Sports Outside the Beltway

Continuing the plunge- TB Lightning lose to Buffalo 4-2

They have won one of their last fifteen games. From the Tampa Tribune-

Even when handed a gift, the Lightning find a way to fumble with the bow.

Tampa Bay was handed a pair of power plays on questionable calls late in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Buffalo, but came away empty to continue the team’s losing ways. Thomas Vanek scored twice, giving him 11 goals against the Lightning in the past seven meetings between the teams.

Tampa Bay lost its fourth consecutive game and saw its winless streak reach nine games (0-7-2), the longest stretch of games without a victory since Jan. 12-29, 2001. Overall, the Lightning have one victory in the past 15 games (1-10-4) as they sink deeper into the depths of the league standings.

Tampa is giving the rest of the NHL and hockey fans a textbook lesson in how not to win NHL games. A team needs more than one great scorer(Vincent Lecavalier) and top line. Goaltending and defense matter.


Goalie Dominik Hasek retires after 16 seasons

No question, ‘The Dominator’ was a great goalie(but if given a choice, I’d take Martin Brodeur) and is destined for the Hall of Fame. This after Hasek had to wait seven years after his being selected in the NHL Draft before being able to play in the NHL. That mostly due to the fact he was born in Czechoslovakia which was still behind the Iron Curtain.

That’s in the past for Hasek, who is 43 years old now. Good luck in retirement Dominator.


How about them Florida Panthers?

They beat the New York Rangers last night to pull within 5 points of the Division lead.

SUNRISE – Panthers captain Olli Jokinen had not scored in eight games but had been finding ways to contribute during Florida’s five-game win streak.

Friday, Jokinen took a more direct role, scoring the winning goal as the Panthers beat the Rangers 3-2 to stretch their win streak to six games.

It was a matchup between the NHL’s two hottest teams, and it was the Panthers who remained doused New York, which had not lost in regulation in 13 games and was 10-0-3 during that five-week stretch.

Does the Sun-Sentinel’s Ted Hutton ever study the NHL besides the Florida Panthers. The San Jose Sharks had won 10 games in a row going into last night. That makes them one of the hottest two teams in the NHL, and Florida not.

The Panthers had not won six in a row since March 17-29 of 2006 when they won seven straight.

The Panthers also closed to within five points of division-leading Carolina, which lost to Buffalo on Friday.

The Hurricanes got their heads handed to them by Buffalo on Friday, 7-1. Carolina is still in control over its own destiny, Florida only has two games left with the Hurricanes this season.

Pretty amazing Florida has never won more than seven in a row. They did however begin the 96-97 season(The season after their Stanley Cup appearance) with a seventeen game unbeaten streak. That was in the days before shootouts and the current NHL scoring system.

The Panthers’ penalty kill was crucial in the closing minutes, as they had to fend off two Rangers power plays.

The Panthers have nine games remaining in the regular season, all against Southeast Division foes.

“It’s good to have the nine games in the division. You have a little more control over your own fate,” Martin said.

The penalty kill at the end of the game was big. About a month ago Florida blew four two goal leads(three of them in the 3rd period) in a very short stretch of time. The Panthers showed last night they can close a big game.

Can this team keep doing it and make the playoffs? Florida has the talent, but their the worst underacheivers in the Eastern conference. The team’s injuries have been bad enough, but the Panthers just seem to play scared too often. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high about this team, since they’ve let me down regularly this season.

If Florida doesn’t make the playoffs, Jacques Martin may well be done with Florida as its head coach and even GM. I’ve got mixed feelings about that, but will address the subject at another time.


Florida Panther Richard Zednik rushed to hospital with neck injury

He is reported to be in stable condition.

Richard Zednik sustained a major gash in his neck when the right skate of Panthers’ teammate Olli Jokinen with his back to Zednik caught him with 9:56 left in Sunday’s game at Buffalo and the Sabres leading 4-3. The game was suspended temporarily.

Sabres’ doctors stopped the bleeding and Zednik was transported to Buffalo General Hospital in “stable condition,” said Panthers team spokesman Justin Copertino. Sabres’ team doctor William Hartrich and Dr. Les Biffon worked on Zednick to stop the bleeding.

Blood poured out of Zednik’s neck as he skated to the Panthers’ bench and was quickly escorted off the ice with a white towel on his neck. A trail of blood remained from the goal line in the Sabres’ zone all the way to the Panthers’ bench.

Jokinen was tangled with Buffalo’s Clarke Macarthur near the boards and while falling down kicked his skate up into the air. It sliced his linemate’s neck.

Zednik’s injury was a fluke happening. Let’s hope he gets well soon.

Buffalo fans were classy afterwards, giving a standing ovation after Zednik’s condition was reported. I’m a Florida fan and say thanks Buffalo.

