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Cats and Coffee: Griffith Feeling Confident

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 are hitting the road for three games this week with the hope that a new-look top line will help the team secure a few much-needed points in what is already shaping up to be a very tight Atlantic Division playoff race.

In his first game playing alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, waiver-wire pickup Seth Griffith looked right at home on Florida's top line, recording a primary assist to go along with an astounding 79.31 SAT% in a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night at the BB&T Center. 

"We wanted to see what Seth could do with those guys," Panthers coach Tom Rowe said after the game. "It's just one game but they played really well. Obviously, when you get a chance to play with Barkov and Jagr, you hope a guy takes advantage of it. Seth took full advantage of it."

Griffith, a 23-year-old Ontario native and a former fifth-round draft pick, said he grew up watching Jagr and never dreamed he would get this chance to share the ice, let alone play on the same line, as the future Hall of Famer.

"I was obviously a little nervous, you know, playing alongside Jagr," Griffith said. "I watched him growing up. It was a lot of fun. Once the jitters were out, I think I just settled down and started playing. Good things happen when you work hard and I think we really worked hard tonight."

That hard work was on full display in the early minutes of Saturday's game, as Griffith flew deep into the offensive zone to help Jagr win a tough battle along the boards, corralling the puck just in time to loft a short pass over several extended sticks to Barkov, who fired a shot from just outside Vancouver's crease to make it 1-0 at 2:22 of the first period.

"Everything he did, he did right," said Barkov, who has 11 points in his last 12 games, including four goals in the past six. "He's a great kid. He listens to everything and has his own opinions. 

"We knew that when he came he here he was a pretty skilled guy, so you need to use him in offense, not in a shutdown role. I think he's got a chance right now and I think he did great. He was our best player out there." 

As Barkov pointed out, the consensus among both Panthers players and coaches is that perhaps Griffith had been somewhat miscast in the shutdown, bottom-six role that he had been assigned upon his arrival to the team in early November.

"I think a kid like Seth needs to be playing on the top six," Rowe said. "He needs to be able to create and have a little more creativity in his game."

With a three-game trip against the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche on the docket for this week, it's safe to say that Griffith's confidence is at an all-time high as he looks to build off his stellar top-line debut.

"It obviously means a lot, especially coming to a new team and guys saying that they believe in you, it goes a long way with your confidence," said Griffith, who was released by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 12. "You've got to come here and work hard every day. That's what I'm trying to do, just soak it all in and try to get better every day."

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

THE GAMES

Tuesday: at Minnesota Wild, 8:00 p.m.

It'll be a homecoming for Minnesota natives Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau when the Panthers visit the Wild (15-8-4) at the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday. The former Minnesota Gophers teammates should expect a tough test against the Wild's top-ranked defense, however, as goaltender Devan Dubnyk's currently leads the league in both goals-against average (1.63) and save percentage (.946). Bjugstad, a native of Blaine, Minn., has two points (1-1-2) in six career games against the Wild.

Panthers vs. Wild this season: 0-0-0
TV: FSF Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Thursday: at Winnipeg Jets, 8:00 p.m.

The Panthers will get their first look at high-scoring rookie Patrik Laine when they battle the Jets (13-16-3) at the MTS Centre on Thursday. Laine, the second overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, currently ranks third in the league in goals (17) and third in power-play goals (7). The Panthers, however, currently own the league's eight-ranked penalty-killing unit (84.6 percent) thanks in large part to the outstanding play of goaltender Roberto Luongo, who stopped 37 of 39 shots in Saturday's victory.

Panthers vs. Jets this season: 0-0-0
TV: FSF Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beaches); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)


Friday: at Colorado Avalanche, 9:00 p.m.

The Panthers should expect to light the lamp several times when they battle the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Friday. The Avalanche, who allowed 10 goals against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, currently rank 29th in the league in goals allowed per game (3.15) and 24th in penalty killing percentage (79.2). In this contest, look for a red-hot Aleksander Barkov to generate a lot of offense, as the 21-year-old center has three points (2-1-3) in five career games against the Avalanche. 

Panthers vs. Avalanche this season 0-0-0
TV: FSF
English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) 


MILESTONE WATCH

- Panthers forward Shawn Thornton is one point shy of 100 for his career.

- Panthers center Vincent Trocheck is two points shy of 100 for his career.

- Panthers forward Jussi Jokinen is four assists shy of 350 for his career.

- Panthers forward Colton Sceviour is five games shy of 200 for his career.

- Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr is five points away from passing Mark Messier (1,887) for sole possession of second all-time in NHL points.

- Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo is one win shy of his 447th victory, which would move him to a tie with Terry Sawchuk for fifth place on the NHL's all-time list.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

"The kid has been one of our best players since he's gotten here. Even earlier in the year when he wasn't scoring every game, he was playing great defensively. No matter what, he contributes to the team and he contributes on the ice. Now that he's scoring again, it's not like it's surprise to us, right? We knew he was going to come around and start scoring." - Panthers center Vincent Trocheck on Aleksander Barkov's recent breakout on offense.

"For our team, it was two points, too. That feels better than my own points. But of course it gives me more confidence when you have success in the stats, too." - Panthers center Aleksander Barkov on the importance of two points.

"Love that. A bunch of teams lost in our conference today so we gained a little bit of ground on everybody in front of us, so that's always good." -- Panthers coach Tom Rowe on getting a big win before this week's road trip.

COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)

- There's still time to cast your ballot for the 2017 NHL All-Star Game! 

- The Panthers in the Park ice skating rink in downtown Fort Lauderdale is now open. 

- Panthers 2016 first-round pick Henrik Borgstrom has recorded a team-leading 16 points (8-8-16) in 14 games with the Denver Pioneers and was recently named NCHC rookie of the week after recording a five-point weekend (2-3-5), Nov. 25-26. Get updates on all of Florida's top young talent in our latest prospect report.

- The Panthers and United Way recently teamed up for a Day of Caring to provided over 300,000 meals to underserved children and families across Broward County. 

"The Panthers literally give us the entire arena. Their staff, they make this so easy on us," said Kathleen Cannon, the President and CEO of the United Way of Broward County. "They have been so accommodating, and the United Way is so proud to partner with the Panthers.

- The Panthers are hosting their annual Star Wars Night soon! 

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