Sports Outside the Beltway

Did the NHL make a mess of the 2009-10 schedule?

The upcoming schedule was released yesterday. Right away I noticed something interesting. Florida has a home and home series with Nashville.

Nov 28 and Mar 29 are when the Panthers and Predators play next season.

What I find interesting is- Florida is playing Nashville home and home for the second straight season. In 2008-09, the Panthers and Predators played on November 1st and December 23rd.

In light of the way the NHL season is set up, namely that any Eastern or Western conference team plays only play 3 home and homes in any season, Florida and Nashville shouldn’t meet home and home more than once every five years 15 western conference teams divided by 3 home and home series equals five.

Here’s a link to the 2009-10 schedule. Anyone have theories as to what happened here or am I off base?


Atlanta Thrashers sign Noah Welch and Anthony Stewart

Two former Florida Panthers have moved on. From the Atlanta Journal Constitution-

Adding depth in their roster, the Thrashers signed unrestricted free agents Anthony Stewart and Noah Welch on Monday. Contract terms were not disclosed.

Stewart, a forward, had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 59 NHL games with Florida last season. He has appeared in 105 career NHL games. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Stewart, 24, was a first-round pick by the Panthers in 2003. He has a career total of 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) in 130 AHL games with Rochester and San Antonio.

Welch, a defenseman, had two points (one goal, one assist) in 40 NHL games with Florida and Tampa Bay last season. He has appeared in 73 NHL games with Pittsburgh, Florida and Tampa Bay. The 6-4, 220-pound Welch, 26, was a second-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2001. He has a career total of 59 points (16 goals, 43 assists) in 122 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Rochester.

At this point in his career, you have to label Stewart a draft bust and a very big one. He was selected 25th overall and in over 100 Florida Panther games, he scored 4 goals and 8 assists. Not the type of numbers you want from a 1st rounder or a forward. I’ve seldom missed a Panther game for the last two years. Stewart never impressed me, and I doubt he will turn around his career in Atlanta.

Welch is a whole other story. His biggest problem in Florida was staying healthy. He may be of use to Atlanta.


NJ Devil Center Bobby Holik retires

He was a member of the ‘Crash line’, a feature of the Devil teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1995 and 2000. Enjoy your retirement Bobby.

Veteran center Bobby Holik is retiring after 18 seasons, 11 of those with New Jersey Devils, the New York Post reported.

“I’m done. I’m retiring,” Holik told the Post from his home in Wyoming. “I miss being with my family every day. I knew when the season ended, but I wanted to leave and get home first, and not make a big deal of it.

“A player is what I was. Now I’m a husband and a father.”

The 38-year-old Holik was picked 10th overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1989. He was traded to New Jersey with Jay Pandolfo for Sean Burke and Eric Weinrich on Aug 28, 1992. He, Mike Peluso and Randy McKay made up the Crash Line and helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 1995 and 2000.

Holik signed with the New York Rangers in 2002. He played two seasons with the Rangers before the salary cap forced a buy out.

Holik then played for the Atlanta Thrashers for three seasons, and was captain in 2007-08. He returned to the Devils last season. Holik played 1,314 regular season games with 1,423 penalty minutes and a plus-115 rating.


Montreal Canadiens acquire Mathieu Schneider from Atlanta Thrashers

The trade brings him back to the NHL team he started his career with. From

Montreal Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey announced today the acquisition of defenseman Mathieu Schneider from the Atlanta Thrashers, as well as a conditional draft pick from the Thrashers at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, in return for a second-round pick at the 2009 draft (Anaheim’s pick previously acquired by the Canadiens from Washington) and a Canadiens third-round pick at the 2010 draft.

Schneider, a 20-season veteran, made his NHL debut with the Canadiens in 1987-88. The 39-year-old, New York City native recorded 717 points (216 goals, 501 assists) and posted a plus-63 rating in 1,241 NHL regular-season games, with Montreal, the New York Islanders, Toronto, the New York Rangers, Los Angeles, Detroit, Anaheim and Atlanta.

Schneider is a good journeyman defenseman, and I understand Montreal is trying to rev up for the playoffs, but I feel a 2nd round pick for a player about to turn 40 is an awful lot to give up.


