Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Florida Panthers Pick & Prediction JANUARY 26th 2024

The Pittsburgh Penguins might feel as though they are at a crossroads heading into their home game against the Florida Panthers on Friday. After all, it seems that every time the Penguins make some strides toward getting into a postseason spot and playing at a level consistent with their perceived talent and star power, they take an awkward step back. This time, Pittsburgh dispatched the red-hot Seattle Kraken 3-0 on Jan. 15 with a sharp all-around game. The Penguins followed that with back-to-back gut-check losses on a trip west. They squandered a two-goal lead in the third period in a 3-2 loss versus the Vegas Golden Knights, then fumbled their way to a 5-2 loss against the Arizona Coyotes that included an own goal. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called the latter game “demoralizing,” but also remained steadfast in defending his team. “I’m not discouraged,” Sullivan said. “I believe in this group. I think we’ve got good players. Obviously, we’re disappointed with the last four periods. We recognize that it’s not our best. But I don’t think ‘discouraged’ is a word that should enter our dressing room. I just think we’ve got to get more determined. “We have to dust ourselves off. Get back and fight.” The Penguins have lost two straight games in regulation for the first time since Dec. 6 and 8. They have lost three regulation games in a row just once this season (Oct. 18-24). Now Pittsburgh faces back-to-back home games — Montreal visits Saturday — before a bye week and the All-Star break. “We have to make sure that we set the tone early in the games,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who was involved in the own goal. “Our team plays our best game when we start hard and play a north-south game, simple game, not a wait-and-see kind of game. So, we have two games to do that.” Florida, while solidly in contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, also endured a recent rough stretch. The Panthers lost four in a row (0-2-2) before righting the ship with decisive wins against Nashville and Arizona. Florida scored the first six goals in a 6-2 win on Wednesday over the Coyotes, who were coming off that victory against Pittsburgh. “I don’t think we were playing necessarily that bad, but when the losses start to mount you start to press a little bit and grip your stick,” Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues said. “It was nice to … get back on track.” In Wednesday’s win, Sam Reinhart had a goal and an assist to stretch his point streak to 11 games. He has 12 goals and 16 points during the streak. Ten Panthers had at least one point against the Coyotes. “We have a very deep team, and our team relies on that depth,” said Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk, who had two goals and an assist against Arizona. “I am proud of everyone’s effort. We had a lot from a lot of lines. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.” Also in the game against Arizona, the Panthers got back captain Aleksander Barkov (lower-body injury), who had missed four games, and defenseman Gustav Forsling (birth of a child). Barkov notched an assist and Forsling had two. –Field Level Media

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