Sports Outside the Beltway

To hell with them- Florida whips New Jersey Devils 4-0

For the second time in a week, the Panthers scored an impressive shutout victory. Last week it took place in Carolina, where the cats won 5-0. Carolina is all right this year, that’s about all. The win was significant for two reasons.

1 Florida rarely wins at Carolina. Just once in over fifteen tries before last week’s game.

2 Carolina was Florida’s closest pursuer for a playoff spot

Last night’s win was more impressive. Goalie Tomas Vokoun shut down the dangerous New Jersey offense that features Zach Parise and Patrik Elias and others. Florida had four different forwards contribute a goal each. They were Stephen Weiss, Cory Stillman, Nathan Horton, and Richard Zednik. All of who now have ten or more goals scored on the season. This against a team that had a seven game road winning streak and had won 13 of their last 15 games.

Vokoun’s fifth shutout of the year gives Florida a league leading team total of eight for the season. Florida’s defensemen whose goal scoring has cooled off of late, are among the highest scoring as a team in the league.

Florida is 16-7-5 at home this year, 13-13-3 on the road, and are 13-4-3 since the beginning. The team is also 8-0 on a certain day of the week. If Florida could only play the rest of the season on Tuesdays……

As it stands now, Florida is 4-way tie for 5th place in the Eastern conference. The Southeast Division leading Washington Capitals are too far ahead to be caught, but Florida I just don’t can be stopped from making the playoffs this year. That is as long as they don’t trade star defensemen Jay Bouwmeester. Bouvwmeester becomes a unrestricted free agent at year’s end, but as the stats show Florida is one of the hottest teams in hockey at present. This team is going to the playoffs, and they could go far in the postseason if they keep playing like they are now.

Next up for the Panthers- Games against Chicago and Boston at Florida.

Rob at Panther’s Portal is also commenting.


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.


Claude Lemieux signs two-way deal with Sharks

He hasn’t played a NHL game since the 2002-03 season. From AP-

Claude Lemieux signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks on Monday after spending the past month with their top minor-league affiliate, giving another boost to his NHL comeback hopes.

The 43-year-old Lemieux signed with the Worcester Sharks on Nov. 25 after a five-year absence from pro hockey. The four-time Stanley Cup winner’s new contract is a two-way deal, allowing him to play in San Jose or Worcester.

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said Lemieux will stay with the Worcester Sharks if he clears waivers Tuesday after signing his new deal. He has two goals, four assists and 12 penalty minutes in 14 games in the minors.

“This is simply the next step in the evaluation process with Claude,” Wilson said.

Lemieux played parts of 20 seasons in the NHL, winning titles with Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995 and 2000) and Colorado (1996). He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 1995, and his 80 postseason goals rank ninth in league history.

Lemieux was a great player in his day, but five years away from the NHL is likely to leave him deficient as a player. MLB players(Jackie Jensen, Bruce Bochte, and many other) who came back after losing a whole season have had struggles. Two goals in 14 minor league games doesn’t exactly scream he is ready for a comeback either.


Dainus Zubrus scores 4 goals as NJ routs Tampa 7-3

Before yesterday’s game the Devil forward had two goals for the entire 2008-09 season. From AP-

Dainius Zubrus had one of the best offensive games in New Jersey Devils history.

Zubrus tied a team record with four goals to help New Jersey win its season-high fourth straight game, 7-3 over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.

“I had chances,” Zubrus said. “Since I’ve played with Brian Gionta and Patrik Elias, I’ve had more chances than I had before. They just started going in.”

Zubrus, who entered with two goals this season, completed his four-goal effort in the third with a breakaway goal at 7:22 and on a shot from the slot with 5:22 left to play.

You give up seven goals to New Jersey, not exactly a scoring powerhouse. Someone try explaining to me why Tampa was considered a Stanley Cup contender before the season began?


Florida Panthers- A blah effort

That best describes the cats game against New Jersey last night. Florida out shot 24-19 but lost 3-1. Simple problem with the game- Florida let New Jersey control it. Some players looked like they were barely putting in an effort.

Sun Sentinel hockey blogger wrote-

He hasn’t been able to get this team going on a consistent basis — who can do it? — and in particular Nathan Horton.

