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Cats & Coffee - Feb. 22

by Jameson Olive / Florida Panthers


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


After an action-packed weekend of record-breaking performances and highly anticipated debuts, the Florida Panthers thankfully have a few days off to catch their breath and savor the moment before getting back to work later this week.

The Panthers, who currently hold a five-point lead over Tampa Bay and Boston for first place in the Atlantic Division, will close out a six-game homestand against the Arizona Coyotes at BB&T Center on Thursday before packing their bags and hitting the road for a weekend doubleheader against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild.

As injuries continue to pile up, the Panthers also recently recalled two of their top prospects, defenseman Michael Matheson and forward Kyle Rau, from their American Hockey League affiliate in Portland in an effort to spark their suddenly stagnant offense.

"I want to enjoy the moment. But at the same time I want to have a good performance,” said Matheson, a first-round pick in 2012. “I want to make a mark and play well so that they believe that I can help the team here."

Although they are only one game into their respective NHL careers, both Matheson and Rau looked right at home while making big contributions in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the visiting Winnipeg Jets.

"Rau was really good, played with a lot of energy," head coach Gerard Gallant said. "A small guy who goes hard to the net. Matheson moves the puck real well and skated real well and played a real good game."

With several days off before their next contest, Gallant hopes that these newfound talents will soon be joined by a few familiar faces in the lineup as center Aleksander Barkov (upper body) and defenseman Erik Gudbranson (upper body) are both excepted to return from injury this week.

"We're missing so many guys with injuries,” said Jaromir Jagr, who scored twice on Saturday to overtake Brett Hull for third place on the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring list. “There's so many games left and with the injuries you never know what can happen. We need every point we can get not to rush those guys back.”

Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead…

THE GAMES

Thursday: Arizona Coyotes, 7:30 p.m.

The Panthers will get their first look at Calder Trophy candidate Max Domi when they close out their current six-game homestand against the Coyotes at BB&T Center on Thursday. The 20-year-old Domi has notched six points (3-3—6) in his last four games to move into a tie with Buffalo’s Jack Eichel for second place in the rookie scoring race with 41 points. In this contest, the Panthers will look to not only shut down Domi, but also take advantage of Arizona’s league-worst defense, which has allowed 3.09 goals per game on average this season.

Panthers vs. Coyotes 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) Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward)

Saturday: Columbus Blue Jackets, 3:00 p.m.

Get out your brooms, because the Panthers will be going for another season sweep when they faceoff against the Blue Jackets for the third and final time this season on Saturday at Nationwide Arena. Florida is 2-0-0 against Columbus this season, winning each game by only one goal, including a 2-1 shootout victory on Dec. 4. As it was against the Coyotes, the Panthers offense will once again be licking its chops in this contest as the Blue Jackets currently boast the league’s 29th-ranked defense.

Panthers vs. Blue Jackets this season 2-0-0
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)

Sunday: Minnesota Wild, 3:00 p.m.

Florida’s busy weekend will conclude with another afternoon game against a revitalized Minnesota team at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday. The Wild, who fired head coach Mike Yeo on Feb. 13, have gone 4-0-0 under interim coach John Torchetti, including Sunday’s 6-1 beatdown of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Panthers, who are 6-3-2 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, will need their defense to step up in this contest as Minnesota has scored five-or-more goals in each of its last four games.

Panthers vs. Wild this season: 1-0-0
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)


KEEP AN EYE ON


How you like me Rau?


It’s safe to say that Kyle Rau experienced a fair amount of déjà vu during his NHL debut as the rookie forward found himself once again playing alongside former college teammate Nick Bjugstad.

A former linemate and roommate of Bjugstad’s for two seasons at the University of Minnesota, the 23-year-old Rau played a key role in Florida’s victory over the Jets on Saturday, screening goaltender Michael Hutchinson on Reilly Smith’s go-ahead goal on the power play in the third period.

“It was awesome,” said Rau, who logged 15:27 of ice time in his debut. “I was nervous for the first period. But after that, I just got to play and was comfortable. I was fortunate to play with (Bjugstad) and Reilly Smith.”

A third-round pick, 91st overall, in the 2011 draft, Rau doesn’t let his 5-foot-8 demeanor get in the way of his play. He’s been described as a “pit bull” by associate general manager Tom Rowe and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty along the boards in order to secure a loose pucks to create offense.

“He’s always supporting the puck,” said Bjugstad, who already has 203 NHL games under his belt. “He’s a smart player. That’s why he’s where he is to this point. A lot of guys that are his size can’t make it, but he’s that smart, that hardworking, and he’s done well. It’s good to see him at this level.”

If Rau remains with the Panthers this season, Bjugstad hopes the two former Gophers will be able to pick up right where they left off at college, inviting his old roommate to move into his home in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Rau, however, isn’t looking that far ahead.

"I don't know if there is a next week," he said. "I'll take it day by day, enjoy this experience, and try to contribute if I can."

Luongo back on track

After allowing at least three goals in each of his five starts since appearing in the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game, goaltender Roberto Luongo returned to form in Saturday’s over the Jets.

Making his first start since allow five goals in a loss to Nashville on Feb. 13, Luongo stopped to 29 of 30 shots, including a handful of breakaway attempts, to improve to 25-14-4 on the season.

"It was a tough week for me. I wasn't happy obviously with my last few starts," Luongo said. "Put in a good week of work. Usually it gets you over the hump and I felt good in the game. I felt sharp and on top of every puck."

INTERESTING STATS


- RW Jaromir Jagr leads the Panthers with eight first-period goals this season.
- LW Jussi Jokinen leads the Panthers with 11 multi-point games this season.
- The Panthers are 6-0-0 when D Dmitry Kulikov records a point this season.
- The Panthers are 5-3-2 in February this season.
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