This week for the Florida Panthers: Penguins, and Sabres, and Avs, oh my!
The Cats quest for a wildcard spot continues with stops in Pittsburgh and Buffalo before they return home to face Colorado.
Monday at Pittsburgh Penguins
The Panthers will do battle with the Penguins (34-12-2) for the third and final time this season when the clubs meet Monday night at Consol Energy Center. The Cats won their first game of the season against the mighty Pens 6-3 back on October 11th. Pittsburgh exacted revenge with a dominating 5-1 win on November 30th. Both of the games were played in Sunrise. The Penguins, who lead the Eastern Conference in points, are hot right now, with a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games.
Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins, and the NHL, in scoring with 68 points. Sid The Kid is the only player currently on pace to eclipse the 100-point mark this season. Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz are averaging more than a point per game. The Panthers faced backup Jeff Zatkoff the first two times out, but with four days off coming into this tilt, I would expect to see number one Marc-Andre Fleury start this one.
Tuesday at Buffalo Sabres
The final game of the road trip, that began with Saturday night's loss in Carolina, sees the Panthers shuffle off to Buffalo for the second time this season. This will be the third meeting between the new division rivals. The Sabres (13-27-7) took a 3-1 decision from the Cats the first time out in October at the BB&T Center. Florida pulled out a 2-1 shootout win, thanks to the heroics of Brad Boyes and Tim Thomas, at First Niagara Center ten days ago.
Winger Matt Moulson leads Buffalo with 30 points, including a team-best 15 goals. Cody Hodgson recently returned from IR and has at least a point in four straight games. Goaltender Jhonas Enroth has given the Panthers fits this season, so he could get a third start against Florida. If not, the Cats will have to deal with US Olympian Ryan Miller, who is obviously enjoying a strong campaign.
Friday vs. Colorado Avalanche
Florida will finish off the week at home against the much-improved Colorado Avalanche. The Avalance (31-12-5) will be kicking off a three-game road trip when they visit Sunrise for the final meeting of the season between the two clubs. The Panthers surprised the Avalanche 4-1 in Denver on November 16th to give coach Peter Horachek his first away win.
Speedy center Matt Duchene leads the Colorado offense with 41 points in 45 games. In addition to Duchene, the balanced Avs boast five other double-digit goal-scorers in Ryan O'Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Jamie McGinn.
Semyon Varlamov, who took the loss in the first meeting, has gotten the bulk of the work in goal for Colorado this season, so look for him to between the pipes again. If not, the Cats will face his veteran backup, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
So how do you see this week shaking out for the Panthers? The Cats have dropped two in a row and need to build another winning streak before the hole gets too deep. Don't forget to look into your crystal ball and vote in the weekly LBC poll.
How many points will the Panthers collect this week?