Evgeni Malkin netted a goal and set up three others to lead the Penguins powerful offense, bringing him within one point of NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby, who the Cats managed to hold scoreless, while Jeff Zatkoff avenged his only loss of the season by making 39 saves.
Florida came out flying and carried the play in the first half of the opening period until a Dmitry Kulikov tripping penalty provided the spark the Penguins needed to get the goal-scoring machinery cranked up.
The Penguins scored again 32 seconds later as Thomas couldn't contain Deryk Engelland's shot and Joe Vitale ended up whacking the loose puck just past the goal line. Kulikov played spectator and failed to control Vitale, who notched his first of the campaign, in front of the net.
To their credit, the Panthers continued working hard and finished the stanza with a 15-6 advantage in shots on goal.
The Cats came out hard again in the second period, but the Penguins would extend their lead at 7:23 when Malkin easily scored off the rush. Some apparent indecision between Mike Weaver and Aleksander Barkov (or maybe it was just Barkov) left Malkin in the clear, and he took a nice pass from Olli Maatta and deposited the puck past Thomas on his backhand. The Pens needed just seven shots to build the three-goal advantage.
Florida kept the pressure on Pittsburgh and appeared to score when a pass from behind the net deflected in off of Brad Boyes, but inexplicably, the goal was disallowed.
The Panthers would finally get rewarded later in the frame when Scottie Upshall converted with the Cats on a power play. Upshall has completely bounced back from a rough past two seasons and now leads the team in scoring with 14 points. Jonathan Huberdeau and Brian Campbell drew the helpers on Uppie's sixth of the season.
Any potential momentum from the goal was quickly snuffed out when James Neal beat Thomas just 29 seconds later. Malkin collected the only assist on the goal with a pretty feed from behind the cage.
The Panthers peppered Zatkoff with 16 shots in the final frame, but just like in the first, would fail to dent the twine.
The only goal of the period came courtesy of an ugly Dmitry Kulikov turnover (notice a theme here?) at the 6:10 mark. Kulikov offered up the puck to Malkin, who finished off his four-point performance by quickly setting up Jussi Jokinen to make it 5-1 Penguins.
- I think it's high time for Dmitry Kulikov to continue his career elsewhere. This guy is the Panthers' schleprock. His mistakes, and there are many, directly lead to losses. This tilt and the Rangers game at MSG immediately spring to mind. Get rid of him now while you can still get something for him. If he ends up blossoming elsewhere, so be it. This game can almost be summed up as Malkin was awesome and Kulikov was a disaster. Enough already. Sit him a for a spell and if there is no improvement afterwards, then it's time to say goodbye.
- Once again, the Panthers made the opposition's backup look like an all-star. Forty shots and only one goal against Jeff Zatkoff? Not good enough. I'll give credit where credit is due, Zatkoff played well (his best save was early on Brad Boyes which could have given the Cats confidence) but come on.
- Too bad the Pens don't come to town more often. Nice to see a good crowd at the BB&T Center last night. We need more of that.
- Lackluster stuff from Thomas in this one. Maybe the Panthers started things off too good and he didn't get in the game quickly enough, because once the Pens got some chances it was 2-0. Timmeh! could have been awarded the secondary assist on the Kunitz goal and should have done better handling Engelland's initial shot on the second goal. Fair or unfair, Thomas needs to be Florida's best player (or one of them if the offense actually does something) for them to win and he wasn't in this one.
- Said it before and I'll probably have to keep saying it, but Brian Campbell needs to have a shoot first and shoot quickly mentality with the Cats on a power play. He passed up a couple of golden looks in the first period, that's got to stop.
- I am still really miffed about the call on Boyes' disallowed goal. The NHL is always bellyaching about ways to increase scoring, well not waving off legitimate goals would be a good place to start. I am not sure in what alternate universe the NHL office found a replay of Boyes making a "distinct kicking motion" but it didn't happen in this one. That was a goal and the league blew the call, plain and simple. Might of made a difference or maybe Malkin would have just scored seconds later, we'll never know.
- The Panthers weren't going to come back on the Penguins in the third, so getting Clemmensen, who stopped 8 of 9 shots, some much-needed work was the right move by head coach Peter Horachek.
- Thumbs down to NHL Tonight for not showing highlights of Upshall's goal (which I heard on the radio while picking up dinner) or Boyes' disallowed goal. Something tells me if that was another team playing Pittsburgh they would have showed those moments. I still love that show but their high standards have slipped a bit, which is unfortunate. Get back to treating every team equally and showing every goal.
- Next up for the Panthers on the homestand will be the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at 7:30 pm. Two points needed.