Clipping their wings- Florida pounds Atlanta 8-4

The Panthers tallied the most amount of goals this afternoon since they defeated Toronto on February 5th of 2008. With the win Florida is just one point behind Carolina for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

I have quite a bit to note about today’s exciting win.

*- Florida was outshot 32 to 28.

*- Seven different Florida players scored goals. Ville Peltonen scored twice. The other goals were scored by Radek Dvorak, Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton, Cory Stillman, David Booth, and Michael Frolik. Gregory Campbell had three assists, Karlis Skrastins and Richard Zednik two each. Today’s win was definitely a team effort.

*- Radek Dvorak’s goal today was his second in a shorthanded situation this week. He had another SH on Sunday versus Montreal.

*- Michael Frolik’s goal was on a penalty shot. It marked only the second time Florida has scored one of these at home in franchise history. The other took place on March 2nd 2007 when Peltonen netted one against Tampa Bay.

*- The game was one of momentum swings. Florida was up 3-1 after the first period. Atlanta scored two unanswered goals in the 2nd to tie it at 3-3. Then Florida came out blazing in the third, two goals in less than two minutes, and five for the entire period.

*- Florida is 4-0-1 in its last 5 games in which they scored 27 goals!

*- Why is there a blimp at an indoor hockey game?

*- Florida has scored four or more goals in its last five games. That is the first time this has happened in franchise history.

*- Atlanta’s Goalie Kari Lehtonen is inconsistent to say the least. He shut out New Jersey a few days ago, then gives up seven goals to Florida.

*- Never heard the term ‘sin bin’ used for the penalty box before today’s game. Anyone ever heard it used? I admit to watching very little hockey for over 20 years before getting the ‘Florida Panther’ bug two years ago. Now my wife asks me daily- ‘Is there hockey tonight?’

*- Talking about the penalty box, Anthony Stewart and Chris Thorburn got put in it for five minutes each. The penalty was fighting, but it looked more like dancing to me. Where’s Wade Belak when you need him?

*- No Panther game again till January 16th. Boy will I be suffering from withdrawal by then.


Florida Panthers and the Eastern NHL Conference at the half way mark

The Florida Panthers played their 41st game of the NHL season last night. A 4-2 win over division rival Carolina Panthers. Before I make some comments, here are the standings

1 Boston Bruins Games played- 41 Record- 30-7-4 Points- 64
2 Washington Capitals 41, 27-11-3, 57
3 Philadelphia Flyers 41, 22-10-9, 53
4 Montréal Canadiens 40, 24-10-6, 54
5 New York Rangers 42, 24-15-3, 51
6 New Jersey Devils 40, 23-14-3, 49
7 Carolina Hurricanes 42, 21-16-5, 47
8 Buffalo Sabres 40, 20-15-5, 45
9 Florida Panthers 41, 19-16-6, 44
10 Pittsburgh Penguins 42, 20-18-4, 44
11 Toronto Maple Leafs 41, 16-19-6, 38
12 Atlanta Thrashers 42, 14-23-5, 33
13 Ottawa Senators 39, 13-20-6, 32
14 Tampa Bay Lightning 40, 11-19-10, 32
15 New York Islanders 42, 12-26-4, 28

First I can safely conclude the NY Islanders, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, and Atlanta are out of the playoff picture. Toronto faces a uphill battle, but I won’t count them out yet.

Look where Pittsburgh is only one year after making the Stanley Cup finals. What is going on up there? They recently had a five-game losing streak at home.

They aren’t the only recent memory Stanley Cup final team fallen on hard times. Ottawa who made it in the 06-07 looks to be re-building. How did anyone in Senator management think Alex Doug Auld and Martin Gerber were playoff quality goalies?

Tampa Bay has gotten out of the cellar. Two wins against Florida in late December helped. Will Rick Tocchet still be coaching next season?

Florida has its best record at the half way since the 1999-2000 season, or the last time they went to the playoffs. I had high hopes for Florida last year only to see them dashed. Could they make it this year?

Definitely. The teams immediately ahead of them are beatable. If Florida sneaks in as the 7th or 8th seed, they are most likely to get buzz sawed by Boston or Montreal.(Though Florida does have a good record against Goalie Tim Thomas and are the only NHL team with a lifetime winning record against the Canadians. )

Some miscellaneous Florida notes-

Their defensemen have scored more goals than any other team in the Eastern Conference

Florida has gained at least 1 pt in every game Gregory Campbell has scored in.

