If the Florida Panthers are going to make a move on an Eastern Conference wildcard spot before the Olympic break, they are going to have to do most of their catching up away from the BB&T Center.
Tonight, the club starts a three-game trip in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes before heading to Pittsburgh and Buffalo. They return home for a one-off against the Colorado Avalanche and then begin a four-game trek which sees them visit Detroit, Boston and Toronto to close out the month of January. The trip concludes on the first day of February in Columbus. After that, the Cats get home games against the Red Wings and Maple Leafs before hitting the road once last time, to Carolina again on the 7th, before the break.
So, that's eight of their next eleven on the road, including six of the next seven to close out this month. January hasn't been as kind to the Panthers as December was, but the team has still managed to post a better than .500 record by going 3-2-1. After starting the season 1-5-1 on the road under Kevin Dineen, the Cats have improved to 7-7-2 under Peter Horachek. I will point out that they lost their first three times out as visitors under the new coach, so things have gotten a lot better (7-4-2) since the two sides grew accustomed to each other.
The team the Panthers are trying to chase down seems to change daily. Today it's the Washington Capitals, who hold a nine-point lead, having played one more game than Florida. With the Cats continuing to tread water at home, it's imperative they make these next two trips winning ones or they could find themselves playing out the string for pride and future roster spots after the Olympic break.
* In other news, Florida swapped minor-league forwards with the Edmonton Oilers yesterday. Steve Pinizzotto and Jack Combs leave the Panthers organization, while 22-year-old Ryan Martindale and 31-year-old veteran Derek Nesbitt will join the San Antonio Rampage. Martindale (3G/7A) has ten points in 22 games with AHL Oklahoma City this season, while Nesbitt has notched ten goals and nine assists for the Barons.