December 8: Penguins @ Panthers Game Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to take the ice tonight at 7 PM EST against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena in Sunshine, Florida. The Penguins are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, with their only goal scored with less than a minute left to play. The Panthers, however, are coming into tonight riding an exciting and high-scoring 5-4 victory against the Dallas Stars. Pittsburgh is seventh in the Metropolitan division, with a perfect .500 and a record of 11-11-3. On the other hand, the Panthers are sitting second only to the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic division, with a record of 15-8-2.

Coming Into Tonight

The Florida Panthers have exceeded many people’s expectations this year. While many thought they would be middle of the pack in the Atlantic, they have proven themselves to be one of the best teams in that division. However, recently, they’ve significantly slowed down and have been struggling to win games consistently. They’re still a hard team to play against, and the grit that they play with is a trait that sets them apart from many other teams in the league. The Penguins must be on their toes and willing to play a physical game if they want to win tonight.

The Penguins come into tonight on a brutal three-game losing streak, with two overtime losses against the Philadelphia Flyers and a regulation loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have yet to win a game in the month of December, which is a tough look for a team looking to gain some momentum and move up the standings. In their last few contests, Pittsburgh has been down quite a few players due to injury, which could contribute to the problem; however, the entirety of the Penguins’ game has looked much slower and less crisp than they need if they want to compete. 

This team is frustrated and just looking to win however they can. Head Coach Mike Sullivan has made several changes in line combinations, the most significant being the flip-flop of Bryan Rust and Reilly Smith. In addition, Kris Letang has been added to the first powerplay unit in place of Bryan Rust, undoubtedly to try to boost the Penguins’ powerplay, which is currently 30th in the league at 9.9%. There have also been several new players added to the lineup, such as Jansen Harkins,—who played a few games at the start of the season—Alex Nylander, and Joona Koppanen. Despite these additions and changes, the lack of offense and speed is still a major frustration. 

Players To Keep An Eye On

The Panthers player to keep an eye on tonight is none other than former Penguin Evan Rodrigues. Rodrigues is coming off a four-point night (two goals, two assists) against the Stars on Wednesday, and with playing against his former club, you can bet Rodrigues will want to be a difference-maker for the Panthers. Rodrigues is a great finisher, and playing on the first line with forwards Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart, you can be sure he will get his fair share of chances. 

The Penguins player to watch tonight is Evgeni Malkin. Often, when the team gets stuck in a losing streak or they find themselves in a slump, Geno is the one to pull them out of it. His frustration often turns to energy and aggression, which produces both offense and physicality—exactly what the Penguins need when playing an irritating and physically aggressive team like the Panthers. 

Team Matchup and Projected Lines

The Panthers are a physical team that plays a dangerous transition game. Defense and physicality are critical to win against them, but both areas are places where Pittsburgh struggles. Tonight, the Penguins will need their defense to step up, their stars to start producing offense, and their bottom lines to keep up the pace and physicality. 

Florida’s starting lineup will likely be as follows:

Rodrigues-Barkov-Reinhart
Verhaeghe-Bennett-Tkachuk
Luostarinen-Lundell-Cousins
Gadjovich-Stenlund-Lomberg

Forsling-Ekblad
Mikkola-Montour
Ekman-Larsson-Kulikov

Bobrovsky 

Pittsburgh’s starting lineup will likely be as follows:

Guentzel-Crosby-Smith 
O’Connor-Malkin-Rust
Zahorna-Eller-Nylander 
Harkins-Koppanen-Carter

Graves-Letang
Pettersson-Karlsson
Shea-Ludvig 

Jarry

Final Thoughts

The Penguins are struggling. Every aspect of their game could use improvement in one way or another, and they will be in big trouble if they can’t find a way to start winning games consistently. As they keep losing games, each game begins gaining more importance. Tonight’s game is no exception. This game is a must-win situation. 

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

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