Sports Outside the Beltway

Boston Bruins forward Marco Sturm out for the season

He hadn’t played in a game since mid-December. From AP-

Sturm, who led the Bruins with 27 goals last season, had surgery Tuesday on his left knee. Doctors repaired his meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament and said the operation was successful.

Sturm played 19 games this season and had seven goals and six assists before getting injured in an 8-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 18.

As the Bruins are 32-7-4 for the year and have a 11-point lead in the Eastern Conference, I think they will survive this blow to their starting lineup.


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.


NHL All-Star Hubert ‘Pit’ Martin’ dead at 64

He died in a snowmobile accident on Sunday. RIP.

Hubert “Pit” Martin, a four-time NHL All-Star in the 1960s and ’70s, has died after his snowmobile plunged into an icy lake, Quebec provincial police said. He was 64.

Const. Marie-Josee Ouellet said Martin was driving the vehicle on Lake Kanasuta in northwestern Quebec on Sunday when the ice cracked and he plunged into the freezing water.

Another man who was driving a separate snowmobile at the time has confirmed Martin ended up in the water, Ouellet said.

Divers were attempting to retrieve Martin’s body.

Martin would have turned 65 next week.

He played 1,101 NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, amassing 809 points from 1963 to 1979.

Martin was part of one of the biggest blockbuster trades in hockey history in 1967, when he and two other players were shipped to Chicago in the deal that made Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield part of a Bruins dynasty.


Boston Bruins’ Goalie Tim Thomas makes 30 saves en route to second 1-0 shutout

It appears Marty Brodeur isn’t the only hot goalie in the NHL at present. From AP-

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Boston coach Claude Julien didn’t waste any time picking his starting goaltender against Vancouver.

After watching Tim Thomas backstop the Bruins to a 1-0 win against Edmonton on Monday night, Julien ended his back-and-forth goalie rotation. He passed over Manny Fernandez and gave Thomas a second straight start. The decision paid immediate dividends.

Michael Ryder scored his second goal of the season midway through the first period and Thomas made the best of his 31 saves in the frame en route to a second 1-0 win in two nights, leading the Bruins over the Canucks.

“As soon as the game was over Monday, I knew who I was going with,” Julien said after Boston’s third straight win. “Not only did he get a shutout, but he played well. When I say something I keep my word, and my word is, if somebody is going to get hot, he’s going to get the chance to take the ball and run with it.”


“The composure we kept in the third was awesome,” said Thomas, who also blanked the Canucks in their only other meeting, a 39-save, 2-0 win on Dec. 21, 2006. “Hopefully it gives us confidence that in tight games we can come out with the win, whether it s 4-3 or 1-0.”

At first I thought AP got it wrong. Thomas, who’s 34 years old, had to played against Vancouver more than once. A check of his NHL profile showed me he has only been a full-time NHL goaltender since the 2005-06 season. Until a recent rule change, Eastern and Western conference teams only played the other two out of every three years.

Back to back 1-0 shutouts by the same goalie happened in the 2007-08 season. Florida’s Craig Anderson pulling off the feat.

If I was Julien, I’d continue to play Thomas till one of three things occur-

1 The hot streak ends

2 Boston plays games on back to back nights and one of the games is played on the road

3 The next Bruin game against Florida. Thomas has been awful against the Panthers in the past.

On second thought, let Thomas face my favorite hockey team.


Florida Panthers waive forward Jozef Stumpel

Another hole for Florida to fill for the 2008-09 NHL season.

SUNRISE – Panthers veteran forward Jozef Stumpel was placed on unconditional waivers Wednesday.

If Stumpel, 35, isn’t claimed by another team by noon Thursday and clears waivers, the Panthers’ next move would likely be to buy out the remaining year on Stumpel’s contract.

Buying out Stumpel’s contract would mean the Panthers would be responsible for paying him two-thirds of his $2.25 million salary for the 2008-09 season.


