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Cats' Coffee: Tough tests await Panthers out of break

by Jameson Olive / Florida Panthers

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.

The Florida Panthers’ push towards the playoffs officially begins this week as the players return from their final catnap of the 2015-16 season.
After dropping four consecutive games following the demise of their franchise-record 12-game winning streak, the Panthers looked rejuvenated as they won their final three games before the All-Star break, outscoring the Blackhawks, Lightning and Maple Leafs by a combined score of 14-3.
"It's a good feeling, nice to have that going into the break,'' defenseman Alex Petrovic said of the team’s recent success. "We have something special here. We just need to keep that going."
In their first game back from the break, the Panthers will make a quick pit stop in Washington D.C. to battle the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals before heading home for a brief two-game homestand against the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Panthers, who currently hold a five-point lead for first place in the Atlantic Division, will need their top-ranked defense to remain stout going forward as the team looks to stifle some of league’s top-offensive performers in the coming days.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the upcoming week…

Tuesday: at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. 

In their first nationally televised game this season, the Panthers will face possibly their toughest test of the season when they battle the always-dangerous Capitals on Feb. 2 at the Verizon Center. Washington, which currently holds a healthy 15-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, has won seven of its last nine games and enters Tuesday’s contest with the top-ranked offense in the league, scoring an average of 3.3 goals per game. In the rubber match of their three-game series this season, the Panthers’ eighth-ranked penalty kill (83.1 percent) will be tasked with shutting down the Capitals’ top-ranked power play (26.8 percent).

Panthers vs. Washington this season: 1-0-1
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) *WAXE Start Time: 8:00 PM 

Thursday: Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. 

The Panthers will have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the third-place team in their division when the Red Wings visit the BB&T Center for the first time this season on Feb. 4. This game marks the second of four meetings between these two division rivals, with Florida securing a 2-1 victory in overtime during their first meeting on Nov. 29. This contest projects to be a low-scoring affair as Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek comes in having won 5 of his last 7 starts, allowing three-or-more goals only once.    

Panthers vs. Red Wings this season: 1-0-0
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) *WAXE Start Time: 8:00 PM  Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward); 760 WEFL (Palm Beaches)

Saturday: Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:00 p.m.

The Panthers will look to avenge an early season loss when the Penguins visit the BB&T Center on Feb. 6 – the first of two matchups between the clubs this month. In their only previous meeting this season, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin scored 1:21 into overtime on the power play to hand the Panthers a 3-2 loss on Oct. 20. This time around, the game will likely once again be won or lost down the middle as Panthers centers Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck look to shut down a pair of powerful pivots in Sidney Crosby and Malkin. 

Panthers vs. Penguins this season: 0-0-1
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) Spanish: 1210 WNMA (Dade/Broward)


A familiar face will be missing from action when the Panthers visit the Capitals on Tuesday as high-scoring winger Alexander Ovechkin is forced to watch the game from the sidelines after choosing not to attend All-Star Weekend.
Ovechkin, who currently ranks second in the league with 28 goals, decided to skip the annual event in order to rest a nagging lower-body injury. Per league rules, however, any player that is voted into the game or named to the roster and does not compete for any reason receives a mandatory one-game suspension that must be served immediately following the All-Star Game.
The 30-year-old Ovechkin has notched 33 goals and 70 points in 54 career games against the Panthers.


Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell continues to rack up the points during Florida’s current winning streak, scoring at least one point in four consecutive games. The smooth-skating blueliner is coming off a two-assist performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 26 and has notched four goals and 19 points in 49 games this season. 
The Panthers are 15-2-0 this season when Campbell records a point.


At some point, Reilly Smith is going to have start chipping in to pay the power bill at the BB&T Center as the 24-year-old winger continues to light the lamp with unmatched fervor. Smith, who has notched a team-leading 16 goals in 49 games this season, will have a chance to extend his career-high goal-scoring streak to five games when the Panthers visit Washington on Tuesday. 
The Panthers are 12-3-0 this season when Smith records a goal.


Over his last 14 games, Panthers center Aleksander Barkov has recorded 13 points (6-7--12), including at least one point in three consecutive games. Barkov, who signed a six-year contract extension on Jan. 26, has notched 13 goals and 31 points in 39 games this season while also leading the team in power play goals (4) and game-winning goals (4). 
The Panthers are 16-4-2 this season when Barkov records a point.
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