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.
It's officially sweater weather in South Florida.
The Florida Panthers are finally getting back to work this week, kicking off their 2016-17 campaign with a pair of in-conference contests at home against the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings.
"We're ready to take the next step," said goaltender Roberto Luongo. "One of the main reasons why I'm here is because I envisioned [success].
"I'm happy to see that [ownership] is committed. We've got a lot of young skilled forwards and defenseman locked up for a long time. It's going to be exciting to see this group evolve over the next few years."
The Panthers enter the season looking to build off last year's historic campaign in which they not only set new franchise records for wins (47) and points (103), but also captured their second division title and returned to Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2012.
"It's a long season," forward Jaromir Jagr said. "Even if we finished first in our division [last season], nobody is guaranteed a playoff spot. Look at how many great teams didn't make it. They're going to be better; they're going to improve.
"Even if you finished first, you still have to be better, because the competition is going to be better. Our goal, again, is to make it step by step to make the playoffs again."
Last season, the Panthers wasted little time in getting a head start on rewriting the record books, setting an NHL modern-day record for the fastest four goals to start a season, with Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen each scoring in the first 6:46 of a 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Opening Night at the BB&T Center.
While many of the 19,424 fans in attendance were still shuffling around the arena looking for their seats, Trocheck cashed in on a juicy rebound just 1:23 into the contest for the fastest goal to start a season in franchise history.
"I think Opening Night is one of the most adrenaline rushing nights of the season along with, obviously, the playoffs," Trocheck said. "I think everyone is looking forward to it."
Will the Panthers start off their season with a bang again? Join us at The BB&T Center to find out!
Thursday: New Jersey Devils, 7:30 p.m.
The Panthers will be looking for a repeat performance of last week's preseason finale at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., when they host the Devils on Opening Night at the BB&T Center. In the final offseason tune-up for both teams, Florida came away with a 4-2 victory over New Jersey, with Jaromir Jagr, Vincent Trocheck, Aaron Ekblad and Colton Sceviour all lighting the lamp for the Panthers. Aleksander Barkov, who signed a six-year contract extension in January, led the Panthers with 19 goals on home ice last season and will be looking to get off to a hot start in what is expected to be a career year for the 21-year-old center. The Panthers, who will be unveiling last season's Atlantic Division championship banner prior to puck drop, owned a 2-1-0 record against the Devils last season.
Panthers vs. Devils this season: 0-0-0
TV: FSF Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
Saturday: Detroit Red Wings, 7:00 p.m.
In the first of many hockey-filled weekends to come, the Panthers will host the Red Wings on Saturday at the BB&T Center. In this contest, look for Reilly Smith to have a big night against a familiar foe. Smith, who scored a career-high 25 goals last season, has had plenty of success against Detroit in the past, notching 13 points (3-10-13) in 16 career games against the boys from the Motor City. The Panthers, who will be handing out bobbleheads of the legendary Jaromir Jagr to the first 20,000 fans through the doors, owned a 2-2-0 record against the Red Wings last season.
Panthers vs. Red Wings this season 0-0-0
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
PANTHER PEP RALLY
Although their season doesn't officially begin until Thursday, the Panthers have decided to get the party started a little early by throwing a special Pep Rally on Monday at Huizenga Plaza, which is located at the corner of Andrews Avenue and Las Olas Boulevard in Downtown Fort Lauderdale.
The Pep Rally, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 4 p.m. with interactive games such as a bounce house, slap shot cage, video game trucks and corn hole boards. The ceremony will begin at 6:30 p.m. with guest speakers and a full team appearance.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon, Executive Chairman Peter Luukko, and Head Coach Gerard Gallant will all be guest speakers at the ceremony. All Panthers broadcasters, coaches and players are expected to be in attendance as well.
"The City of Fort Lauderdale is excited to partner with the Florida Panthers to kick off what promises to be an action-packed season of NHL Hockey," said Mayor John P. "Jack" Seiler. "We invite everyone to join us at the Pep Rally in downtown to cheer on the Panthers and wish them well as they begin their quest for the Stanley Cup."
For more information, make sure to check out the team's official release.
CZECH OUT THIS BOBBLEHEAD
Do you have a need for a mullet-sporting, record-breaking bobblehead in your life? If so, then it's extremely important that you spend the upcoming weekend at the BB&T Center with your hometown Panthers.
The first 20,000 fans through the doors before Saturday's tilt against the Red Wings will receive a bobblehead version of future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, who led the Panthers with 66 points (27-39-66) in 79 games last season.
Of course, Jagr's miniature likeness perfectly captures both famous hairdo and various milestones - although, as the 44-year-old forward pointed out upon seeing the bobblehead for the first time, his head movements aren't quite as erratic as the toys makes it seem.
- Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle is three assists shy of 300 for his career.
- Panthers center Derek MacKenzie is five points shy of 100 for his career.
- Panthers forward Shawn Thornton is two points shy of 100 for his career.
- Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo only needs one more victory to tie Jacques Plante for sixth place on the NHL's all-time wins list.
- Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr is 19 points shy of tying Mark Messier for second place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.
COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)
- Derek MacKenzie has been named the ninth captain in franchise history.
"Derek embodies the type of character and work ethic we want a Florida Panther to possess," Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. "He is a respected leader both on and off the ice in this organization and within the South Florida community. We are very excited to move forward with Derek as our team's captain."
- The Panthers have acquired forward Tim Bozon, a third-round pick (64th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft, from the Montreal Canadiens.
- After establishing new career highs in goals (25), assists (28) and points (53) in 76 games last season, Vincent Trocheck is already feeling "ready to go" for the upcoming season.
"I think it's just been a progression over the last three years, since I first came into pro hockey and first came into the League," said Trocheck, a third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. "I've just been progressing a little bit each year, every aspect of my game. Last year, I was a little bit more comfortable. It was my first time having a full-time role and I got to play with [Reilly Smith] and [Jussi Jokinen], which was obviously a big help."