Stumpel struggled last season, though, recording career lows in goals (seven) and assists (13) and a minus-11 rating. Slowed by a shoulder injury, Stumpel played just 52 games, his fewest in a season since 44 with the Bruins in 1994-95.

Unlike with the Jokinen trade, I think Florida made the right move here. Stumpel supplied little production for the amount the Panthers were paying out to him. I just wonder where Florida is going to come up with any real forwards from. Defensemen/wingers Wade Belak and Steve Montador don’t produce enough in my book.


Craig Anderson completes his 2nd straght shutout, Florida beats Boston 1-0

The Panthers backup goaltender is hot right now.

BOSTON – Florida goaltender Craig Anderson followed his record-setting shutout two days ago with a 40-save win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. Nathan Horton scored 22 seconds into overtime to give the Panthers the 1-0 win.

Anderson stopped 53 shots in a 1-0 victory over the Islanders on Sunday, the most ever in a shutout since shots on goal started being kept in the 1955-56 season.

Alex Auld made 30 saves for the Bruins, but was beaten by Horton’s wrist shot inside the left post on the first shift of the extra period.

The Panthers won for just the second time in five games. Boston, coming off an embarrassing 10-2 loss at Washington on Monday, lost for just the third time in 10 games.

With 13 games to go in the season, Florida is 5 pts behind division leader Carolina. Carolina has one less game played than Florida. The Panthers face a daunting task to make the playoffs.

The last month has driven this Florida Panther fan up the wall. Four times, REPEAT Four times Florida blew two goal leads in the 3rd period. Three of those losses coming in OT and the other in regulation. The Southeast Division and Florida has had their chances to take the lead and can’t get over the hump.

Anderson is hot right now, but the Panther offense is non-existent, so the Goalie needs to be nothing less than perfect. Florida Captain Olli Jokinen has been almost unheard from since the Richard Zednik incident. Some say it shook Olli, but I’ve had my doubts about the will of this team all year.

Now Jacques Martin is seeing it may be a good idea to play Craig Anderson some. Tomas Vokoun has been good, but I as I said before, I felt Florida needed to give the Czech Goalie an occasional rest. In the first 60 games of this season, Anderson started less than 10 games. Why?

Untill the last two games, I think Martin had no faith or confidence in Anderson. For what reason, I don’t know. His stats were good, his won loss record so so but Anderson only had one bad outing this year. His losses were 3-2, 2-1, 3-2.

The Palm Beach Post’s Brian Biggane hasn’t even let the 07-08 end, before starting to write a revisionist history of it.

Acquired in a trade with Chicago before last season, Anderson spent most of last season in the minors before going 1-1-1 over five games in a late-season callup. That brief stint prompted the Panthers to release both Ed Belfour and Alex Auld – who was in the Boston net Tuesday night – in favor of the 26-year-old from Park Ridge, Ill.

Florida let go of Auld because he played like crap last year. Belfour was let go because Anderson was a cheaper alternative. Coach Martin had so little faith, confidence, or trust in Anderson’s abilities last year that he trotted out the 41-year-old for over 20 consecutive starts. Tell me what that and Anderson’s bench warming this year say about Martin’s use of his goaltenders.

If Anderson had been played more, maybe Florida would be a little closer to the division lead. Other than a game against Montreal at Florida, after a long road game the night before, can I point to a game where Martin was undeniably dumb in his choice of goalies.

Can Florida still make the playoffs? Yes. Do I expect them to? I’m negative on this team, so I say no. If Florida doesn’t make the playoffs, I don’t expect Jacques Martin to be back as Coach or GM. Based on this year, firing Martin seems reasonable to me.


Florida’s 6-3 win over Boston puts them one point out of division lead

Last night’s win was the team’s 3rd win in their current road trip.

BOSTON — If the Panthers can wrap up their five-game road trip tonight in Buffalo the right way, they could wake up Monday morning atop the Southeast Division standings.

An offense that has struggled for most of the season battled from behind three times and pulled away late for a 6-3 victory over Boston at TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday night, once again moving to within one point of the division lead.

