This week for the Florida Panthers: Two here, two there

Joel Auerbach

The Cats have a busy week in front of them. They will wrap up their five-game homestand by welcoming the Senators and Jets, before heading off on the road for tilts against the Red Wings and Blackhawks.

Tuesday vs. Ottawa Senators

The Senators (10-13-4) enter Tuesday's contest with two straight losses and a 3-7 record in their last ten games, including Sunday's 4-2 defeat at home to Detroit, which ended an unsuccessful two-game homestand. Ottawa took the season-opener between the two clubs in Canada's capital, by a 3-2 count, on November 9th, in Peter Horachek's first game behind the bench. The Cats are catching the sliding Senators at the right time and need to take two points in this one.

Ottawa is led offensively by defenseman Erik Karlsson who has totaled 27 points on 7 goals and 20 assists. Bobby Ryan leads the club with 13 goals. The Panthers will be facing former netminder Craig Anderson, who is struggling, or Robin Lehner who has posted impressive numbers this season.

Thursday vs. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets (12-12-4) will be playing the fifth of a six-game road trip, which started off with wins over the Devils and Islanders before they were beaten 2-1 by the Flyers, when they pay a visit to the BB&T Center on Thursday. The Panthers will be looking to finish off their five-game homestand with a victory against their former Southeast Division rival.

The Winnipeg offense is led by Bryan Little who has amassed 25 points in 28 games, and is on his way to a career year. The Cats will be facing Ondrej Pavelec or Al Montoya in goal. Pavalec has won nine games so far for the Jets, who are making a pretty respectable showing in their first year in the Western Conference.

Saturday at Detroit Red Wings

Florida will start a quick two-game, two-day road trip with their first match this season against the Detroit Red Wings. The two clubs will meet three days later in Sunrise. Detroit (14-7-7) currently finds itself in dogfight with Tampa Bay, Montreal and Toronto for a guaranteed playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, but the Wings are in good shape to claim an Eastern Conference wildcard if they slip a bit.

Henrik Zetterberg tops the Detroit offense with 30 points, while the crafty Pavel Datsyuk has fired in a team-leading 12 goals. Number one netminder Jimmy Howard has played a lot better than his 6-7-6 record would suggest, while backup Jonas Gustavsson has yet to lose in regulation and has posted a sterling 2.16 GAA, so the Cats are in for tough time with either of the two.

Sunday at Chicago Blackhawks

The Panthers will finish the week off against the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (20-4-4) Sunday night. The Blackhawks will be playing the second of a two-game homestand, which sees them host the mighty Anaheim Ducks before the Cats come calling. Florida will be looking to avenge Chicago's 3-2 shootout win in Sunrise on October 22nd, and take the season series in the process.

Patrick Kane paces the Blackhawks potent offense with 30 points (16G/14A), while Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa all have surpassed the 20-point mark already. Chances are the Cats will see workhorse Corey Crawford in net.

So how do you see things shaking out for the Panthers this week? The two tilts at home look winnable, but things get a lot tougher when they leave town for the games against Detroit and Chicago. The Cats need to find a way to claw out some wins or they will drop even further out of the playoff chase.

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