(AP) — The Florida Panthers have the second-fewest wins in the NHL, but the teams they’ve beaten are playing pretty solid hockey.
That list includes the Pittsburgh Penguins, who seek their third straight victory when these teams meet Saturday night in Florida.
The Panthers (7-14-5) fired coach Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8 following a 3-9-4 start, replacing him on an interim basis with Peter Horachek. They’ve gone 4-5-1 since the coaching change after Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
Only Buffalo has fewer wins than Florida, which got goals from Scottie Upshall and Nick Bjugstad in the third period after giving up the first three of the game.
“It’s tough getting down,” Bjugstad said. “We always show a lot of fight coming back. I think the main thing is just showing the fight before we have to come back. We’ve got room for improvement, but a lot of guys are getting better.”
The Panthers have wins over Minnesota, Anaheim, Colorado and Vancouver – along with ending Philadelphia’s seven-game point streak Monday – but Horachek knows they have a long way to go.
“We weren’t good in certain areas,” Horachek said. “We turned pucks over when we shouldn’t. We didn’t manage when we should. We need second chances, more traffic. We didn’t capitalize when we had to.”
Florida’s best performance under Dineen was a 6-3 home win over the Penguins on Oct. 11. Brad Boyes had two goals and an assist, Tomas Fleischmann had a goal and three assists and No. 2 overall pick Aleksander Barkov had his only multipoint game with a goal and two assists.
Evgeni Malkin scored in that contest for Pittsburgh (17-9-1), which got two goals from Chris Kunitz in Friday’s 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.
Captain Sidney Crosby had three assists.
“(Kunitz) is shooting the puck well,” Crosby said. “He goes to those tough areas. You know what you’re going to get from ‘Kuni’ every night. When he’s shooting it like that he’ll get lots of opportunities and he’s finding the net.”
Malkin assisted on Kunitz’s second goal and has three goals and 10 assists during a seven-game point streak. Crosby has four goals and seven assists over his last seven games, and his second assist Friday was his 700th career point.
“You play to win, but when you get individual things like that you enjoy it for a little bit,” Crosby said. “Ultimately you play to win games. It’s nice we were able to get a win on the same night. Numbers like that are always exciting to be a part of.”
Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves for the shutout after giving up 10 goals in his last three starts. Backup Jeff Zatkoff, who stopped 11 shots after relieving Fleury in the second period of Wednesday’s 6-5 shootout win over Toronto, likely will be in net for this contest.
Zatkoff made his first career start in the earlier meeting with Florida, and he’s 3-2-0 with a 3.18 goals-against average in five appearances and four starts overall.
Tim Thomas, who is 6-8-1 with a 2.75 GAA on the season, could be in net for the Panthers. He’s 2-3-2 with a 3.32 GAA in his last seven against the Penguins.
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