Monday vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers (10-10-2) enter Monday's tilt with three straight wins, and points in six of their last seven games, including Saturday's 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders, which capped a successful three-game homestand. Can the Panthers keep up their improved play and avenge the 2-1 defeat they suffered to Philadelphia back in October? This is not the same Flyers squad the Cats faced back then. Philly is 7-1-2 in its last ten outings, and only two points behind the Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand.
Philadelphia is led offensively by Claude Giroux, who is up to 15 points (3G/12A) after a slow start to the season. Vincent Lecavalier and Matt Read share the team lead in goals with 8 apiece. Chances are the Panthers will be facing goaltender Steve Mason, who has absolutely stymied them over the course of his career.
Wednesday vs. New York Rangers
The Rangers (12-11-0) will be playing the third of a four-game road trip, which started off with a 2-0 win in Nashville, when they pay a visit to the BB&T Center on Wednesday. The Panthers dropped a tough 4-3 decision to the Broadway Blueshirts back on November 10th. New York is 6-4 over the course of their last ten games.
The Rangers' offense is led by a resurgent Brad Richards and Derek Stepan, who have each totaled 16 points so far this season. Henrik Lundqvist is the likely starter, but impressive backup Cam Talbot could get the call and also present the Cats with a stiff test.
Saturday vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Florida will finish the week off against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins (15-9-0) Saturday night. The Penguins will be playing the second of a three-game road trip, which begins in Tampa Bay on Friday afternoon. Pittsburgh will be looking for a measure of revenge against the Panthers for pinning an embarrassing 6-3 loss on them back on October 11th.
Sidney Crosby tops the Penguins offense with a league-leading 30 points, while Evgeni Malkin is tied with San Jose's Joe Thornton with an NHL-best 22 assists. Normally, I wouldn't expect the Cats to get another look at Jeff Zatkoff, but with the Pens facing the Lightning the previous day, number one Marc-Andre Fleury may need a night off.
So how do you see the Panthers making out this week? The Flyers are rolling right now, the Rangers need to keep winning to hold on to their current playoff position, and the Penguins sport the Eastern Conference's second-best record. Will Peter Horachek's charges be up to challenge of protecting this house? Will we ever see Scott Clemmensen in goal again? Should be an interesting, and tough, week.