Panthers hit the road for three against the Central Division

Stops in St. Paul, Winnipeg and Denver await the Cats

The Florida Panthers, currently two points out of third place and a playoff spot, hit the road this week for three games against Central Division foes. Florida will be looking to build on Saturday night’s mostly impressive, 4-2 win over Vancouver. The Cats will face two teams with sub .500 records on the trip, so the opportunity to come home happy is there. The Panthers will need to take advantage of the schedule and not play down to level of the competition.

Minnesota Wild

First up for the Cats will be the 15-8-4 Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. The Panthers struggling offense will have its hands full trying to beat goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who sports the league’s lowest GAA (1.63) and best save percentage (.946). The Wild have a very good record at home (9-3) and are coming off a big Sunday night win at Xcel Energy Center over the St. Louis Blues. Former Carolina Hurricane Eric Staal is Minnesota’s leading scorer with 19 points (6G/13A), while Charlie Coyle leads the club with nine goals. On paper, this is the toughest of the three games. A win here could go a long way to sparking a successful trip.

Winnipeg Jets

The Panthers will visit their former Southeast Division rival and team formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night in icy Winnipeg. The fourth place Jets (13-16-3) are coming off a tough 3-2 loss in Edmonton on Sunday and will not play again until they face the Cats, meaning they will be well-rested. Winnipeg’s offense has produced 82 goals (second most in the Western Conference), but only ranks 18th overall in the NHL at 2.5 per game. Third-year pro Mark Scheifele leads the team with 28 points (14G/14A) and second overall pick this summer, Patrik Laine is a dangerous sniper whose 17 goals is currently third-most in the NHL. Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler are the other scoring forwards the Panthers will need to keep an eye on. Chances are Florida will see American Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes. Hellebuyck sports a 10-10-1 record with a 2.74 GAA. The Jets (8-6-1) are beatable at home, so if the Cats can shut down their big guns, two points can taken here.

Colorado Avalanche

The disappointing 11-15-1 Avalanche are not only bringing up the rear in the Central Division, they are currently sitting 29th overall in the NHL. Colorado is 3-6-1 in its last ten and were bludgeoned 10-1 by the Canadiens on Saturday night in Montreal. The Avs did manage to bounce back from the rout with a solid win over Toronto a day later. Colorado will host the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday before they welcome the Panthers in on Friday. The Cats will playing a back-to-back to finish off the road trip, so the Avalanche could be catching them tired. Colorado is just 4-8-1 this season at Pepsi Center, so the Cats have a good chance to take two points here, tired or not. Nathan MacKinnon leads the Avs with 20 points, while Matt Duchene is the club’s only player who has hit double-digit goals (10) so far. Seymon Varlamov has appeared in twice as many games as backup Calvin Pickard, and has a 6-12 record with a GAA of 3.21.