The Pittsburgh Penguins head south to warm South Florida for a meeting with the Panthers in Sunrise. They hope to quickly put their effort against the Hurricanes in the past. It wasn’t a pretty scene for the Penguins, as they fell by a score of 4-0 on Tuesday.
That’s usually what happens when there is zero energy on the ice. The loss followed a 3-2 L against the Maple Leafs to give the Pens a small two-game skid. Pittsburgh beat the 1st place Lightning on January 30th, so they’ve been a bit all over the map recently.
That’s truly been the story of their season, and most notably recently, as they’ve gone 4-6 in their previous ten games. With just a point lead on the Blue Jackets, the Pens are in danger of missing out on the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are currently in possession of the final wildcard in the Eastern Conference. Regardless of their current status, you’re not going to find a team in the conference who wants to play the Penguins in the first-round. Teams would glad to see them on the outside.
No Evgeni Malkin in the starting lineup doesn’t help the Penguins. Malkin is likely to miss his fourth straight game due to an upper-body injury against the Lightning. His absence is a big hole that isn’t easily replaceable. Getting Justin Schultz back on the blue line should help immediately.
He is travelling with the team on this road trip and is expected to play at some point. A healthy Schultz and Malkin, at a minimum, likely results in a comfortable playoff berth. Casey DeSmith is expected to be in net for the Penguins, while Luongo counters for the Panthers. Head below for our free Penguins vs. Panthers pick.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Florida Panthers Pick
This is a rematch from a matchup on January 8th in Pittsburgh. The Panthers didn’t pose much of a challenge for the Penguins, as the home team enjoyed a comfortable 5-1 win. Luongo had an off night, as he allowed 4 goals on just 16 shots for a 0.75 save percentage. He has had pretty good success against most teams in the league, but the Penguins have been a different story.
Luongo owns a pedestrian GAA of 3.02 and 0.90 save percentage against Pittsburgh in his career. There are only two other teams that have tagged Luongo for a GAA above 3.00, the Ducks and Rangers. He owns a 3.17 GAA and 0.895 save percentage entering Thursday.
Luongo’s below average history against the Pens falls in line with the Panthers’ history against the Penguins. Pittsburgh has won six of the last seven meetings, and they have a record of 23-8 over the Panthers in their previous 31 games. The goals for and goals against are nearly identical, with the Penguins scoring 3.43 goals per game while the Panthers have given up 3.41 per game.
I think this pick goes beyond statistics, though. The Penguins are coming off a lazy performance against the Hurricanes, as they had to accept a 4-0 loss. Conversely, the Panthers have won four of their last five games, which includes wins over Vegas, Toronto, Nashville, and San Jose, all quality victories. Motivation is likely to be with the Penguins in this one after such a poor effort. Meanwhile, I don’t see how the Panthers keep this going against better teams. They are a decent team, but it’s hard to envision them sustaining this. I’d go with the Penguins for a unit at an affordable price on Thursday.