Pre-game Buzz: Frustrations are brewing in the Penguins locker room. The players talked extensively following Saturday’s 3-1 loss that there has been a lack of urgency. We heard the same kind of talk last January when the Penguins were struggling.
Loses in 5 of 6 games has Dan Bylsma considering more lineup changes including sitting Alex Goligoski today, if Sergei Gonchar is able to play.
Gonchar will give it a go in warmups according to sources.
*Team officials remain mum on a situation following yesterday’s game where paramedics were sent to the Penguins coaches room. Dan Bylsma was 25-30 minutes late for his Post-Game conference. Tony Granato and Bylsma were seen together while Mike Yeo wasn’t around for a while, however, Yeo did join the team for their trip to Sunrise.
A stretcher with nobody on it was seen leaving the room, shortly after the game.
Penguins Preview 43
26-15-1 — 53 pts.
5-5 Last 10
16-18-7 — 39 pts.
5-4-1 Last 10
A season sweep of the Panthers hangs in front of the Penguins this afternoon at BankAtlantic Center in Florida.
It has been an interesting season between these two teams. The Pens have all won three matchups by a score of 3-2 in overtime or the shootout.
Brent Johnson was the goaltender of record in two of those wins. Johnson is under consideration to start today as the Penguins finish the back half of their weekend doubleheader. Pittsburgh did not have a morning skate.
Each of the first three games featured an overtime period created by a third period comeback, the first two by Pittsburgh, and again in mid-December when the Panthers scored late in the third to force bonus hockey.
The Panthers are a team much like the Tampa Bay Lightning, a group of grinders with a few highly skilled forwards who make the Penguins work every time they meet.
The Panthers are below .500 and thirteenth out of fifteen Eastern Conference teams, but they will make Pittsburgh earn every inch of ice today.
Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss provide the scoring for the Panthers. Horton (14G, 25A) is a power forward who has the tools to be a player on the level of a Vincent Lecavalier or Eric Staal and is showing that potential more this year than in any season prior. Weiss (18G 20A) is already two goals shy of his 2006-07 single-season high of 20.
The Pens may want to pay more attention to Steve Reinprecht than Weiss or Horton. Reinprecht has three goals in three games against the Pens this year. The Pittsburgh defense, with or without Gonchar today, will have to muscle up on Reinprecht down low to keep him off the score sheet.
Vokoun has played strong in net against the Pens this season, holding the Pens to two goals twice (shootout winners) and three in the last meeting. Vokoun plays with poise but can be beaten with barrage shooting and garbage goals down low.
The Pens have lost four in a row and five of six. Three of those losses came to division leaders New Jersey and Buffalo, but two more disturbing losses, against bottom-feeders Tampa Bay and Toronto, came in games in which an inferior team was able to outwork and outshoot the Penguins.
Pittsburgh plays the second of a back-to-back today. With two games separated by just 26 hours, strong goaltending and an early lead will be crucial to getting off the schnide.
The Penguins will likely need a strong outing from Johnson or Marc Andre Fleury to get the win. The Pens have been outshot in six of their last eight games and lately have been caught in the defensive zone longer than usual. With Gonchar’s status uncertain and Goligoski and others struggling in the defensive zone, a good outing by Johnson/Fleury seems crucial.
Dan Bylsma is not afraid to shake up his lines. Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal have been the best players on the ice for the Penguins during this recent slow stretch. They may see some time on the same line today, especially if the Pens come out slow to start.
Crosby has one goal in his last seven games and Malkin hasn’t scored since pinning three on the Senators December 23. Those slow stretches in their play are magnified when their wingers are unable to pick up the slack. Kunitz, Dupuis, Fedotenko, Talbot and Kennedy have been invisible lately.
Power Play is a Relative Term
The power play went 0-fer again yesterday, failing to score on back-to-back penalties by the Lightning. Instead of taking the momentum, the Lightning got it right back when Zenon Konopka scored for the Lightning minutes later. From there on out, the Penguins played with half the heart of the home team.
The success rate limps in at 14.8 percent, good for dead last in the league. The Pens haven’t scored on the man-advantage since facing Toronto last Sunday. Never has the problem with the power play been made so apparent as it was in yesterday’s game.
On the second of consecutive penalties in the second period, the Penguins kept the puck in the offensive zone for the entirety of the man-advantage. Goaltender Mike Smith was playing with Viktor Hedman’s stick, the 6’8” Hedman was playing with a forward’s stick, and that man played without one at all, essentially creating the ideal power play. The Penguins took advantage by making more passes than an Andy Reid offense, and the Lightning came back to score and take the lead a few minutes later.
Every fan who ground their teeth to dust during that power play (which must have been the most frustrating of any this season) knows what the Penguins seem to be missing. Shoot. The. Puck.
Bill Guerin has eleven points in his last twelve games.
Brent Johnson: 2.49 GAA / .919 SV% / 4-3 in seven starts this year.
Alex Goligoski is a plus-7 on the season, down 7 points from a plus-14 rating in November.
Ruslan Fedotenko has 7 goals in 41 games, on pace for 14 by season’s end.
Sergei Gonchar’s status is up in the air after missing yesterday’s game with a foot injury.
Dmitry Kulikov, David Booth and Kenndal McArdle will sit for the Panthers.
The Penguins were badly outworked by a Tampa team who won Saturday’s game by merit of effort alone. Tomas Vokoun is an excellent goaltender and Florida comes at the Penguins with a hard-fought outing every time. The Pens need to manufacture some urgency and dictate the pace to get back into their style of play. That means outshoot, outskate and outwork the opposition.
—-Preview by James Conley —-