Florida lost the game 5-3. Their climb to first place on hold for now.


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.


Buffalo Sabres lose 10th game in a row

A year ago they reached the conference finals. From AP-

NEW YORK– The setting was the regular season instead of the postseason, but the stakes seemed nearly as high for the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.

Not since the second round of last year’s playoffs had the Rangers faced their Eastern Conference foes. Buffalo moved on to the conference finals then, and now both clubs face a second-half struggle just to get back into the postseason.

Petr Prucha and Brandon Dubinsky each had a goal and an assist to lift the Rangers to a 2-1 victory Wednesday night that stretched the Sabres’ losing streak to 10 games.

Buffalo snapped its run of three straight shootout losses but couldn’t find a way to win. The Sabres haven’t come out on top since a 6-5 shootout victory at Philadelphia on Dec. 22 (0-5-5).

New York jumped from 10th place to eighth in the East with the win, five points in front of No. 11 Buffalo — the team with the NHL’s best record last season.

I really don’t know what’s going on in Buffalo. A year ago I picked them to win the 06-07 Stanley Cup. This year they may be lucky not to avoid the conference cellar.

It isn’t like Buffalo has massive injury problems. That is going on with my Florida Panthers right now, who are slumping only something slightly better than Buffalo. Losing their last 6 home games in a row. At present Florida has four defensemen out with injuries, three of them gone for over a month.


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.


Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round Two

Eastern Conference
(1) Buffalo Sabres v. (6) New York Rangers
The Rangers easily won their series as Atlanta put forth the most embarrassing performance by a playoff team this year. While the Rangers dominated every aspect of their series and Avery got into the heads of the Atlanta stars, that was Atlanta and we already noted they were embarrassing this year. The Rangers’ problems start with their captain Jaromir Jagr, who while talented lacks the skill set to be a captain. At a point where leadership becomes key, as evidenced by Mark Messier leading the Rangers in 1994, will only serve to hurt them. The Sabres are just flat out good and the clear favorite in the East. A fast, talented offense leads them up front and a solid defense benefiting for trade deadline upgrades has been solid. Throw in the goaltending of Ryan Miller and this team should be in the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: Sometimes favorites do preval even if it takes a fight, Sabres win in 7.

(2) New Jersey Devils v. (4) Ottawa Senators
Despite parting ways with the 6’-9” defensive beast Zdeno Chara, the Senators looked better in the playoffs than at any point over the past few years. In fact as a whole the team looks good with strong goaltending, a defense that tied up the explosive Penguins offense, and an offensive onslaught that just battered the Penguins around the ice. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Devils as Martin Brodeur continues to amaze with his ability and I shouldn’t of doubted him as much as I did. The offense for the Devils came through against a weaker than predicted Tampa Bay defense, while they are good I don’t think they will fair as well against the Ottawa defense.
Prediction:It’s a good year for Ottawa to win in 6.

Western Conference
(1) Detroit Red Wings v. (5) San Jose Sharks
Detroit has earned from their failures of the past few playoffs. In the Calgary series they adapted their game to play against their opponent instead of sticking to a system that wasn’t working. They managed to beat the best home team in the league on their home ice and looked good doing it. They will rely heavily on a mix of skill and brute force, while depending on a talented, but old goaltender. The Sharks have the fortune of two excellent goalies to use in the series, which could pay dividends in a long series or even if one of the goalies goes cold. The Sharks absolutely stuck it to a talented Nashville team making them look like they didn’t even belong in the same building. Possessing two solid top lines, like Detroit, will put a greater importance on the ability of defensemen to join the offensive rush at key times and the ability of the third and forth lines to provide offensive input and solid play in the defensive zone.
Prediction: The combination of youth, speed, skill and size put the Sharks over the top in 6.

(2) Anaheim Ducks v. (3) Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver spent their series against Dallas flopping between looking like a contender and an over-matched minnow. Roberto Luongo’s stellar play was key to the previous serious and will be a key again in this series. However, the test of the team will be the play of the Sedin twins if they disappear for large parts of the series, it will be a quick exit for the Canucks. The Ducks easily handled the Wild in their first round match up and built up a good bit of confidence for the next round. The two defensive pillars of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger will eat up huge minutes for the Ducks and for the most part will have their way with the top lines for the Cancuks as well as continued boosting of the Duck’s power play unit. While Vancouver has the better goaltender, the ducks have two solid goalies who won’t let in the easy goals and can stand on their heads when called upon.
Prediction: Talent and depth carries a team and the Ducks win in 6.


Sabres Defeat Islanders, Await 2nd Round Opponent

The Buffalo Sabres booked their ticket to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they wrapped up their series against the New York Islanders in five games by scores of 4-1, 2-3, 3-2, 4-2, & 4-3.

That puts me at 3 out of 4 so far.


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