TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: 7 p.m.
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PITTSBURGH — Perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins’ confidence is practically built in after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.
On Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins will be facing a club that has boosted its confidence under a first-year coach based on what has happened early in the season.
The Florida Panthers (2-1-0) have scored 13 goals in their first three games, a franchise-record start on offense. They have piled up a whopping 122 shots. Their wins have come against projected contender Tampa Bay and previously undefeated St. Louis. Their loss was against the Lightning.
“We’ve got a lot of depth. It’s a really good team,” said center Vincent Trocheck, who spent his formative years playing hockey in western Pennsylvania and is tied for the Panthers lead with two goals.
“Everybody throughout first through fourth line, first through third pairing on (defense) can put the puck in the back of the net and play first-line minutes.”
In Thursday’s 5-2 win against St. Louis, Florida got goals from five players.
“I think we’re confident with the group we have in the locker room,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said. “We’re still learning our systems and getting better as the games go on. I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg right now for this club. We’re excited about the potential of this team.”
Coach Bob Boughner has not said whether Luongo or James Reimer will start against Pittsburgh (2-2-1), but he expects the Panthers to up their game against yet another strong opponent.
“We have to have more of a 60-minute effort if we want to get a point or two out of them,” Boughner said.
The Penguins are likely to go with No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray after Antti Niemi played in Thursday’s 5-4 loss at Tampa Bay.
Both of Pittsburgh’s regulation losses have come on the road in the second half of back-to-back sets. After the loss to the Lightning, the Penguins overnighted in Tampa and flew home Friday, taking a day off from practice.
That rest could help the Penguins, who in Florida will face a team similar to themselves that relies heavily on speed.
“We want to play as fast as we can,” Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz said. “We’re trying to get the puck up to the forwards as quick as we can and go on offense. That’s our game. That’s how we won the past two years.”
Another key to those titles has been the play of center Evgeni Malkin, who seems to have fallen outside the confines of the club’s overall confidence. He issued a challenge to himself to be more dominant after the loss in Tampa.
Malkin has one goal and four points, but he is scoreless in the past two games.
“I know I can play better, and I will,” Malkin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I need a little bit more time, need more confidence and I’ll be back.
“I need to work every day to be better. It’s a long season, I need to work tomorrow, every day. It’s not easy anymore. It’s tough to play. Other players skate unbelievably. I need to be faster, for sure.”