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Panthers hope road success leads to win vs. Isles at home

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers have won four straight road games, but there's just one problem -- the NHL is forcing them to come home.

That's right, the Panthers, who surprisingly won the 2016 Atlantic Division only to suffer through a brutal first half of this season complete with a fired coach, significant injuries and dwindling crowds, will be home on Friday to face the New York Islanders at the BB&T Center.

"On the road," interim Panthers coach Tom Rowe said on Wednesday, "we play a lot more simple."

That's how they beat the host Islanders 2-1 on Wednesday. That's how they beat the host New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Monday. And that's how that four-game road win streak has been built, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 11-3.

On this week's two-game trip to New York/New Jersey, the Panthers players brought their fathers as part of team bonding.

"(The dads) are starting to think they are good luck," Panthers defensemen Michael Morrison told the media.

Perhaps the dads need to be at the BB&T Center more often because the last time Florida was home, it wasn't pretty. The Panthers managed just one win in three games and got routed 4-1 by the Winnipeg Jets and 4-0 by the Boston Bruins.

After the Islanders, the Panthers play one of the best teams in the league, the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. The Panthers will then hit the road and won't return for 12 days.

Here's another interesting scheduling quirk for the Panthers: After playing on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday and again Tuesday and Wednesday, the Panthers won't play two in a row for two months.

That means the team will get a chance to rest. They will get a chance to practice. They will get a chance to work on things in the hopes of improving weaknesses -- all good things.

But it really means nothing if the team cannot drastically improve at home.

The Panthers (19-16-8) are 10-8-3 at home this season and 9-8-5 on the road. They have failed to get two points 11 of out 21 times at home, and that inconsistency explains why the team doesn't have even a three-game win streak this season.

Florida has 46 points, which, as of Thursday morning, would have tied it with the Ottawa Senators for the third -- and likely final -- playoff position in the Atlantic except for one significant problem. The Panthers have played 43 games -- four more than Ottawa.

The Senators will have ample opportunity to put the Panthers in their collective rear-view mirror.

But as bad as the Panthers have had it with their poor first half and their home-ice issues, the Islanders have had it worse.

The Islanders (15-16-8) have just 38 points, which puts them dead last in the 16-team Eastern Conference. That's surprising given that the Islanders actually made the playoffs last year, defeating the Panthers in the first round.

That is also surprising because the Islanders have a superstar center in John Tavares. This was supposed to be a team on the rise.

But the Islanders, who are in the midst of a tough stretch in which they will play seven of eight games on the road, have lost four of their past five (1-2-2).

Islanders coach Jack Capuano threatened changes after Wednesday's loss.

"There will be guys who will be out of the lineup next game," Capuano said. "There is no doubt about that. That's the accountability as a coach."

Capuano was particularly upset with a second period in which the Islanders were outscored 1-0.

"That was probably the worst second period we've played all year," he said. "Certain guys should have just stayed in the locker-room. It was bad."

In other story lines:

= The Panthers are 2-0-0 against the Islanders this season, although they needed overtime to win 3-2 at the BB&T Center on Nov. 12.

= Panthers center Vincent Trocheck was named a first-time NHL All-Star earlier this week. Tavares, a third-time All-Star, will represent the Islanders.

= Florida defensemen have been getting involved in the attack. On Wednesday for example, both Panthers goals were scored by defensemen -- Keith Yandle and Jason Demers.

Yandle is fifth on the team with 20 points. Demers is tied for sixth with 17 points, including eight goals, tops on the team for a defenseman.

Matheson, a rookie, has 12 points. Aaron Ekblad, an All-Star last year, has 11 points, including seven goals.

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