The Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins — both coming off losses — will meet on Saturday night in Sunrise, Fla.
Pittsburgh lost 4-2 at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. Florida fell 7-2 at home to the Vegas Golden Knights, also on Thursday.
And while the Penguins were disappointed by their defeat, the Panthers took their lopsided loss like a punch in the gut.
“It’s embarrassing,” Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. “We should all be embarrassed. It’s not the way you want to play if want to make the playoffs.
“We were tied 2-2 halfway through the second period, and we managed to give up five more goals. We didn’t have enough urgency and work ethic. It’s about having heart, caring about winning and refusing to lose.”
Meanwhile, Penguins superstar center Sidney Crosby indicated that Thursday’s loss was just a minor speed bump in what has been an impressive stretch of winning hockey — eight victories in Pittsburgh’s past 11 games.
“We just need to settle down and make plays,” Crosby said.
Indeed, the Penguins haven’t lost consecutive games since Nov. 29-30. Since then, they have gone 19-6-1.
The Penguins, who have a firm grasp of second place in the Metropolitan Division, have overcome numerous injuries this season.
Crosby missed 28 games before returning in mid-January after core muscle surgery. Winger Evgeni Malkin, who leads the Penguins in assists (39) and points (56), has missed 13 games (lower body).
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh’s highest-scoring defenseman (34 points) and the team’s third-highest-paid player behind Crosby and Malkin, has missed eight games. And Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel, who are second and third, respectively, on the team in points, have combined to miss 28 games.
Of those, only Guentzel is still injured, and he is joined on the sidelines by former Panthers center Nick Bjugstad, top-pair defenseman Brian Dumoulin and fourth-line winger Dominik Kahun.
Pittsburgh has split the goaltending duties this season between a pair of Canadians: 25-year-old Matt Murray (29 starts) and 24-year-old Tristan Jarry (24 starts).
Pittsburgh drafted Murray in the third round in 2012 and Jarry in the second round in 2013. Both Murray (16-7-4, 2.85 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage) and Jarry (17-8-1, 2.19 GAA, .928 SP) are producing this season.
Meanwhile, the Panthers pulled starter and two-time All-Star Sergei Bobrovsky after he allowed six goals in 49 minutes on Thursday. Bobrovsky is 20-14-5 this season with a 3.28 GAA and an .898 SP.
If Bobrovsky is rested on Saturday, the Panthers would turn to Samuel Montembeault, 23. He has played just 20 career games and is 4-2-1 with a 3.40 GAA and an .889 SP this season
The Panthers were without three players on Thursday, most notably team captain and 2019 All-Star Aleksander Barkov, one of the NHL’s best two-way centers. Center Brian Boyle and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar also sat out, but all Panthers eyes will be on Barkov, who practiced on Thursday and is expected to return against the Penguins.
The Panthers are 1-1-1 in the past three games without Barkov, who has 16 goals and 54 points this season.
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said when asked if Florida misses Barkov. “But, just like when Pittsburgh lost Crosby, we have to find a way to step up, wins some games and get some points.”
With Barkov out, there’s even more pressure on winger Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida’s first-time All-Star this season. Huberdeau leads the Panthers in assists (49) and points (68).
A big surprise for the Panthers this season is forward Noel Acciari, who leads the team in even-strength goals (17). Winger Evgenii Dadonov leads the team in goals (23) and power-play scores (10).
–Field Level Media