Tuesday vs. New York Islanders
The Islanders (18-22-7) will be in the middle of a five-game road trip when they hit the BB&T Center for the first meeting of the season with the Panthers. New York got the trip off to a great start with victories over the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars to run their current winning streak to four games.
John Tavares (21G/35A) paces the Isles offense with 56 points, which is good for second (tied with Patrick Kane) in the NHL. Forwards Kyle Okposo, Thomas Vanek, and Frans Nielsen are all closing in on the twenty-goal mark. Veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is on injured reserve, so the Panthers will likely be facing Kevin Poulin. Poulin has collected nine wins, but is giving up over three goals a game.
Thursday vs. San Jose Sharks
The powerful Sharks (28-12-6) will be playing the second of a three-game swing through the Eastern Conference when they face-off against the Cats Thursday night. The teams haven't met since the Panthers took a 5-3 road decision on December 3, 2011 at the then HP Pavilion. San Jose will first do battle with the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and finish off the trip in Tampa Bay versus the Lightning on Saturday afternoon.
Veteran set-up man Joe Thornton leads the Sharks (and the league) with 45 assists and has amassed 50 points this season. Joe Pavelski (21) and Patrick Marleau (20) have already broken the twenty-goal barrier. Workhouse goalie Antti Niemi has since action in 40 games and posted 23 wins. Backup Alex Stalock sports a 2.03 GAA, so either way, the Cats will have their work cut out for them scoring goals.
Saturday at Carolina Hurricanes
The Panthers will conclude the week by kicking off a three-game road trip in Raleigh against former Southeast Division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes (19-17-9) will be looking for a win to keep pace with the other serious Eastern Conference wildcard contenders.
Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner are Carolina's scoring leaders with 35 points apiece. Jordan Staal is the only other Cane to hit double-digit goals. Justin Peters and Anton Khudobin have been tending the net with veteran Cam Ward on IR. Khudobin has been hot lately, compiling a 6-1 record and stingy 2.00 GAA.
So how do you see this week shaking out for the Panthers? The Cats went 1-1-1 on the road last week and need some wins to stay relevant in the playoff chase. They are facing three teams with the ability to pile up the goals, so they need to breakout and score some of their own, while continuing to get stellar goaltending from Tim Thomas. Don't forget to make your thoughts known by voting in this week's poll.