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?


Back to the finals- Pittsburgh sweeps Carolina

Pittsburgh became the first NHL team in 25 years to make it to the Stanley Cup finals the year after being defeated in the finals. From AP-

The Penguins are headed back to the Stanley Cup finals, clinching a return trip with a 4-1 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night that finished off a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals. Pittsburgh lost to Detroit last year in a six-game final series.

“We didn’t touch [the trophy] last year, and things didn’t go the way we wanted,” Crosby said. “I thought we’d change it up this year.”

Max Talbot had a goal and an assist, Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin also scored, and Craig Adams added an empty-netter.

Crosby had two assists to extend his point streak to six games, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped the final 30 shots he faced in shutting down Carolina during the last 58 minutes.

The Penguins outscored the Hurricanes 20-9 in the series, netted at least three goals in each game, and trailed for a total of 20 minutes, 30 seconds, in advancing to the Cup finals for the fourth time.

No doubt, the Penguins were impressive in how they dismantled Carolina. I just don’t think they can beat Detroit. Admittedly, I never thought Penguin would get this far in the playoffs either.


NHL may bump up Cup finals start date

As it stands now, hockey fans will see a repeat of the 2007-08 final. From AP-

According to multiple sources, if the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings can wrap up their respective Conference final series by Wednesday night, the Stanley Cup finals likely would start on Saturday, May 30 in Detroit. In this scenario, Game 2 would be played on Sunday, May 31.

This is a change from a May 22 press release from the league that indicated that the championship series would begin on Friday, June 5, if both Conference final series didn’t end in four-game sweeps.

The Penguins can close out their series with a victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Tuesday night. The defending champion Red Wings, meanwhile, have positioned themselves to advance with a win over the Blackhawks on Wednesday in Detroit.

I think Chicago is more than capable of taking Detroit to Game six. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has so dominated Carolina, I would be surprised if the series don’t end in a sweep.

I think bumping up the schedule is a good idea if the semi-finals end early. Why wait a week to begin the final round?

The NHL may be making this schedule change to accomodate NBC’s programming more than to satisfy its fans need for closure to the 2008-09 hockey year.

For the past several days, the league has been working behind the scenes with NBC, which has limited prime time real estate to devote to the Cup finals due to important “sweeps” week programming and the Tonight Show re-launch with new host Conan O’Brien.

According to wikipedia, May sweeps are over and the next isn’t till July.

NBC concentrates on just a small handful of NHL teams for their broadcasts. Two of whom are Detroit and Pittsburgh. I’m sure network executives are delighted these teams will battle it out for the Stanley Cup.


Washington and Carolina advance in Stanley Cup playoffs

The last two first round series concluded last night. First Washington rallied to eliminate the New York Rangers.

Fedorov beat Henrik Lundqvist with 4:59 left in the third period, rookie Simeon Varlamov was good in the net when he had to be, and the second-seeded Capitals edged the No. 7 New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal Tuesday night.

If Washington coach Bruce Boudreau had stuck with the veteran Theodore as Goalie, The Rangers would have advanced. It was a gutsy decision.

New Jersey was victimized by two late Carolina goals in their loss.

Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal scored in a 48-second span late in the third period as the Hurricanes stunned the Devils 4-3 in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference series.

To me, Carolina’s win is more surprising than Anaheim knocking off San Jose.

The conference semi-finals are set. My predictions are-

Boston takes Carolina 4 games to 1. I think the Bruins are the best team still in the playoffs.
Washington beats Pittsburgh 4 games to 3. Can Varlamov stand the pressure of Crosby, Malkin, and company? He better, otherwise the Capitals will make mincemeat of Theodore.


Slap shot- Carolina beats NJ 2-1 in overtime

The win evens the first round Stanley Cup playoff series at one game a piece. From AP-

A couple of fortunate bounces got the Carolina Hurricanes even in the their playoff series with the New Jersey Devils and made an earlier dismal performance by the ‘Candy Canes’ seem a distant memory.

Defenseman Tim Gleason scored his first NHL playoff goal and first of the season with a slap shot off the skate of a Devils defenseman at 2:40 of overtime, and the Hurricanes beat the Devils 2-1 Friday night, tying their first round playoff series at a game apiece.

“It was a good pass by Joe Corvo,” Gleason said after his shot from the point deflected off the skate of Niklas Havelid into the net. “He laid it right out there for me. Eric Staal had a great screen in front of the net. I closed my eyes and shot that thing as hard as I could.”

Havelid wasn’t sure if the puck hit him.

“It’s one of those unlucky ones,” Havelid said.

Unlucky for New Jersey but good luck for Carolina. Goals all season long are scored after being deflected.

An interesting fact about Carolina’s win- They are 5 for 5 in playoff games vs New Jersey that go to overtime. I still think New Jersey will come out on top in this series.

Elsewhere in the NHL playoffs.

Vancouver beat St. Louis 3-0 in spite of being out shot 30-27. Vancouver is now up two games to none I see the Blues making a quick exit. They may not even one game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Pittsburgh takes advantage of 5-3 overtime power play to beat Philadelphia 3-2. They are also up 2 games to none but I expect the Flyers not to go down quietly.


