Today’s NHL Predictions features a tilt between the Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Florida needs to assess their keys to victory as the Cats look to add to their recent good play. The Penguins, on the other hand, need to turn the page and get back in the win column. When visiting Sunrise this task will not be easy by any means. Florida snapped a three-game losing streak at home and is now looking to add to a positive streak of their own.

On Friday night an exciting showdown between two teams eager to rack up points will take place. As the Panthers strive to reach the top position in the Atlantic Division, the Penguins objectives are different at the moment. Pittsburgh is sitting at the second-to-last position in the Metropolitan Division. Right now they can only try to stay afloat. Although just two games behind the second place Carolina Hurricanes, the black-and-yellow is yet to find their A-game this season.

However, statistics are often deceiving. No win is assured in the NHL and Florida still has a game to play. In hockey, any bounce can turn the tide. Aside from the basics: playing a full 60 minutes, not shying away from contact, etc. there are plenty of boxes the Cats have to check to win when hosting the Penguins. Here are three keys to victory for the Panthers to secure the two points.

NHL Predictions: Florida Panthers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Three Keys to Victory for Florida

Special Teams Dominance

Although winning the special teams battle is a key factor for any NHL game, for Friday night it will hold a bigger meaning. The Panthers are finally showing consistency when on the man-advantage. Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour‘s return and consolidation on the lineup is a good reason for this. The Penguins penalty kill is a great test for the Cats, as they have the 11th-best PK in the league. The Panthers have found reliable power play weapons in Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart. Both continue to carry the load in the goals production as Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov remain on a low note in that area. Regardless of their point contributions, both superstars are performing at an elite level and are not an issue of concern.

Although the Panthers penalty kill has had its fair share of highs and lows, the next game will hand them a golden opportunity. When facing the Pittsburgh Penguins, the PK will matchup against the third-worst power play league-wise. Nevertheless, that same unit features players such as Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson, and Evgeni Malkin, so one can never take them for granted.

The Panthers last outing against the Dallas Stars had the PK struggling to contend opposing man-advantages. Especially when facing shots from the blue line with traffic in front of the net. To prevent these situations, the focus has to be on limiting the penalties. The Panthers have been too reckless at many times this season and need to play disciplined hockey. And that’s without resigning their hard-nosed and gritty style either.

Top Six forwards Staying Hot

The math is easy: a team’s best players play most of the game. If they play well most of the game tendency would be that team wins. That simple yet undisputed formula is one of the Panthers keys to victories against Pittsburgh. The Panthers top two lines are riding a great streak and continue to take over every game night in and night out. The Rodrigues-Barkov-Reinhart line has nine goals and 12 assists. Meanwhile the Verhaeghe-Bennett-Tkachuk line has added up seven goals and five assists. Perhaps Tkachuk has been the most silent player on this roster, producing at a much lower rate than last season where he finished in the top three for Hart trophy voting. However, Tkachuk has been playing great hockey and his value to this team goes far beyond the stats sheet. It is only a matter of time until he finds the back of the net regularly.

The bottom-six forwards have been good, yet not as deciding as the big names. The Panthers will have to rely on their top guns to take them to victory, as the bottom lines strive for sparks here and there. Sam Reinhart has been the main skater on the Panthers offence and stays red hot as a crease-marauder. He just has a sense for the puck and is currently shooting at remarkable rates. Whenever he shoots the fans anxiously await. They reckon it often blares off the goal siren. Staying hot on the top lines is one of the main keys to victory for the Panthers.

Protect the Front of the Net

On Wednesday night’s triumph over Dallas, the Panthers continuously shot themselves in the foot and fell into their own traps. Although the Panthers had great zone entrances and, overall, good D-zone exits as well they failed to provide Sergei Bobrovsky with opportunities to save shots. Radek Faksa‘s goal was a crystal clear example of that. Two Panthers players were attracted towards the puck behind the net and provided the Czech forward with an unsurpassable chance on the slot. There were other similar occasions in which opposing players reached the goal crease with ease and were it not for Bobrovsky would have scored.

Regardless of who plays in the net, as Paul Maurice is yet to announce, the Cats must provide them with great aid in front of the net. Repel all opposition from setting camp up close, especially when the opposition is wearing number 87. Pittsburgh has in Letang and Karlsson two world-class shooters from the blueline, so contending those chances is a must for the Panthers keys to victory over the team from Pennsylvania.

Prediction Time

This encounter between two Eastern Conference franchises will grant high-scoring chances for both sides and goaltending could decide the winner. Both teams’ power plays will also play a big role and currently the Panthers have the upper hand in that matter. Although Florida enters as bigger favourites it is not wise to think this Pens team will be pushed around. One can expect a momentum-swinging matchup in which depth at every position will be huge. On the Patric Hornqvist tribute game, both teams will put on a show.

Prediction: Florida takes it 5-2.

Main Photo Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

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