This week for the Florida Panthers: Holiday Homestand Begins

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

The Cats return to Sunrise after a successful Canadian road trip looking to actually take advantage of five straight on home ice for a change.

Monday vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Florida will begin its third five-game homestand of the season with Monday night's matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The red-hot Bolts (22-11-3) enter the game winners of four straight. This will be the third meeting of the season between the cross-state rivals. The Lightning won 7-2 in Tampa back in early October and then claimed a 4-3 shootout decision in Sunrise later that month.

The ageless Martin St. Louis leads the Tampa Bay offense with 34 points, while summer acquisition Valtteri Filppula has notched 12 goals and 26 points. Ben Bishop has given the Bolts stellar goaltending, the 27-year-old has a miserly a 1.96 GAA and 19-5-2 record. Superstar Steven Stamkos remains out of the lineup.

Saturday vs. Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings (17-12-9) will be starting a two-game road trip when they come calling on Saturday night. The club will conclude 2013 in Nashville after they tussle with the Cats. Florida has beaten the Wings twice this month, taking the first tilt between the teams in the Motor City by a 2-1 count, and then posting a 3-2 shootout win in Sunrise three days later.

Henrik Zetterberg tops the Red Wings offense with 30 points, with Pavel Datsyuk a single point back. Daniel Alfredsson is heating up and now has posted 28 points on the season. The Cats will face either Jonas Gustavsson or Jimmy Howard in goal. Gustavsson seems to be unseating Howard as Detroit's top goaltender

Sunday vs. Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens (22-15-3) will be playing the second of a four-game road trip when they visit the BB&T Center on Sunday afternoon. This will be meeting number two between the clubs, and the Habs will be looking to avenge the 2-1 loss the Cats pinned on them in Montreal on December 15th. The teams will meet again on January 6th at the Bell Centre.

Defenseman P.K. Subban is Montreal's leading score with 27 points, while Max Pacioretty tops the team with 15 goals. Workhorse Carey Price is likely to get the start in goal. Price has 17 wins and a sterling 2.10 GAA. Backup Peter Budaj provides more than adequate support with a GAA of only 1.94 and 5-2-1 record for the stingy Habs.

So how do you see this holiday week playing out for the Cats? Last week, the Panthers proved they can win on the road. Can they do it at home against three tough Atlantic Division rivals and rise above .500 at the BB&T Center? Don't forget to vote in the poll. Last week 47% of you had the right number pegged.

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