|Panthers brace for Crosby-, Malkin-led Penguins|
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are kind of like a hockey version of the New England Patriots.
In New England, the supporting cast changes, but as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around, the Patriots will win an impressive amount of division, conference and Super Bowl titles.
In Pittsburgh, the supporting cast changes, but as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are around, the Penguins will win an impressive amount of division, conference and Stanley Cup titles.
Well, Crosby and Malkin are most definitely still around, which could spell trouble again for the Florida Panthers.
On Friday night -- for the second time in one week --Florida (2-3-0) will take on the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (4-2-1).
It figures to be a difficult task for the Panthers, who lost to the Penguins 4-3 on Saturday as part of an empty trip to Pennsylvania that also included a 5-1 failure against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.
The Penguins, after a painfully slow 0-1-1 start that included an embarrassing 10-1 loss at the Chicago Blackhawks, have won four of their past five games.
Pittsburgh beat the New York Rangers 5-4 on Tuesday thanks to Crosby's last-minute goal that sent the game to overtime and Malkin's game-winner in the extra session.
Malkin, who also had three assists in the game, said a fight with Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk got him going.
"A couple of punches and I'm ready to play the next shift," Malkin told Triblive.com. "Sometimes (a fight) gives me a little more push."
Malkin has had plenty of push in his career -- his 12th overtime goal on Tuesday tied the club record set by Mario Lemieux.
The second overall pick in the 2004 draft, Malkin is still only 31. He is a bit removed from his career-best 50-goal season of 2011-12, when he racked up 109 points. However, he is still highly dangerous as he showed last season when he scored 33 goals and compiled 72 points in 62 games. He has two goals and six assists in seven games so far this year.
Crosby, the first overall pick in 2005, is only 30. He had 44 goals last season -- just seven off his career best -- and finished with 89 points in 75 games. He is off to a strong start this year with four goals and five assists in seven games.
The Panthers' best shot at slowing down Crosby and Malkin on Friday appears to be an inanimate object -- the BB&T Center. So far, the Panthers are 2-0-0 at home and 0-3-0 on the road.
Bob Boughner, Florida's rookie head coach, said the problem on the road has been his players straying from the game plan.
"When we go off on our own page," Boughner said, "that's when we have our troubles."
A bright spot in Florida's loss to the Flyers was the play of rookie forward Owen Tippett, the team's 2017 first-round pick.
Tippett had a game-high seven shots on goal while making his NHL debut. He got 11:39 of ice time.
As for the Penguins, they got a boost on Tuesday with the return of defenseman Ian Cole, who missed 10 days after a shot hit him directly in the mouth. Cole, whose father is a dentist, lost three teeth and is now playing with a full face shield.