LBC Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers Visit Pittsburgh Penguins
Losers of six in their last ten games, the Panthers try to right the ship against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After calling his players out for a lack of desperation in their play, Florida Panthers head coach Peter Horachek better hope his team plays desperate tonight, as the Cats head into Pittsburgh and try to survive the high-octane offense of the Penguins. This game has the potential to get really ugly really fast for Florida if they don't bring their "A" game, and netminder Tim Thomas is going to have to be at his best, making big saves when necessary and controlling his rebounds. The Penguins have talent all over the lineup and can seemingly score at will when they want to. The Panthers, however, couldn't score much in the last few games and can't score a power play goal to save their lives.
How can the Panthers come out of the CONSOL Energy Center with two points? By keeping it simple. The Penguins are a team that the Cats beat earlier this season by keeping their scorers away from the high-percentage scoring areas, playing solid defense to keep the opposition to the perimeter and keeping traffic out of the blue paint. Florida basically has to play solid defensive hockey to have a shot, as the anemic offense will likely have trouble putting more than two in the Pens' net over the course of the game. The Panthers can capitalize in the transition game with speed by generating turnovers, but they also have to be careful to not get caught with too many forwards deep.
Join the LBC GameThread tonight with a box of Puffs Plus with Lotion ready, or if you're less of a sadist, check out Pensburgh and revel in the yellow and black. Enjoy folks!
UPDATE: Scott Clemmensen will be getting the start; Jesse Winchester to return to lineup; Tomas Kopecky a likely scratch due to a shoulder ailment.
Players to Watch
James Neal - With all of the other superstars in the Pittsburgh lineup, Neal is the one that gets the least fanfare at the forward position, yet produces a ton of offense for the Pens. Neal's just another player the Cats have to contain, but with the depth of the Pittsburgh lineup, that's a tall task to take on. Neal's a physical force as well and isn't afraid to pressure the Cats defense with a solid forechecking shift, so the Panthers blue line needs to be on their toes.
Tim Thomas - He's keeping the Panthers in games they don't deserve to be in and is about to start his ninth game in a row. Thomas is a gamer who is fighting for 60 minutes to make sure the Cats have a chance to even things up or take a lead, but they're just not reproducing the same effort. How long is it before Thomas speaks up in the locker room and takes a bite out of the guys in front of him?
Tomas Fleischmann - Flash isn't very flashy anymore, and just about everyone's taken notice. He's a solid offensive player and has had plenty of chances, but isn't burying any of them. If he's unable to get back that scoring touch, look for Fleischmann to be a premier deadline target for teams looking for scoring depth on the wing. Despite being a key part of the Panthers offensive attack for the last several years, he's playing his way out of South Florida if things don't change.
Olli Maatta - Maatta was taken one spot ahead of Panthers selection Michael Matheson in the 2013 NHL draft, and I believe he was the player Florida wanted more. Maatta has matured quickly and stepped into a full-time role on the Penguins blue line, playing bigger minutes as the season wears on and contributing offensively as well. Yes, the Pens have gotten some real gifts in picking high for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but shrewd drafting elsewhere has often paid off, with some solid homegrown talent making its way up to the NHL, whether in Pittsburgh or traded as an asset elsewhere.