Florida (26-26-5) can claim that lead with a win at Buffalo and a Washington loss to the New York Rangers this afternoon.

Right now Florida has 57 pts, one point behind division leaders Carolina and Atlanta. However Florida has played one less game than those two teams. Washington also has 57 points, but has played one game less than the Panthers.

Florida plays tonight at Buffalo. A win would be big not just because of the division standings, but to show the Panthers can win back to back road games on consecutive days. I’ve seen Florida play in a very lackluster fashion more than once this year when they’ve had back to back games this year.

Some other assorted Panther notes

*- The team has scored 18 goals in its last three games, tying a team record. Will the real Panthers please stand up? Is this the same team that lost 1-0 to Buffalo the first game back after the All-Star break?

*- Yesterday was Tomas Vokoun’s 51st game in goal for Florida. No goalie has played more. Vokoun’s GAA isn’t good but his Save Pct. is 11th in the NHL. Vokoun has had a good year and I’d hate to think what this team would be doing if not for the Czech’s goaltending.

On the other hand, Vokoun has given up 8 goals in his last two games. Is Tomas getting tired? Coach Martin appears to have little confidence in backup goalie Craig Anderson, I really don’t know why. Anderson’s Save Pct is even better than Vokoun’s in limited play. Also Anderson’s two wins this year came in matchups versus Martin Brodeur and Rick Dipietro two of the best in the East. Why isn’t Anderson giving Vokoun a break more often? I fear Florida could burn out Vokoun before the team makes the playoffs. That is assuming Florida does that.

Martin hardly played Anderson last year either. Anderson was called up at around the All-Star break and then rode the bench as Florida played 41-year-old veteran Eddie Belfour over 20 games straight in goal. Belfour ran out of gas at year’s end. This year and last show IMHO that Martin has no confidence in Anderson and I don’t really know why. He’s played well when given the chance.

*- Has Palm Beach Post Florida Panther beat reporter Brian Biggane been paying attention this year? In an article about last night’s game, Brian wrote-

With the Panthers on a power play, Jokinen collected a short pass from goaltender Tomas Vokoun and worked his way through the Boston defense, then beat Thomas on a backhander through the pads. It was Vokoun’s first assist of the season.

First? Try sixth assist of the year. Vokoun leads all NHL goaltenders in assists. Biggane should stop drinking or pay more attention to the team he’s paid to cover.

*- Florida has won 15 road games this year. I bet the team finishes with 20 or more for the year, breaking the Panther’s previous record of 18.


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.


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.


NHL owners approve scheduling changes

All NHL teams will meet again once every season. From AP-

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The NHL’s board of governors approved the sale of the Nashville Predators and changed the league’s scheduling format Thursday night to allow every team to face each other at least once every season.

Paul Kelly, the new executive director of the NHL Players Association, also addressed the league’s owners during a late-afternoon session to open the board’s two-day meeting at an elite resort on the Northern California coast.

After a three-year experiment in developing rivalries in hockey’s far-flung outposts, the NHL voted to go back to the scheduling format used before the 2004-05 lockout, most notably decreasing the current eight games against every team’s divisional opponents to six.

Starting next season, teams will play just 24 total games against their four divisional foes, 40 against the rest of the conference and 18 against the other conference — one game against all 15 foes, and three home-and-home series against wild-card opponents.

First let me state, my interest in hockey was only rekindled in the last year. Otherwise I had watched little of the sport since the end of the NY Islanders Dynasty in the early to mid eighties.

The arrangement where teams didn’t all meet seemed dumb to me. Fans in the west miss out on seeing players like Sidney Crosby and fans in the east miss getting to see……. well see what problem I have. LOL, make that former Florida Panther and ace goaltender Roberto Luongo. Now I can learn about the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks etc. To be honest I’m sick of Atlanta. You would be too if you had to see the Thrashers and Panthers cross sticks eight times a year.


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