Yesterday’s game marked just the 3rd time ever Florida went without a penalty in a game.

Tomas Vokoun now has 201 career wins as a goalie.

Florida has a very good goalie at Rochester that the name eludes me. Would Florida consider a deal for Craig Anderson and bring up the rookie before the season ends? Anderson is a free agent at the end of the year and not expected to be back.

Florida signed a multi-year agreement with Fox Sports Florida which as a result have more Panther games on television.(I got NHL Center Ice too, so I rarely miss a game unless there is no television at all) That’s good news. Now I would like FSN to stop showing upcoming programming promos while play is happening on ice. Those idiotic spinning pucks fill 1/8th of the television screen and often interfere with watching play. Every time I see this crap I feel like screaming at the television.


Capitals Alex Ovechkin scores 60th goal of the season

At the same time Washington drew closer to a Eastern conference playoff berth. From AP-

ATLANTA – Alex Ovechkin became the NHL’s first 60-goal scorer in 12 years by netting two Friday night in the Washington Capitals’ comeback 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Ovechkin beat goalie Kari Lehtonen in the first period and then brought the Capitals within 3-2 at 11:30 of the third period with his 60th.

No one in the NHL had hit the mark since the 1995-96 season when Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr both did it. Ovechkin’s previous best was 52 goals, accomplished in his rookie season of 2005-06.


The Capitals, who are trying to get into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, outshot the Thrashers 23-2 in the third period and 45-18 overall. Washington trails eighth-place Boston and the postseason cutoff by one point with six games remaining.

Ovechkin’s 60th goal also tied the Capitals’ club mark set by Dennis Maruk in the 1981-82 season.

Alex will pass Maruk for sure. There are just 7 games left in the Capitals regular season. Carolina’s 2-1 shootout win on Thursday night over Florida the other night has probably sown up the Southeast Division for the Hurricanes. The Capitals and Florida Panthers could still make the playoffs.


Post NHL All-Star game playoff assessment- Eastern Conference

From top to bottom, the standings

Ottawa Senators 51 32-15-4-68
Montréal Canadiens 50-27-15-8-62
Philadelphia Flyers 49-28-16-5-61
Pittsburgh Penguins 50 28-18-4-60
New Jersey Devils 50-28-19-3-59
Boston Bruins 50-26-19-5-57
New York Islanders 51-24-21-6-54
New York Rangers 52-24-22-6- 54
Carolina Hurricanes 53-25-24-4-54
Washington Capitals 51-23-23-5-51
Atlanta Thrashers 52-23-25-4-50

Buffalo Sabres 49-22-21-6-50
Florida Panthers 51-22-24-5-49
Toronto Maple Leafs 52-20-24-8-48
Tampa Bay Lightning 51-20-26-5-45

Note- The numbers above from left to right are- Games played, wins, losses, Overtime losses, total points

Teams in Bold are Southeast Division teams

First of all barring a complete collapse by these teams, you have to think Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Montreal are locks to make the playoffs. You can probably also toss Boston in.

The rest of the conference is pretty wide open. The only teams that appear to have little chance are Tampa and Toronto.

The Southeast Division is wide open. It is also a division likely to send only one team to the playoffs. First to fourth place is separated by a measly 5 pts, and the 4th place team Florida has played two less games than division leader Carolina. That would point to Florida having a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. On the other hand, there is the team’s listless play of late, only 4 wins in 14 games and this from today’s Palm Beach Post.

The Panthers, who return to action tonight against Buffalo following the All-Star break, say they are determined to end their agonizing playoff drought.

But some observers think the Panthers haven’t exhibited enough determination to reach the post-season for the first time since April 2000.

To put it more bluntly, some critics think they are soft.

“This team plays too much on the perimeter; I haven’t seen the willingness to get their noses dirty and do the dirty work,” said NHL broadcaster John Vanbiesbrouck, who starred in the nets for the Panthers when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

“Winning isn’t easy. You’ve got to make up your mind you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there and play like that every night.”

