The Penguins hit the road for their first road trip of the 2013-14 season beginning with tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
A win tonight would allow the Penguins to start the season 4-0 for the first time since going 7-0 in 1994-95.
The biggest news coming out of the game tonight will be the NHL debut for the goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who has taken the roster sport of Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun has been out for the season so far due to a blood clot (3-5 months out).
The 26-year-old goaltender has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. He didn’t get it in four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings organization behind Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier.
Zatkoff wasn’t sure if he would get it in Pittsburgh due to him being ranked third on the depth chart behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun.
The young goalie’s last NHL action was during the September 23rd game where he led the Penguins to a 3-2 shootout victory against the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks.
The other blooming goaltender that will be featured in the game is Jacob Markstrom, the 23-year-old Swede who has struggled this season (3.93 GAA, .855 save percentage).
The Penguins-Panthers game will sure to be one to watch, so here are some of the predictions that I have for tonight’s game at the BB&T Center.
Score Prediction: Penguins 4 – Panthers 3
There are a few reasons why I think the Penguins will win and why it will be so close.
1. Pittsburgh has won 12 of the last 15 meetings with the Panthers (80%).
2. The Penguins have tallied power-play goals in three straight games against Florida (3-for-12, 25%).
3. Tonight the Penguins play the front end of their first set of back-to-back games this season. Last season the Penguins faced 14 back-to-backs, posting an 5-2 record in the first games of those back-to-back contests.
4. Jacob Markstrom, the starting goaltender for the Panthers tonight, has only finished 1 of the 3 games he has started. In those three games, he has given up a total of 8 goals.
5. The game will be close due to the first start for Jeff Zatkoff in his young career. While he did perform well for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season, I think he will have some trouble against the Panthers.
6. The Panthers are coming off a 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. Florida will have trouble mustering some production in the first period, which favors the quick-starting Penguins.
Offensive Player of the Game: Penguins – Evgeni Malkin
The All-Star center Evgeni Malkin has only mustered up 2 assists so far this regular season. “Geno” will be looking for his first goal of the season on the road against the Panthers.
Throughout Malkin’s 22 games against the Panthers in his career, he has been very successful on the offensive side of the ice. The talented center has 20 points (5 G, 15 A) and a +2 rating against Florida.
As mentioned before in this article, the Penguins have been extremely successful on the power-play against the Panthers. Malkin, in his career against the opposition, has 8 power-play points (2 G, 6A).
Look for “Geno” to get back on his game tonight, especially when the Panthers are a man down!
Defensive Player of the Game: Panthers – Brian Campbell
The two-way defenseman Brian Campbell has been one of the few bright spots for the Florida Panthers through the first four games of the season.
So far, Campbell has four assists and is one of the only players on the team to not be in the minus rating.
Last season, Brian Campbell had the most success against Pittsburgh Penguins. In three regular season games against the Pens, Campbell garnered 5 points (1 G, 4 A). 3 of those 5 points were when the Panthers were a man up on the Penguins.
It is safe to say that the veteran defenseman will provide his elite shutdown abilities, as well as producing some offense.
Time: 7:30 pm
Television: RDS2 and Root Sports
Be sure to take some time out of your Friday night to watch some of the Penguins game! Tell me what you think about my predictions in the comments.