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Cats & Coffee: Panthers Host Vegas; Huizenga Night

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment presented by Community Coffee in which we get you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.

With 39 games left to play in the 2017-18 season, the Florida Panthers enter this week enjoying their last elongated break before a frantic push toward the playoffs consumes the organization until early April.

"We demand a lot of these guys and it's been pretty intense around here for a while," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said heading into the break. "It's draining when you're in a race like this and every point's huge and every point matters. I think that they can just forget about it for a few days."

The Panthers (18-19-6) entered their league-mandated bye week after a tough 4-2 loss to Calgary on Friday, a game in which they finished with a lopsided 43-29 shot advantage. Florida has registered at least 36 shots on goal in each of its last four games, but is just 1-2-1 during that span.

With back-to-back games against Las Vegas and Nashville awaiting them upon their return from the break, players like veteran defenseman Keith Yandle know the Panthers have little room for error and will need to hit the ground running.

"We've got to realize that we're in the thick of things," Yandle said. "With the backend of our schedule here now, we've got to play a lot of meaningful hockey and we've got to play well. We've got to play well the rest of the way out."

Here's everything you need to know for the week ahead…

THE GAMES

Friday: Las Vegas Golden Knights, 7:30 p.m.

The Panthers will return from the bye week to host the Golden Knights (29-10-3) at BB&T Center on Friday. The Knights, who are a league-best 18-2-2 at home this season, defeated the Panthers 5-2 in Las Vegas on Dec. 17. But away from Sin City, the Knights have proven to be quite a bit more vulnerable, posting a pedestrian 11-8-1 record on the road. With home-ice advantage now on their side, Florida will need to stifle Vegas' third-ranked offense (3.40 goals per game), which is led by former Panthers forwards Jonathan Marchessault (41 points) and Reilly Smith (36 points). In the first game coming out of the break, a well-rested James Reimer will likely make his 17th consecutive start in net for the Panthers. Since starter Roberto Luongo went down with a lower-body injury on Dec. 4, Reimer is 8-6-2 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

Panthers vs. Knights: 0-1-0

TV: FSF

Radio: 560 WQAM (DADE/BROWARD); 640 WMEN (PALM BEACH); 100.3 WCTH (FLORIDA KEYS); 1370 WAXE (TREASURE COAST)

Saturday: at Nashville Predators, 8:00 p.m.

The Panthers will kick off a brief two-game road trip against the Predators (25-11-6) at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday. Nashville enters the week riding a two-game winning streak, including a 2-1 win against Edmonton on Tuesday. Led by defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, as well as goaltender Pekka Rinne, the Predators enter the week boasting the league's fourth-best defense, allowing 2.62 goals per game on average. Looking to crack that defense will be Florida's trio of talented forwards - Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau - who have combined for 20 points (8-12-20) over their past five games. Of the three, however, Huberdeau might be the most likely to light the lamp, as the 24-year-old winger has scored seven goals in his past nine games.

Panthers vs. Predators in 2016-17: 2-0-0

TV: FSF

Radio: 560 WQAM (DADE/BROWARD); 640 WMEN (PALM BEACH); 100.3 WCTH (FLORIDA KEYS); 1370 WAXE (TREASURE COAST)

MILESTONE WATCH

- Jamie McGinn is three points away from his 200th NHL point.

- Colton Sceviour is three points away from his 100th NHL point.

HUIZENGA NIGHT

On the 25th anniversary of the club's inauguration as an NHL franchise, the Panthers will permanently retire number 37 in honor of franchise founder H. Wayne Huizenga during a special pre-game ceremony on Friday.

"If you look at the history of our franchise, it's clear that the founding years and H. Wayne Huizenga's stewardship represents a golden era for our club," Panthers owner and governor Vincent Viola said in a release. "We aspire to his example, both on the ice and in the community, which is why we're honored to hang the number 37 from BB&T Center's rafters as a permanent tribute to H. Wayne Huizenga and the Huizenga family's community leadership and high standard of excellence."

Prior to the ceremony, there will be a reception for all current and past Community Champions Grant Program recipients in the Chairman's Club at BB&T Center.

The Community Champions Grant Program represents a $5 million commitment over five years from the Florida Panthers foundation, in support of not-for-profit organizations focused on helping the local community. The Marti Huizenga Boys & Girls Club of Broward County will be recognized as a Community Champion later that night.

With members of the team's past and present together in one room, this is certainly one event that you don't want to miss. Visit FloridaPanthers.com/TicketCentral to purchase tickets.

CIRQUE DU STANLEY

In preparation for the fourth annual NHL Mascot Showdown at the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa, Stanley C. Panther reached out to his special friends at Cirque du Soleil for some help him out with some advanced training.

From gymnastics to jump rope, the incredibly talented performers of Cirque du Soleil's "VOLTA" definitely whipped South Florida's favorite feline into shape.

After his training was over, Stanley and the Roar Corps snapped photos with the show's patrons before the captivating stylings of "VOLTA", a show overflowing with dancing, tumbling, BMX riding and much more, kicked off under the Big Top.

Tweet from @Cirque: .@StanleyCPanther expanded the @FlaPanthers Territory to our #BigTopCirque last night in #Miami! And of course, he learned new skills the #CirqueWay with #VOLTA's artists! pic.twitter.com/r0iart7d78

A mini-version of the NHL All-Star Game, the Mascot Showdown will take place during the NHL All-Star Pre-Game, which runs from Friday, Jan. 26 through Sunday, Jan. 28 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. But thanks to a little help from Cirque du Soleil, Stanley believes he'll have the upper hand - or paw - on the competition.

"VOLTA" will run outside of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens until Feb. 4.

CATS IN THE COMMUNITY

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: Our @PanthersIceDen #LearnToPlay class is hard at work this morning! �� pic.twitter.com/Wkg7y8vIoF

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: We welcome @browardschools teachers & staff today for a special floorball training �� pic.twitter.com/4wdPib2tYu

Tweet from @StanleyCPanther: My man Viktor is out at #StepsForLife to show his support. (And to working off that cheese) ����#oneterritory pic.twitter.com/5zLJinSuUq

COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)

- After a shaking off a slow start, Panthers GM Dale Tallon believes the team is heading in the right direction with 39 games left to play

- Miss anything from James Reimer's Twitter takeover? Check it out here

- Aleksander Barkov said he was surprised when he heard the news that he would be heading to his first All-Star Game. His teammates, however, weren't shocked at all

- Vincent Trocheck is the "engine of the team" for the Panthers

- Are you ready to #FollowTheHunt

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