He tried to take the pressure off Horton coming into this season. He made him a center to give him more responsibility. Still, no response. There are times Horton hustles and there are times when he appears to be going through the motions.

Horton alternates between being a terror and invisible. Last night he was the later.

Against New Jersey, Florida faced a third string goalie who probably belongs in the AHL. Tonight they play again in Boston. No rest, and against a goalie in Tim Thomas, who is playing brilliantly but has had problems with the cats in the past. Which Florida team will show up?

What does Florida coah DeBoer think of his team so far this season?

Nearly one-fourth through the season, DeBoer said the Panthers’ report card deserves a ‘C.’

I’d say more like a C- or D+

Scott Burnside at ESPN has his own ratings-

Tampa Bay Lightning: D-plus
Firing coach Barry Melrose 16 games into the season illustrates the state of flux in which the Lightning find themselves. Ownership and management can’t seem to decide what kind of team they want to be, both on the ice and financially, as the trade of minute-muncher Matt Carle to Philadelphia attests. There is plenty of time to turn this ship around given the talent in the lineup and the surprising play of netminder Mike Smith, but it won’t happen if everyone isn’t pulling on the same rope, which hasn’t been the case so far. The immediate question facing the team is whether new rookie coach Rick Tocchet has the personality to make sure that cohesiveness takes place.


Florida Panthers: D
New coach, new lineup, new promises … same results in South Florida for the bottom-dwelling Panthers. Rookie coach Peter DeBoer was hoping to rely on a rock-solid defense and goaltending to keep the young Panthers in the playoff hunt, but they’re 16th in goals against per game and 28th in goals scored per game. The Panthers have yet to win more than two games in a row at any point this season. Jay Bouwmeester had not scored through 17 games and will become the elephant in the corner as GM Jacques Martin will have to decide whether to move the franchise defenseman. Bouwmeester can become an unrestricted free agent in July and has showed little inclination to sign on for the long haul in Florida (and why would he?).

Which I find peculiar for several reasons.

1- The records of Tampa and Florida so far

Lightning- 5-7-6
Panthers- 7-10-1

Florida is playing mediocre this year, but not much was expected of the team. On the other hand some hockey analysts thought Tampa was at least a playoff team or even a potential Stanley Cup contender.

2- Burnside hyped Tampa before the 2008-09 season began. How can give the dismal Lightning a better than Florida considering their under performance?


NJ Devils Goalie Martin Brodeur to miss 3-4 months

The future Hall of Famer injured his elbow last Saturday. From ESPN-

NEWARK, N.J. — For the next three to four months, the New Jersey Devils are going to learn about life without Martin Brodeur.

Brodeur, a four-time Vezina Trophy winner who is on the verge of becoming the NHL’s all-time winningest goaltender, will be sidelined until at least February after tearing a distal biceps in his left elbow last weekend.

Brodeur, 36, will undergo surgery Thursday — a development that also interrupts his charge toward setting two lofty records. He has 544 career wins, eight shy of breaking Patrick Roy’s NHL all-time record of 551. He also is five shutouts from tying Terry Sawchuk’s NHL record of 103.

He has played in 89.3 percent of the Devils’ games (931 out of 1,043) since the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.

This is a big loss, one that can be understated. Brodeur is the best goalie in the NHL. His backup Kevin Weekes, is a career journeyman. Since his first NHL game in the 1997-98 season, Weekes has played for Florida, Vancouver, Tampa, Carolina, and the NY Rangers before coming to New Jersey before the 2007-08 season. That is 5 teams in years.

Will New Jersey go shopping for a goaltender? From Pierre LeBrun-

We asked that question point-blank to veteran Devils GM Lou Lamoriello on Tuesday, and while he would never tell any media member if he was working on a trade (he keeps his cards close to the vest), he was strong in his support of backup Kevin Weekes.

It sounded to me like Weekes will get a chance to carry this team for a while before Lamoriello ever looks at other option

If New Jersey waits too long, making the playoffs this year could be out of the equation. Weekes is not a quality goaltender.

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NJ Devil Goalie Martin Brodeur wins his 40th game of the season

Only one other goalie has accomplished this feat three or more times. From AP-

DENVER (AP) — Martin Brodeur made one save using the handle portion of his stick, another by extending his elbow out just in time to deflect away a shot.