I’m not totally sure if Vanbiesbrouck is right in what he says. Florida has blown at least five games this year in the last minute of play. They’ve also played games where they either quit or showed little effort. I’ve missed only a handful of games on television this year, Florida has the talent to win the division and even make a run in the playoffs. The only teams I worry about in the conference are Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Toronto (The Maple Leaf oversized defensemen seem to intimidate the Panthers) when Florida faces them.

I question if the Panthers has the desire, and perhaps the coaching. Why the hell did the team send Shawn Matthias back to the minors? He scored two goals in four NHL games, two of which Jacques Martin barely played him in, and 21 in 32 games of OHL play before his callup. I rather have Matthias on the roster than the overrated Brett McLean or Kamil Kreps. After all, Kreps has just 4 goals in 45 games played!

Boy am I getting gloomy about this Panthers team.


Florida Panthers end 11-game losing streak in Atlanta dating back to 2003

The Panthers last road win against the Thrashers was in November 2003. From AP-

ATLANTA – Nathan Horton scored two goals for the first time since last March to help the Florida Panthers beat the Thrashers 5-3 on Thursday night and end an 11-game losing streak in Atlanta.


Panthers coach Jacques Martin won his 497th game, putting him in 10th place and one ahead of Glen Sather on the NHL career list.

In his third season with Florida, Martin has 90 victories. He also coached 8 1/2 years in Ottawa and two in St. Louis.


Vokoun, who stopped 38 of 41 shots, improved to 6-1-2 in his last nine games, 18-12-2 overall.

Last night’s win pulls Florida 2 pts behind Carolina in Southeast Division race. Both teams have played an equal amount of games.

Florida plays 5 games over the next nine days, starting with Montreal tonight. Teams the Panthers play include New Jersey, NY Islanders, and Pittsburgh three of their chief rivals in the fight for the playoffs. I think we are going to find out just how good Florida is in the next two weeks.


Are the 2007-08 Florida Panthers over the hump?

They won last night, marking for the fist time this season that the team has a winning record.

Thursday night’s Panthers-Hurricanes game might as well have been played on a roller coaster, it had so many ups and downs.

In the end, the final up went to Florida, which registered a 5-4 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, taking the lead for good on Brett McLean’s goal midway through the third period.

Back home after winning three of four games on the road and facing the Southeast Division leaders, the Panthers had nothing but opportunity in front of them. A win would cut into their five-point division deficit and set an energizing tone for a year-end schedule that features four of five games at the BankAtlantic Center.

It looked bleak when Carolina took a 3-1 lead after the first period, but the Panthers rallied for their third consecutive victory. They now trail the Hurricanes by just three points.

I have felt from Opening Night, that this Panther team is capable of taking the Southeast Division. That the team is right on Carolina’s back at the moment says something(Other than the SE division being mediocre) about how Florida has come this far. They’ve been plagued by injuries this year, particularly to defensemen(Three are out at this time, and its not known when any will be back) but all through this the team has pulled themselves over .500. Yes I still worry about the lack of punch the team has, their tendency to sit on a lead, and whether they give up when they fall behind. As to the last, maybe we’ve seen the end of it. For Florida was down 3-1 a little over 16 minutes into the game. The Panthers then stormed back.

The Eastern Conference playoff picture stands like this. Teams in italics are Southeast division teams

1- Ottawa 22-8-3 47 pts
2- Boston 18-12-4 40
T3- Montreal 17-12-5 39
T3- Carolina 18-15-3
T3- New Jersey 18-13-3 39
6 NY Rangers 17-14-3 37
T7 Florida 17-16-2 36
T7 Pittsburgh 17-15-2
T9 with 35 pts Buffalo and Philadelphia(32 games played each) and Toronto(35 games)
T12 with 33 pts Atlanta and Tampa Bay in 34 and 35 games respectively.

You can look at it one of two ways. Florida is four pts out of 2nd place in the conference or that the cats are just a game or two from being in 10th place because of the fewer games played by Buffalo and Philadelphia. As I see the conference, Florida can play as well as anyone with the exception of Ottawa, and arguably Carolina and New Jersey. The cats, who are notoriously bad as a road team, are 8-9-1. When you factor in injuries and the Panthers road record, this team could finish as high as 2nd in the conference, but more likely 4th or 5th. I think my preseason prediction of Florida making the playoffs for the first time since 2000, is looking better and better.


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