The Florida Panthers’ hopes of staying atop the Atlantic Division are appearing tenuous with their recent struggles.
Coming off one of their most lopsided defeats of the season, the Panthers look to avoid a fifth loss in six games Monday night when they face the team that started them on their cold stretch, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Florida (32-18-6) dropped to 1-3-1 in its last five with Saturday’s 5-0 drubbing to visiting Nashville. The Predators scored two goals in the opening nine minutes as the Panthers gave up at least four for a third straight contest.
"Our team has been pathetic the last couple of games," coach Gerard Gallant said. "It’s a tough spot but men get through it and you battle back. It’s two losses in a row that we were no good. We’re going to play another real good team in Pittsburgh. We’ll see what we’re made of."
The Panthers have lost 3-2 in overtime in both matchups with the Penguins this season, with a Feb. 6 defeat ending a five-game win streak. Florida allowed two goals in the final 5:05 of regulation on its own ice.
Aleksander Barkov scored a short-handed goal in the third period but is currently among the Panthers’ injured players. Barkov, who has an upper-body ailment, has joined Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell on IR.
Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury when he was hit by Nashville’s Anthony Bitetto, and Brandon Pirri hurt his ankle Saturday.
"Guys have to step up and find ways. It doesn’t matter who is in our lineup. We shouldn’t be giving up five goals," defenseman Brian Campbell said.
Evgeni Malkin (lower body) is among the missing for the Penguins (28-19-7), but they registered back-to-back road wins for the first time since November with a 2-1 shootout victory against Carolina on Friday.
"We’d like to play better. I don’t think we had great jump, but sometimes you have nights like that on the road," center Matt Cullen said. "We just need to find ways to get two points. It’s a huge win and a gutsy win and we’ll take it."
Pittsburgh has won seven of nine overall, and is close to getting back into playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves against Florida in October, improving to 10-1-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average in his last 12 starts in the series.
Backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff stopped 42 shots in last weekend’s matchup.
Panthers netminder Roberto Luongo is 1-2-4 with a 2.92 GAA in his past seven versus Pittsburgh, and backup Al Montoya has fared worse, posting a 5.04 GAA in losing his last three matchups.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has three goals and seven assists while leading his team to a 4-0-1 mark in its last five versus the Panthers. Kris Letang had two goals, including the overtime winner, and an assist against Florida last weekend.