PITTSBURGH — Mike Hoffman had a goal and an assist, rookie Chris Driedger stopped 31 shots and the Florida Panthers ended an eight-game losing streak on Pittsburgh ice with a 4-1 victory over the Penguins on Sunday night.
Brett Connolly scored his 16th of the season for the Panthers, Frank Vatrano had his ninth and Evgenii Dadonov added an empty-netter for his 18th. Florida bounced back from a loss to Buffalo on Saturday by winning in Pittsburgh for the first time since Jan. 20, 2014.
Jared McCann scored his 11th for Pittsburgh. Tristan Jarry finished with 31 saves, but the Penguins looked out of gas at times while playing for the third time in four nights.
Pittsburgh reached the season’s halfway point with the NHL’s fourth-best record following an overtime victory in Montreal on Saturday night, heady territory for a club that’s been riddled with injuries since opening night and spent the last two months playing without captain Sidney Crosby. Their formula during the first 41 games has been remarkably simple: avoid major mistakes, play smart in front Jarry and Matt Murray and take care of business at PPG Paints Arena.
Pittsburgh arrived at work Sunday with an NHL-high 16 home victories thanks in large part to stellar play from Jarry, who leads the NHL in save percentage and goals-against average and entered Sunday unbeaten in regulation in his last seven home starts.
Yet a sluggish opening period less than 24 hours removed from a quick trip to Canada cost Pittsburgh. Vatrano chased down a lead pass from Hoffman then raced around Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang — one of the fastest skaters in the league — and jammed the puck by Jarry to give the Panthers the lead just 2:28 into the game.
McCann tied it 1:24 later thanks to some excellent work by linemate Dominik Simon. Simon skated through the neutral zone, drew two Panthers and passed to McCann, who ripped one by Driedger to pull the Penguins even.
Yet Pittsburgh isn’t the only pleasant surprise during the NHL’s first half. The Panthers are in the mix in the Atlantic Division under new coach Joel Quenneville behind a potent offence that ranks fourth in the league in goals. Florida can skate and score, and Connolly put the Panthers in front 10:44 into the first when Trochek — working behind the net — found Connolly in the slot. Connolly flicked it past Jarry’s outstretched glove and the Panthers had momentum.
And for the first time in a long time for Florida in Pittsburgh, the Panthers didn’t give it back. Though Jarry settled down and at times single-handedly kept the Penguins in the game with some timely stops, Driedger was every bit his match. Jarry made a sprawling stick save on Aaron Ekblad early in the second and Driedger matched it with a terrific blocker save on Simon at the end of a two-on-one.
Hoffman gave the Panthers a two-goal advantage 8:52 into the third with a shot that zipped over Jarry’s shoulder. Driedger and the defence did the rest to give Florida just its second victory in Pittsburgh since 2009.
Pittsburgh went 0 for 3 on the power-play and has gone four straight games without a goal when given the man advantage. Florida went 0 for 1 on the power play. … Penguins C Evgeni Malkin was held without a point and remains one assist shy of tying Jaromir Jagr for third on the franchise’s career assist list (640). … Pittsburgh dropped to 15-6-4 without Crosby, who is nearing a return from abdominal surgery. … Florida scratched C Brian Boyle and Ds Mark Pysyk and MacKenzie Weegar. Pittsburgh scratched D Kevin Czuczman and C Sam Lafferty.
Panthers: Start a four-game homestand on Tuesday night against Arizona.
Penguins: Begin a three-game western swing Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press