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.
Here come the Cats.
The Florida Panthers will look to reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division during the upcoming week as the team embarks on a three-game road trip against the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs before returning home to host the Detroit Red Wings.
The Panthers, who are opening a stretch of six of seven on the road, where they are 3-6-2 in their last 11 after winning 11 of the previous 13, currently trail the Boston Bruins by one point for the Atlantic's top spot with two games in hand.
After scoring just five goals over their first three games of this month, the Panthers offense has come alive in recent games, scoring 14 goals over their past three contests, including a 5-4 shootout victory against the surging Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
If the Panthers hope to recoup the top spot in the division, players know that their sticks will have to remain hot in order for their recent success at home to follow them on the road.
"We've been shooting a lot of pucks and every now and then they're going to find their way in. There's no real secret to it," said Reilly Smith, who had two goals in Saturday’s victory.
“It was great for us to get these last four points before we head out [on the road], and hopefully it gives us a good footing.”
Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead…
Monday: at New York Islanders, 7:00 p.m.
The Panthers will be looking for their first season sweep of the Islanders since 2007-08 when they visit the Barclays Center on Monday. Florida is 6-1-1 in its last eight meetings with New York, winning three of four on the road after a 5-1 victory in its first visit to Brooklyn on Dec. 15. If the Panthers hope to hand the Islanders their first regulation loss at home since the All-Star Break, they will need to find a way to contain New York captain John Tavares, who has a goal in three straight games and a point in his last four.
In their first meeting of 2016, the Panthers can’t afford to sleep on the depleted Canadiens, as Montreal has gone 7-1-1 at the Bell Centre since the beginning of February. Although they might be without star defenseman P.K. Subban, who had to be stretchered off the ice with what was later described as a "non-serious neck injury" during a 3-2 win against Buffalo on March 10, the Canadiens will enter Tuesday’s contest rested and looking for redemption. In their only previous matchup this season, the Panthers defeated Montreal 3-2 behind two goals from Aleksander Barkov. Panthers vs. Canadiens 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) Thursday: at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m.
The Panthers will attempt to avoid a late-season slipup when they visit last-place Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The Panthers have won seven of nine meetings over the past two seasons, and the Atlantic Division foes will meet three times between now and the end of the season. And although Toronto currently boasts the league’s 29th-ranked offense, scoring 2.26 goals per game on average, a 1-0 victory over Detroit on Sunday proved that the Maple Leafs still have some fight left in them. Panthers vs. Maple Leafs 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)
Saturday: Detroit Red Wings, 7:00 p.m.
After wrapping up their three-game road trip, the Panthers will return home for a pivotal matchup against the Red Wings before hitting the road once again. The Panthers, who are 5-0-2 in their last seven home games, currently lead Detroit by six points in the standings. As it has been in each of their three previous meetings this season, Florida’s attention in this game will likely be focused on shutting down rookie sensation Dylan Larkin, who has three goals and one assist against the Panthers this season.
Panthers vs. Red Wings this season: 2-1-0 TV: FSF Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
KEEP AN EYE ON
Aleksander The Great
There’s a new shootout king in Sunrise.
With the departure of shootout wiz Brandon Pirri at the trade deadline, center Aleksander Barkov has quickly become Florida’s most reliable weapon in the skills competition, scoring his fifth shootout goal in six attempts this season during Saturday’s victory over the Flyers at BB&T Center.
"I just wanted to score, nothing fancy," said Barkov, who leads the NHL with four game-deciding goals in the shootout. "I like to shoot five-hole. (It's) just confidence when you score a goal in a shootout, then you know what works, what doesn't work. I scored last time when I shot five-hole; now I had a lot of confidence to score that way again.”
The Panthers are 7-3 in shootouts this season. Jokinen Still Streaking
When will it end?
After notching an assist in Saturday’s victory, versatile forward Jussi Jokinen will be looking to extend his already absurd point streak to a career-high 11 games when the Panthers visit the Islanders on Monday.
Jokinen, who has seven points in his last five games against New York, has tallied 12 points (2-10—12) during his current 10-game streak, the longest such run by a Panthers player since Olli Jokinen in 2005-06.
One of Florida’s unsung heroes throughout the season, the 33-year-old Jokinen currently leads the Panthers in assists (37) and is second in points (50) behind only Jaromir Jagr.
- Jaromir Jagr hit the 50-point mark for the 20th time in his illustrious career this past week. The 44-year-old forward is one of only five players to ever achieve that milestone, joining Mark Messier, Ray Borque, Gordie Howe and Ron Francis.
- The Panthers are 15-1-2 this season when Jagr records at least one goal.
- Jagr, who leads the team with 53 points, can break a tie with Larry Murphy for eighth all-time in NHL games played with 1,616 when he suits up for his next contest.
- The last Panther to score a hat trick on the road was Kris Versteeg on Nov. 10, 2011 at Winnipeg.