Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers wary of Penguins’ stars other than slumping Sidney Crosby

Florida Panthers’ Brian Campbell (51) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (87) during a game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.
Florida Panthers’ Brian Campbell (51) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (87) during a game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. AP

When one of the top players in the NHL has yet to record a single point five games into the season, everyone takes notice.

Yet the Panthers say they’re not focused on Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby breaking out of his slump against them Tuesday night at the Consol Center.

“We’re not focused on that because we’re focused on us,’’ Florida captain and shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell said Monday before the Panthers took off for the Steel City.

“If you focus on individual players, you are chasing the game. We know what it takes for the Panthers to be a good team and it starts in playing good defense.”

You can’t try to shut down one guy and then sit back and play on your heels because that’s when [others] take over.

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Erik Gudbranson echoed his defensive partner and said the Panthers know the Penguins are a good offensive team and are preparing for all of their weapons.

“They can put goals in the back of the net and you don’t want to get into a slugfest with them,’’ said Gudbranson, who, along with Mitchell, will be seeing plenty of Crosby on Tuesday night.

“Sidney is one of, if not the, best players in the league and in the world. You have to know when he’s out there and know what he’s capable of doing.”

Crosby, who has scored 302 goals with 853 points in 632 NHL games since joining the league in 2005, has never gone this long without a point.

“We’ve talked about it and that cannot be a focus of ours,” said Panthers center Vincent Trocheck, a Pittsburgh native. “You can’t try to shut down one guy and then sit back and play on your heels because that’s when [others] take over.”

On Sunday, Crosby told reporters in Pittsburgh that the Penguins winning their past two (over Ottawa and Toronto) after starting 0-3 has helped ease the scoresheet shutouts.

“It’s much easier,” Crosby said. “Obviously you want to score, want to produce, but when you’re winning it’s a little easier to go through for sure.”

Last year, the Panthers were pretty good at slowing the league’s top scorers, with Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin both scoring once in three games against Florida.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin scored three in his three games against the Panthers.

Florida hopes to replicate that kind of defensive success this week as they visit three cities filled with scoring stars in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Dallas.

On Saturday night, Dallas’ Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn did all the damage by scoring four goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win at BB&T Center.

“We are playing some top players so we have to play them hard and play them well,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s usually the teams that beat you, but you have to pay attention to those top players.”

▪ Jaromir Jagr didn’t practice with the team Monday after doing his own extensive workout before the Panthers took the ice.

Fourth-line winger Shawn Thornton put on the red jersey and took Jagr’s spot on the top line if only temporarily.

“It’s about time they gave this to me,” Thornton joked.

Tuesday: Panthers at Penguins

When, where: 7 p.m., Consol Center, Pittsburgh.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM (560 AM), WMEN (640 AM), 97.7 FM.

Series: Pittsburgh leads 43-35-4.

Scouting report: The Panthers lost both games in Pittsburgh last season by a combined 8-2. This is Florida’s lone visit to Pittsburgh this season.

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