Key Observations Heading Into Game 6 Between the Panthers and Penguins

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The Pittsburgh Penguins (2-3) will host the Florida Panthers (3-2) tonight in their fourth game of a five-game homestand. Whenever Jaromir Jagr is in town, he is always one of the main story lines. Fortunately, he will be in the lineup for the Panthers tonight and will likely play on the first line. At age 43, Jagr leads the Panthers in goals (4) and points (7). Even though we’re only through five games, that is still amazing. Jagr is taking advantage of a great opportunity playing alongside talented youngsters Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Some people will never forgive Jagr for what he has done in the past, but it will always be a treat for me to watch this man play the game of hockey. He’s a true legend and will always be one of the best players to ever wear the Penguins jersey.

After two straight victories, the Penguins are hoping to even their record to .500 with a win tonight. The offense still hasn’t been great, but the defense and goaltending has held the fort so far. Forward Daniel Sprong will miss tonight’s game as a result of a work-visa issue, which won’t help the offense. Therefore, Pittsburgh’s bottom-six will now consist of four players who don’t have much NHL experience in Bryan Rust, Sergei Plotnikov, Kevin Porter and Bobby Farnham. There will not be any changes made to the top-six, but the struggling power play did see some tweaks in today’s skate. Patric Hornqvist was demoted to the second unit in favor of Chris Kunitz for some reason. While Hornqvist has only recorded one point this season, he still deserves to be on the top unit since he is the Penguins’ best net-front guy. Kunitz has been on the decline in the past couple seasons and just doesn’t look like a top-six winger anymore. Although the change has some people confused, it appears Mike Johnston is willing to try anything to get this power play its first goal with the man advantage this season. Phil Kessel moved to the rover position in the high slot with Evgeni Malkin at the left half wall and Sidney Crosby on the right half wall. It’s definitely a big adjustment, but we will see if it pays off tonight. It appears Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal once again for Pittsburgh.

While everyone is talking about Jagr, don’t forget about all of the talent this Panthers team has. Barkov, Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Pirri, Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad are all extremely young and skilled. They also have a good group of veterans including Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Jussi Jokinen, Brian Campbell and Dave Bolland. As the top line center, Barkov is off to a tremendous start, notching three goals and three assists in the team’s first five games. He also leads the team in shots with 17 on the season. While they may be inexperienced, this is a very dangerous team and the Penguins cannot take them lightly. Without Sprong, it will be tough for Pittsburgh’s bottom-six to generate offense. Therefore, Crosby, Malkin and Kessel need to take over tonight. A goal on the power play would be a nice start.

Projected Lineups:

PITTSBURGH

Kunitz-Crosby-Kessel
Perron-Malkin-Hornqvist
Plotnikov-Bonino-Rust
Porter-Cullen-Farnham

Cole-Letang
Maatta-Scuderi
Dumoulin-Lovejoy

Fleury

FLORIDA

Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr
Pirri-Bjugstad-Smith
Jokinen-Bolland-Trocheck
Howden-MacKenzie-Brickley

Campbell-Ekblad
Mitchell-Gudbranson
Kulikov-Petrovic

Luongo