Good morning and welcome to “Cats & Coffee,” a weekly segment in which we keep you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.
After losing four of their last five games, the Florida Panthers will look to land on their feet as they prepare to host a trio of offensive-minded opponents in what promises to be an exciting week of action at BB&T Center.
“It’s a tough spot,” head coach Gerard Gallant said after Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Nashville Predators. “Men get through it and you battle back. It’s two losses in a row that we were no good in. We’re going to play a real good team again in Pittsburgh, so we’ll see what (the players) are made of.”
One of the biggest reasons for the team’s current struggles has been the absence of several key players due to injury, including center Aleksander Barkov and defensemen Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson. This, in turn, has forced the organization to recall several players from its minor-league affiliate, the Portland Pirates, in hopes that inexperienced skaters will be able to fill the big shoes (or skates, in this situation) of these pivotal players.
However, even with this newfound adversity staring them in the face, the team has chosen to remain positive and focused on the task at hand, living up to the credo that has been emblazoned on the walls of their locker room since last season: “NO EXCUSES”
“It doesn’t matter who’s in our lineup, we shouldn’t be giving up five goals,” said defenseman Brian Campbell. “We have to give ourselves a chance to win. It’s not just because we have a few call-ups that we’re allowing five (goals) against. If we want to lay down we can, but it doesn’t matter; guys have got to step up.”
The games just keep coming. You play them as you come. We better be ready.”
Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead…
Monday: Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m.
The Panthers will host Pittsburgh for the second time in less than two weeks when the Penguins visit the BB&T Center on Monday. In their previous meeting on Feb. 6, defenseman Kris Letang netted the game-winning goal on the power play in overtime, giving Pittsburgh its second victory over the Panthers this season in the extra frame. This time around, the Panthers game plan will likely focus on shutting down Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who has scored 12 points (7-5—12) in his last six games to move into a tie for sixth place in the NHL’s scoring race.
Panthers vs. Penguins this season: 0-0-2 TV: FSF Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward) Thursday: San Jose Sharks, 7:30 p.m.
The Panthers will look to avenge an early-season drubbing in San Jose when the Sharks visit the BB&T Center on Thursday. In their only previous meeting this season, the Sharks took advantage of Florida’s early-season identity crisis, lighting the lamp early and often in a 5-2 victory on Nov. 5. In their second and final meeting of the season, the Panthers will need their penalty kill to come up big as the Sharks currently boast the league’s third-ranked power play, scoring on 23 percent of their chances with the extra attacker.
Panthers vs. Sharks this season 0-1-0 TV: FSF Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward)
Saturday: Winnipeg Jets, 7:00 p.m.
The Panthers will need a hot start if they hope to keep the Jets grounded when Winnipeg visits BB&T Center for the first and only time this season on Saturday. The key to victory in this game will likely come down to Florida’s ability to keep the Jets off the board during the first period. Winnipeg, which has scored the eighth-most goals in the opening frame this season, is 14-3-0 when leading after the first period.
Already playing without Barkov, Mitchell and Gudbranson, the Panthers’ injury woes were further exacerbated when forwards Brandon Pirri and Quinton Howden both exited Saturday’s game with injuries.
Howden left the game after Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto caught him in the head with a hard shoulder in front of Florida's bench. Pirri, meanwhile, needed to be helped off the ice after contact with Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis caused his foot bend awkwardly as he careened into the boards behind Nashville’s net.
There is currently no timetable for either player’s return.
“We’re being tested now, for sure,” forward Jussi Jokinen said. “That’s probably the toughest time of the year right now, for us. We’re missing some key guys, but now it’s a really good chance for some of these guys who’ve been in and out of the lineup. Now, they’re playing in the NHL and playing big roles. It’s a chance for those guys to step up.
“From first line to fourth line, from number one defenseman to number six defenseman, it’s time to step up. We all need to be better.” McFarland in the fray
Although the end result wasn’t ideal, rookie forward John McFarland still managed to crack a smile after making his long-awaited NHL debut in Saturday’s loss to Nashville.
“It was obviously a dream come true to be here and put that jersey on,” said McFarland, who was originally selected by the Panthers in the second round (33rd overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft. “Unfortunately, not the result I wanted, but hopefully there’s more and we’ll get a better result on Monday.”
The 23-year old McFarland has played in 43 games with Portland this season, posting a career-best 14 goals and 22 points. On Saturday, he recorded two hits, two blocks and no shots in 8:41 of ice time in his debut.
“I felt OK,” McFarland said. “I didn’t feel like I was too out of place. The first one is out of the way now, so I think moving forward I’ll feel a little more comfortable out there.”
The fourth Panthers player to make his NHL debut this season, McFarland will likely have at least a few more games to prove himself as the team turns to its recent call-ups for help during this current rash of injuries.
“That’s the goal,” McFarland said. “I want to stay here as long as I can and help this team win.”
McKegg on the way
Not long after McFarland’s recall, Florida’s cavalcade of call-ups continued on Sunday with forward Greg McKegg being the latest player to be plucked from Portland.
The 23-year old McKegg has played in 41 games with Portland this season, recording nine goals and 12 assists. He has played in four career NHL games, all with the Toronto Maple Leafs (2013-15), registering no points while averaging 7:49 of ice time.
McKegg, who was originally selected by the Maple Leafs in the third round (62nd overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft, was acquired by the Panthers during the offseason in exchange for the rights to then-unsigned center Zach Hyman and a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft.
-RW Reilly Smith leads the Panthers with 10 third-period goals this season. -RW Jaromir Jagr leads the Panthers with three multi-goal games this season. -The Panthers are 15-4-2 this season when LW Jussi Jokinen records an assist. -The Panthers are 2-4-1 this season when allowing two or more power-play goals. -The Panthers are 1-4-1 when playing on Mondays this season.