florida is the tops in the NHL at scoring goals, and the stat sheet is a happy looking one. Nine skaters already have 13+ goals.
—Florida is loaded with stars now. They have an MVP candidate in Jonathan Huberdeau, (who is the league leader in assists and currently third in points), a possible Norris candidate in Aaron Ekblad, one of the league’s top rookies in Anton Lundel and a center who usually gets Selke buzz in Sasha Barkov. And possibly a coach of the year contender in Andrew Brunette, who has seemed to do a great job managing a very difficult situation following the resignation of Joel Quenneville. Quite the turn in fortunes to suddenly see so many Florida Panthers in the running for so many awards, which is something that’s never really happened in the almost 30 years of franchise history.
—They have a bevy of players on their way to having career seasons. Whether it’s been reclamation projects like Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Anthony Duclair to emerging players like Mason Marchment, Gustav Forsling and Carter Verhaeghe — pretty much everything has come together in a wonderful way this year.
—With three assists last night against Buffalo, Mason Marchment is up to 34 points in 31 games this season. Quite a build for the undrafted 26-year old, who has worked his way up from the minor leagues and found a way to utilize his 6’4, 215 pound frame to be effective out of no where in the NHL this season.
Last Night’s Game Lines
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Mason Marchment
Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Anthony Duclair
Frank Vatrano - Anton Lundell - Sam Reinhart
Noah Acciari - Eetu Luostarinen - Patric Hornqvist
Mackenzie Weegar / Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling / Radko Gudas
Gabriel Carlsson / Brandon Montour
Goalies: Sergei Bobrovsky expected starter (Spencer Knight started last night)
Scratches: Maxim Mamin, Jonas Johansson
IR: Joe Thornton, Ryan Lomberg, Markus Nutivaara
—It’s a shame Thornton is out, this has probably been written before, but today could be the 42-year old’s final time in Pittsburgh as a player after being in the league since 1997 and having his draft in the old Civic Arena.
—Also kinda interesting to see goalie usage. Against a non-playoff team in Buffalo, the Panthers opted to play the backup in Knight for game one of the b-2-b, leaving the starter in Bobrovsky ready for the tougher challenge in Pittsburgh, albeit in front of a tired team
Advanced stats matchup
The Florida Panthers have become a must watch type of team. They are electric on ice, their 37.0 shots/game leads the NHL. Their scoring leads the NHL. They are a high-action, high-octane, fun show on ice. They are potentially going to play in a 6-3 or 5-4 type of game on any given night.
How they fare in the playoffs will be a fascinating development. Last season, Florida made it but bowed out in six games to Tampa (in one of the tougher challenges in a series the Lightning had). The franchise still has not won a playoff series since those blasted rats in 1996. Beyond the historical struggles, they play a wide-open game, but not one dis-similar from how division rivals Tampa and Toronto like to play.
Getting the division seed and playing a wild card is so crucial for all three of those teams, to avoid seeing probably the singular toughest first round matchup this season in the Atlantic #2 vs Atlantic #3 that figures to trap two of FLA/TB/TOR against each other, and send home a really good team for the summer without a playoff series win.
And now for the Pens..
Monday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Dominik Simon - Jeff Carter - Evan Rodrigues
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mark Friedman / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Kasper Bjorkqvist, Brian Boyle
IR: Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Louis Domingue
—Some good news has emerged from practice, Teddy Blueger was back with his normal line and was deemed the happy “game time decision” from coach Mike Sullivan that typically indicates a player is about to return from injury, barring any last minute issues. Blueger has been out of the lineup for the last 16 games.
—There is expected to be another return as well tonight. Assistant coach Todd Reirden has been out since hurting knee over the All-Star break and having surgery to fix him up. Reirden was back with the team yesterday at practice and should be back behind the bench for good to restore the normal compliment of coaches to their roles. The other assistant, Mike Velucci, was handling Reirden’s typical charge of coaching defensemen during the games in Reirden’s absence.
—After having a day off on Sunday from practice, Evgeni Malkin returned to the ice with the team on Monday.
Milestone and streak watch
- We got a couple of 400 boyz going: both Bryan Rust and Brock McGinn will both be appearing in their respective 400th NHL game tonight.
- Evan Rodrigues is set to appear in career game #100 with the Penguins tonight.
- Evgeni Malkin has 694 career assists, two shy of tying Sergei Fedorov (696) for most NHL assists ever for a Russian player.