It’s too early in the season to be overly concerned with playoff positioning, but it’s safe to say the Pittsburgh Penguins were pleased the Florida Panthers knocked off the team they’re tied with atop the Atlantic Division on Friday night.
They’d be even more excited to send Florida back to its losing ways on Saturday.
Pittsburgh tries to avoid its first three-game losing streak at Mellon Arena in nearly a year against the Panthers, who will be looking to win for just the third time in 12 games.
The Penguins (21-10-1) and New Jersey each have 43 points, 13 more than their next-closest competitor in the Atlantic.
On Friday night, Florida (12-14-6) was able to do what Pittsburgh hasn’t in two tries this season - beat the Devils. Struggling backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen(notes) made 26 saves, and Michael Frolik(notes) scored twice - the second of which gave the Panthers’ a two-goal cushion in the third period en route to a 4-2 victory.
“The fourth goal was very important after they came back,” said Frolik, who had been held without a point for five straight games. “I was just skating in the middle and Hortie just saw me there. I just did what I did there.”
The victory ended a four-game skid and a stretch of 10 games with just one win.
The Panthers have gone into overtime in both meetings with the Penguins this season, but they’ve yet to come away with two points. Sidney Crosby(notes) scored twice in regulation and added a shootout goal in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 home victory on Oct. 23, then Crosby scored on the power play to lift the Penguins to a 3-2 overtime win in Florida on Nov. 23.
The Panthers led both games 2-0 heading into the third period, but it’s hard to blame goaltender Tomas Vokoun(notes) for allowing Pittsburgh back into either contest. The Penguins have outshot the Panthers 88-50 in the two games.
“It’s not a recipe we draw up,” coach Dan Bylsma told the Penguins’ official Web site after the OT victory. “You don’t want to have to come from behind, but a lot of the things we did allowed us to have a strong third period.”
Pittsburgh became the first team to reach 20 wins when it beat Colorado 4-1 on Dec. 3, but dropped its next two games at home, meaning a loss Saturday would give it its first three-game home skid since dropping five straight Dec. 20-Jan. 3.
The Penguins bounced back on the road Thursday in Montreal even without either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin(notes) recording a point. Sergei Gonchar(notes) and Pascal Dupuis(notes) each had a goal and an assist, with Dupuis’ third-period goal the difference in a 3-2 win.
Pittsburgh outshot the Canadiens 41-21.
“We were staying in our game tonight,” said Crosby, who had eight goals and four assists in his past four games before being held off the board. “We didn’t give them a lot and we played really well. It was a great win for us.”
While Crosby has been extremely productive lately, Malkin - the reigning NHL points leader - has been relatively quiet. Malkin hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 28, his second five-game scoring drought this season.
Malkin has three goals in 14 career games against Florida, though he has four assists this season.
“It’s not something I see him taking with him for too long,” Bylsma said. “He is going to come out attacking and shooting. That is what he is going to bring with him tomorrow when he comes to the rink.”