NHL Left Winger Gary Roberts announces his retirement


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.


A big win- Florida defeats Carolina 4-2

Goals from Nathan Horton, David Booth, Gregory Campbell, and Jay Bouwmeester allow the Panthers to defeat a divisional rival that always gives them trouble. With tonight’s win, Florida is 3-0-1 in their last 4 games where they also scored 19 goals. That is a great deal of offense for a team not known for its explosiveness.

A key to the win- Florida committed no penalties. Tomas Vokoun made 31 saves.

The Panthers have reached the halfway point of the 2008-09 season with a record of 19-16-6 for a total of 44 pts. That has them in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. I’ll blog more about the midpoint of the season in another post.


Carolina Hurricanes fire coach Peter Laviolette

The man who led the team to the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship, will be replaced by his predecessor, Paul Maurice.

The Carolina Hurricanes have fired coach Peter Laviolette, who led the team to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship.

The team has called a press conference at 11:30 a.m. to announce the coaching change.

Laviolette was in his fifth season with the team and this season became the winningest U.S-born NHL coach. But the Hurricanes missed the playoffs the last two seasons and are 12-11-2 this season after Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

In a strange turn, The Sports Network is reporting that the Canes will replace Laviolette with his predecessor, Paul Maurice.

ESPN is also reporting Maurice, who last coached in Toronto, will be taking over in Carolina.

Luke Decock writes-

The news that the Hurricanes have called a press conference this morning to announce a coaching change comes as no surprise to anyone who watched this team play this season.

With each passing game, it was becoming clear that Peter Laviolette no longer possessed the ability to get this team to play hard on a regular, consistent basis. It’s also possible that wasn’t his fault.

He wasn’t given the most talented roster in the NHL to start with, and injuries and poor performances left him with a shell of even that. It’s entirely possible no coach could have been able — or will be able — to get more out of this roster.

But in the end, Laviolette paid the price for a string of home losses — three in a row, and a 6-7-0 home record — that highlighted this team’s most critical failing:

Whether to start games (the Hurricanes have given up the first goal in 10 straight games) or to end them (the late collapses against Los Angeles, Edmonton and Washington), there was no way of telling how hard the Canes were willing to play on any particular night.

I see the same thing with the Florida Panthers on a regular basis.

One last note on Laviolette- He is the winningest US born coach in NHL history.


Are we ready for some Florida Panthers hockey?

Tonight they play their first game of the 2008-09 NHL season at Carolina. Florida has little success when playing at Carolina, but did manage to beat a late season win at Carolina last April. It marked Florida’s first road win against the Hurricanes since 2002.

I predicted Florida would make the playoffs last year and conceivably win the division. To say I was disappointed by the underachieving Panthers was an understatement. Florida has done little to make me confident this year, as the team tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

Greg Stoda at the Palm Beach Post wrote-

The Panthers epitomize the old saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. And as their new season dawns – Florida opens tonight at Carolina, and begins its home schedule Saturday night against Atlanta in BankAtlantic Center – the outlook for the Panthers remains numbingly familiar.

They’ve changed coaches again, but there’s no reason to assume the Panthers will be appreciably different under Peter DeBoer than they were for three years under Jacques Martin, now solely the team’s general manager.

Florida won 37, 35 and 38 games while accumulating 85, 86 and 85 points with Martin behind the bench, and it always had difficulty scoring goals.


Well, the man who led the Panthers in goals scored and points produced each of the past five seasons now plays for Phoenix, which seems an odd fix despite Olli Jokinen’s horrendous minus-19 rating last year. But the loquacious Jokinen wasn’t much appreciated in the locker room or, quite frankly, as a formidable big-game player.

With Jokinen no longer wearing their sweater, the Panthers, predictably enough, are pushing a scoring-by-committee solution to any question about who’ll put the puck into the net. Except there doesn’t appear to be any committee, and already there’s more than a little pressure on Nathan Horton to increase his output from 27 goals and 62 points last season as he moves from wing to center.

The Jokinen deal shored up the defense, but at the cost of the team’s leading scorer. Who Florida has left to put goals in the net is hardly inspiring. Journeyman Cory Stillman isn’t the answer.

As for a offense by committee.

“It has to be by committee,” said Hall of Famer and Florida television analyst Denis Potvin. “It’ll work if you have six or seven guys scoring 20 goals.”

The Panthers had exactly three players – Booth, Jokinen and Horton – who did that last season.

Florida just sent its best scoring prospect, Shawn Matthias, to their affiliate in Rochester. Matthias won’t be down for long, but the move is more symptomatic in regards to the mindset of Florida staying the same. The Southeast Division is better this year, Florida has no offense, The goaltending is excellent with star Tomas Vokoun and the unappreciated and underused Craig Anderson, the defense which allowed the fewest goals last year of any Southeast Division team, is going to allow even less this year if Florida wants to make the playoffs. I don’t see it happening.


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