“I get lucky on a few,” Brodeur said with a grin.

There’s a little skill involved, too. Brodeur stopped 24 shots to reach 40 wins for a record seventh time in New Jersey’s 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

Goalies with more than one 40 win Seasons
Martin Brodeur 7
Jacques Plante 3
Terry Sawchuk 3
Miikka Kiprusoff 2
Ed Belfour 2
Ken Dryden 2
Bernie Parent 2

Brodeur said the 40-win mark was nice, but he’s more concerned with turning in solid performances every night.

“I build my career and the way I play around being consistent,” Brodeur said. “I play a lot of games, my teammates expect me to win 40 games. They [goals] are nice to accomplish, but your team has got to be a big part of it also.”

The Devils’ offense tallied four goals for a second straight game as Dainius Zubrus, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jay Pandolfo and John Madden all scored.


Brodeur extended his own NHL record by reaching 40 wins again. Brodeur broke the league mark last season by earning 48 victories, and is 18 shy of topping former Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy’s career record of 551 wins.

Brodeur will pass Roy sometime in the 08-09 season. My Panthers managed to beat Brodeur twice this season, but in another game early this season against the Devils, Brodeur’s backup Kevin Weekes was little short of brilliant.

Because of Brodeur, New Jersey is one of the favorites to win the Eastern conference.


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 Panther Coach Jacques Martin gets his 500th victory

He is only one of 10 NHL coaches to win that many games. From AP-

NEWARK, N.J.– Jacques Martin joined a club so exclusive, its members numbered in the single digits.

Until he joined, anyway.

Martin became the 10th NHL coach with 500 wins after Radek Dvorak and David Booth scored early in the third period to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday. Backup goalie Craig Anderson made 31 saves and the Panthers ended a three-game losing streak.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work in this league, the best league in the world and to have some good players to coach,” said Martin, who is also Florida’s general manager.

Dvorak and Booth scored 1:17 apart in the third to give Florida the lead. Dvorak got the equalizer 2:28 in. Brett McLean unloaded a hard shot on Martin Brodeur who made a stick save. Dvorak pounced on the rebound for his first goal in 11 games.

Before taking over the Panthers, Martin coached in St. Louis and Ottawa.

Friday’s win was Florida’s 2nd triumph over Martin Brodeur this year in three tries. At present the Panthers are mired in a slump that leaves me doubtful about the team’s prospects for winning the weak Southeast Division. The team losing 5-3 to a weak Washington team on Saturday night. The team isn’t scoring and Goalie Tomas Vokoun is in a slump. I’d let Craig Anderson start versus Ottawa on Tuesday night, but Martin seems reluctant to use his #2 goalie much.

If Florida doesn’t get their act together soon the 2007-08 year can be marked as just another disappointment for the team’s fans.


Martin Brodeur earns 95th career shutout

It moves the NJ Devil goaltender into 2nd place on the all-time NHL list. From AP-

CALGARY, Alberta – Martin Brodeur broke a tie with George Hainesworth for second place on the NHL’s career shutout list, making 30 saves in the New Jersey Devils’ 1-0 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames on Sunday night.

Brodeur has three shutouts this season to push his career total to 95. Terry Sawchuk tops the list with 103.

Patrik Elias scored the lone goal, beating Miikka Kiprusoff at 25 seconds of the extra period. Kiprusoff finished with 21 saves.

The Devils won after a Calgary turnover deep in the New Jersey end.

Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich dropped the puck back to Craig Conroy, who mishandled the pass and was stripped by Elias. Elias moved the puck ahead to Brian Gionta, then raced up to join Gionta on a 2-on-1.

Gionta crossed the blue line and slid the puck back across to Elias. With Sarich and Conroy desperately trying to catch him, Elias one-timed the pass into the open side before Kiprusoff could slide across.

With the victory, New Jersey improved to 20-13-3 and into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference behind Ottawa.

I consider New Jersey one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, and much of the reason why is Brodeur. He is an all-time great and still an exceptional goalie. Florida beat him earlier this year, but the Panthers were just lucky to get Brodeur on an off night.

Brodeur has only 3 shutouts this year, however if he gets back on his normal pace, he would break the all-time record for goalies late in the 2008-09 season.


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