Preview: Penguins at Panthers
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers found themselves as accommodating trade partners during last week's four-player swap that also included three draft picks, but the former has dominated the latter of late when the teams meet on the ice. The Penguins boast a 10-1-2 mark in their last 13 contests against the Panthers heading into Thursday's tilt at BB&T Center.
While captain Sidney Crosby will tie co-owner Mario Lemieux (915) for the most games played in a Pittsburgh uniform on Thursday, newcomers Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann will return to Florida to face their former team. Bjugstad ranks inside the Panthers' top-15 lists for games played (15th, 394), goals (13th, 87) and points (15th, 191) since being selected with the 19th overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft while McCann resides one tally shy of his career high. While the Penguins have countered a 10-1-0 stretch with losses in six of their last nine following Tuesday's 4-0 setback to Carolina, Florida fell for the second time in three outings after seeing a two-goal lead in the third period result in a 3-2 setback to St. Louis. "That's the thing. We leave teams hanging around, the same thing happened with the Nashville game (a 4-1 loss on Friday)," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "... We couldn't find that next goal until the very end. It's just a matter of bearing down and executing a little more on our chances."
TV: 7 p.m. ET, AT&T SportsNet-Pittsburgh, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet Ontario, FS Florida
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (28-19-6): Although Matt Murray sat out Wednesday's practice with an upper-body injury, the two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was slated to travel with the team when it opens a three-game road trip against Florida. Coach Mike Sullivan was quick to tell reporters that the injury is not a concussion for Murray, who turned aside 36 shots in Pittsburgh's 5-1 romp over Panthers on Jan. 8. Casey DeSmith may draw the start versus Florida for the Penguins, who recalled fellow goaltender Tristan Jerry on an emergency basis from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (21-22-8): Derick Brassard has one assist since being traded from Pittsburgh while fellow center Riley Sheahan has yet to dent the scoresheet since joining Florida. Sheahan, however, scored for the Penguins in last month's meeting between the teams. Aleksander Barkov tallied in his second straight game to move into a tie with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team lead in points (50) while moving one shy of 300 for his career.
1. Pittsburgh C Evgeni Malkin, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury, skated on his own Wednesday and will join the team on its road trip.
2. Panthers D Aaron Ekblad, who has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five contests, set up C Aleksander Barkov's goal in the first encounter with the Penguins.
3. Pittsburgh has scored one power-play goal in eight of its past nine road games and has killed off 17 of 20 short-handed situations in that same stretch.
PREDICTION: Panthers 3, Penguins 2