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Cats & Coffee: Panthers play two before All-Star Weekend

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.

The Florida Panthers will play just two games this week before their superstar center, Aleksander Barkov, heads to Tampa for the weekend to compete in the 2018 NHL All-Star Game.

The Panthers (19-20-6) enter the week coming off a tough 4-3 loss in Nashville on Saturday in which Florida outshot the Predators by a wide margin of 40-29.

"We did a lot of good things," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said after the game. "It was, just kind of, lost it there for however many minutes. It was a gutty effort out of our group. I thought we played hard… I thought we did a lot more positive than negative."

The Panthers will look to keep that positivity going against a pair of very tough opponents this week in the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals. The Stars have suffered just four losses since Dec. 21 (9-3-1), while the Capitals currently sit atop the Metropolitan Division.

Florida has won two of its last four games.

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

THE GAMES

Tuesday: at Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m.

The Panthers will close out their two-game road trip against the Stars (27-17-4) at American Airlines Center on Tuesday. Florida previously defeated Dallas, 4-3, in a shootout at BB&T Center on Nov. 14. In that game, Jonathan Huberdeau led the way with two goals for the Panthers, who enter the week with just two wins in their last seven games. The Stars, meanwhile, have won five of their last seven, including a 7-1 drubbing of the lowly Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday. Heading into their final matchup of the regular season, look for Huberdeau to be the spark that ignites Florida's offense yet again, as the 24-year-old winger is currently riding an impressive seven-game point streak, registering 10 points (3-7-10) in that span. Looking to keep Huberdeau off of the scoresheet, however, will be Ben Bishop. The Stars goaltender has been nearly unbeatable as of late, owning a 6-3-1 record with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage over his last 10 starts.

Panthers vs. Stars: 1-0-0

TV: FSF

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

Thursday: Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m.

The Panthers will return home for one game before heading into the All-Star break, hosting the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals (28-15-5) at BB&T Center on Thursday. In their first meeting of the season, James Reimer made 41 saves to lead Florida to a 4-1 victory over the Capitals in Washington on Oct. 21. Alexander Ovechkin leads both the Capitals and the entire NHL with 29 goals this season, with nine of them coming on the power play. As it was in their first meeting, Reimer will likely be called upon once again to slow down Washington's offense, which averages just under three goals per game. Since starter Roberto Luongo was knocked out of the lineup with a lower-body injury on Dec. 4, Reimer has started 17 of 18 games for the Panthers, posting a 9-6-2 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

Panthers vs. Capitals: 1-0-0

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 two points away from his 200th NHL point.

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

- Aleksander Barkov is four games away from his 300th NHL game.

BARKY ON THE BIG STAGE

The most talented Cat in South Florida is about to be let of the bag.

Aleskander Barkov will represent the Panthers at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa on Sunday, Jan. 28 - the first of what will likely be many selections down the road for the 22-year-old superstar center.

"It feels great," Barkov said of the honor. "I'm happy to be there. I'm happy to be invited to such a great happening. I feel really, really proud. I think it's going to be nice. It's my first time [as an All-Star], but I've been watching it every year on the TV, especially when I came here."

In the midst of the best season of his career, Barkov has tallied 43 points in 44 games. His 15 goals are third on the Panthers, trailing Vincent Trocheck (18) and Jonathan Huberdeau (16). He's registered three points in two of his last four games played and is on pace to approach 80 point this season, which would greatly surpass the career-high 59 he posted in 2015-16. "It's about time that he kind of gets the recognition he deserves," Trocheck said. "I think he's kind of been hurt every year that he's had a chance to go. Obviously if he'd been healthy the last five years he would have been there. It's nice to see him finally get that nod and hopefully he enjoys it."

Barkov will also participate in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday, Jan. 27, where fans can likely expect to see a few of his usual fireworks in the shootout.

Stay tuned to @FlaPanthers on Twitter to follow Barkov's big weekend.

JR. PANTHERS SHINE

Barkov won't be on the only one in a Panthers jersey at All-Star Weekend.

Jr. Panthers William Anderson, age 9, and Zachary Shield are, age 10, are also heading to Tampa after winning the first-annual Mini 1-on-1 Tournament at BB&T Center on Dec. 5.

The Mini 1-on-1 is an NHL-sponsored Squirt (10U) shootout tournament. Each year, clubs from around the league host their own qualifying rounds to determine who will represent them in the final competition at NHL All-Star Weekend.

The Panthers previously hosted qualifying rounds for Squirt travel teams at each of the six local ice rinks in South Florida, with the top goaltender-shooter tandem from each rink earning an invitation to compete in the finals in Sunrise.

In the end, Anderson and Shield beat five other teams to earn the right to compete against the best two-man teams in the country at Amalie Arena.

"I think it's a great way to honor kids in this market," said John Colombo, the director of community relations for the Panthers. "It gives us a chance to do something special. It's about growing the game, which is a priority for this organization. For us, the key is to be able to open something up to all of our rinks, grow hockey in South Florida and to put one of our kids on the national stage."

Good luck, Will and Zach!

BEER NIGHT IS BACK

Look out - $5 beer night is back at BB&T Center!

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: $5 Beer Thursdays starts THIS Thursday as the #FlaPanthers host the Washington Capitals @thebbtcenter! C'mon out and join us!�� https://t.co/gS2ObUrDFg pic.twitter.com/07GwrF26Ja

CATS IN THE COMMUNITY

Tweet from @denisemede: Shout out to the Florida Panthers for hosting PBCSD Phys. Ed. Ts PD on Floorball. @FlaPanthers @DianaFedderman @ericsternPE @pbcsd #treatedlikeroyalty pic.twitter.com/YAyByIxoDc

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: .@Caldwell16 received a special gift tonight from @browardsheriff! pic.twitter.com/Ro5iZDHsfQ

Tweet from @BrowardHealth: It���s always fun when @StanleyCPanther from the @FlaPanthers visits the patients at Salah Foundation Children���s Hospital! #welovestanley pic.twitter.com/9OAgFMu02r

SUITE SWEEPSTAKES

Want 16 suite tickets to watch the Panthers battle the Predators at BB&T Center on Tuesday, April 3rd?

Enter the Community Coffee "Score a Suite Sweepstakes" from now until Feb. 28 for your chance to win!

You can learn more HERE.

COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)

- In celebrating the contributions of their founder and original owner H. Wayne Huizenga on Friday night, the Panthers managed to bridge the gap between the franchise's past and present, reflecting on the first 25 years of the organization while also looking ahead to the future

- Roberto Luongo has "turned a corner" in his rehab from a lower-body injury

- Florida's AHL affiliate in Springfield is red hot

- The Panthers recently teamed up with the Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL and NHLPA to build homes with Habitat for Humanity in the Hurricane-ravaged city of Immokalee, Florida

- Are you ready to #FollowTheHunt

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