Published on February 26th, 2013 | by James Conley0
Penguins Look to Continue Road Dominance in Florida (Preview)
Pittsburgh begins a three-game road trip Tuesday. For the second straight game, they’ll face a Southeast Division opponent without star center Evgeni Malkin, who has been placed on injured reserve as the team monitors his concussion symptoms.
The Penguins (13-6-0, 26 points) have won five of their last six and lead the Atlantic Division, while last year’s Southeast champion Panthers (5-9-4, 14 points) have just two wins in their last ten games and are battling to stay out of the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference cellars.
Sidney Crosby and the Pens will play their next two against Southeast opponents, a division against which they’ve won five out of six matches so far.
Tomas Vokoun will get the start against his former team. Vokoun is 3-3-0 for the Penguins this season and will be looking to atone for his six-goal performance against the Flyers last Wednesday.
Vokoun, whose family still lives in Florida, played for the Panthers from 2007-11. Vokoun recorded 101 wins for the Panthers in his four seasons there, often backstopping the otherwise uncompetitive Panthers roster to the few wins they were able to find.
“My family lives [in Florida],” Vokoun said following Tuesday’s pregame skate. “It’s special because after almost two months I got to see my kids. That was great.”
“It feels like going to an off-season home.”
Vokoun will be looking for his first win since February 3 against the Washington Capitals.
Tuesday’s game will feature more than one reunion. Although he won’t be playing per Dan Bylsma, newly reacquired defenseman Mark Eaton is back with the Penguins for the first time since 2009-10. Eaton signed a one-year deal on Monday, temporarily taking Malkin’s roster spot as Malkin sits on IR with concussion symptoms.
Eaton’s signing now gives the Penguins eight defensemen on the NHL roster. Unless Simon Despres is sent back to Wilkes-Barre at some point (his is the only waiver ineligible contract amongst Penguins defensemen), the Pens could look to make another roster move when Malkin is ready to return from IR.
In Eaton, the Penguins will have at least one veteran defenseman in their third pairing. The group was a sore spot in last year’s playoffs, as Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy were tormented by Flyers forwards in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Otherwise, Pittsburgh’s top-four defense have been stellar.
Paul Martin’s renaissance season continues. Martin has six points (2-4) in his last five games and continues to average around 25:00 TOI per game. In addition, he and Kris Letang have become the point men on the Pens’ top power play unit in Malkin’s absence.
Pittsburgh’s power play has scored a goal in eleven consecutive games, including going 1-for-4 in last Friday’s match against the Panthers.
They should be able extend the streak to twelve, as their third-ranked power play (28.0 percent) will face off against the NHL’s second-worst PK unit in the Panthers (73.4 percent).
The Panthers are also dead last in goals against (3.6 per game), a number which does not match up favorably with the Penguins’ second-ranked offense (3.4 goals per game).
The new first line of Chris Kunitz, Crosby and James Neal combined for five points in Sunday’s win against the Lightning. They’ll look to continue carrying the offense in Malkin’s absence Tuesday, with the potential of bringing Pittsburgh’s East-best road record to 9-2-0.
Quotes/Audio courtesy Pittsburgh Penguins