The Panthers will attempt to end the constant seesaw of wins and losses as the Colorado Avalanche come into Sunrise tonight. Florida's coming home for the first time in a week, though they'll be right back on the road after this tilt, heading out on the road for eight of the next twelve games. The Cats have a better record at home than on the road, so the few home games they will get to play must result in some points in the bank if the club has any hope of catching the final wild card spot in the East. With Columbus, Toronto, Ottawa and Carolina all playing very good hockey as of late, the road ahead for the Panthers looks increasingly bleak without a long stretch of wins.
The Avalanche are sitting comfortably in 3rd place in the Central Division, with a six point lead over the Minnesota Wild with four games in hand. The Panthers managed to beat the Avs earlier this season 4-1 as newly-appointed head coach Peter Horacek was behind the Cats bench for just his fifth game. Colorado is scoring at a healthy clip, getting offense from all over the lineup. The Avs also got P.A. Parenteau back from injury on Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he immediately notched a helper and was a +1 despite the Avs getting topped 5-2 by the Leafs. Colorado is a dangerous, fast team that makes the opposition pay for it's mistakes, so the Panthers can't afford to have many defensive breakdowns, or bad turnovers in the neutral zone.
Grab your favorite libation, join the LBC GameThread, and bask in the dulcet tones of Randy Moeller if you so desire. Otherwise, check out Mile High Hockey and take the under on how many goals until Patrick Roy throws a tantrum.
Players to Watch
Nathan MacKinnon - He's cooled off a bit lately, but MacKinnon is just one behind team leader Ryan O'Reilly in goals scored. The rookie hasn't played like a rookie most of the season, and is finding his game more and more as the season goes on. He's got a feistiness to his game and won't back down in the high traffic areas, but where he's excelling the most is his vision on the ice and finding the open spaces to make plays. MacKinnon has some competition but is likely a lock for the Calder this year.
Brad Boyes - With just one point in his last five, Boyes is due to break through again. Rookie center Aleksander Barkov is questionable with a lower body injury, so Boyes may not have his dynamic pivot to rely on, but between the tenacity of both Boyes and Sean Bergenheim, that line should produce something against the Avalanche. After having some issues away from the puck this season, Boyes has redeemed himself with his solid possession play with the puck, and good defensive positioning without it.
Erik Johnson - Once labeled a bust, Johnson's become a key part of the blueline corps in Colorado, and he just returned from a back injury against the Leafs, so he'll be ready to go against the Panthers. He's scored 20 points this season, played on special teams, and pairs up against some of the opposition's top competition, eating up the tough minutes. It took Johnson awhile to arrive, but he's done so with the Avs.
Mike Weaver - There just isn't much to say about Weaver that we don't already know. The man is consistent on a team that can be rife with inconsistency at times. Just keep doing what you do, Mikey, and we'll all be happy.