Penguins try to snap four-game skid, sweep Panthers
PENGUINS (26-15-1) at PANTHERS (16-18-7)
Pittsburgh 5-5-0; Florida 5-4-1
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Pittsburgh has won the previous three by identical 3-2 scores, either in overtime or a shootout. As a result, Florida has gained a point from each game, but the Panthers will be seeking their first victory against the Penguins since April 5, 2009.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have hit a rough patch, dropping four consecutive games and five of their last six, all in regulation. That includes a pair of losses to New Jersey, which has opened up a four-point lead in the Atlantic Division. This is Pittsburgh's second game in the state of Florida in 24 hours and concludes a four-game road trip.
After erupting for eight goals in its last win, Dec. 23 against Ottawa, Pittsburgh has scored only seven during its current losing streak. The Penguins were shut out for the second straight time facing Martin Brodeur and the Devils, 2-0 on Wednesday, then lost in Tampa Bay by a 3-1 score on Saturday. Bill Guerin's first-period goal tied the game temporarily but was all Lightning goalie Mike Smith would surrender.
"There's no real excuses," captain Sidney Crosby
said. "We're not executing and we're paying the price for it. We've got a group who's got a lot of character and pride in their game, but our focus has got to be on executing."
This is the first game for Florida since a 5-4 loss to Montreal on New Year's Eve, its third in a row. The Panthers shot themselves in the foot with a pair of penalties for delay of game after Nathan Horton and Jordan Leopold put pucks over the glass. They came 13 seconds apart bridging the second and third periods, and Marc-Andre Bergeron took advantage of the ensuing 5-on-3 by scoring the go-ahead goal.
"It was suicide," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We put ourselves in that position and we paid for it. You can't shoot yourself in the foot like that and win too many games."
Guerin has four goals, three assists and 23 shots on goal in the Penguins' last five games. Backup goalie Brent Johnson
, who could start Sunday, has stopped 74 of 77 shots for a .961 save percentage in his last three appearances. … Michael Frolik has two goals and three assists for the Panthers in his last five games.
Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar bruised his right foot blocking a shot against New Jersey and didn't play Saturday. … Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov has missed the last two weeks with a knee injury, while forwards David Booth (concussion) and Kenndal McArdle (shoulder/arm) remain on injured reserve.
The Penguins also had a four-game losing streak in November and responded by winning five of their next six and 14 of 19. … Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun picked up his second assist of the season against the Canadiens.
"The urgency level now should be there if it has not been," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday. "And maybe it hasn't been, looking at our record over the last few games."