Sports Outside the Beltway

San Jose Sharks at 50 points after 5-4 win over St. Louis

The last time a NHL team reached this mark in only 29 games was almost 80 years ago. From AP-

San Jose captain Patrick Marleau stepped up in the locker room after the second period — and the ice in yet another Sharks victory.

Marleau scored twice, including the winner with just over 5 minutes to play, in the NHL-leading Sharks’ 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.

“We feel like we’re never out of it,” Marleau said. “When we find ourselves down a couple of goals, we remind ourselves to stick with the game plan.”

Sharks coach Todd McLellen said it started with the players taking responsibility.

“The leadership on this club right now is tremendous,” McLellen said. “No one was letting anybody off the hook. They held themselves responsible. The coaches didn’t say anything.”

The win gave the Sharks 50 points, tying them for the NHL record for fewest games to 50 points. In the 1929-30 season, the Boston Bruins also earned 50 points in 29 games by starting the season 25-4-0.

The Sharks are 24-3-2 for the year. One of those three defeats was against Florida. Does that mean I should expect a San Jose-Florida Stanley Cup? It is nice to dream.


We’re streaking! Florida Panthers beat Anaheim 3-1

A David Booth hat trick was the key to the victory. After last night’s win, Florida has a record of 5-8-1. More importantly, the Panthers five-game road trip is at an end. Florida has home games this week against Tampa and Detroit.

Florida’s win last night marked the second time the cats have been able to beat a high flying California team. Their last win before Anaheim, came against the San Jose Sharks. After their loss to Florida, the Sharks ran off a 7-game winning streak that only came to an end last night.

As nice as the win was last night,(I watched the game. Memo to FSN- Cut out the idiotic in game commercials that fill 20% of the television screen while the puck is in play. They are very disruptive when it comes to watching a hockey game) Florida didn’t play much different than they have all this season. No offense(Other than David Booth), poor special teams, and way too many shots on goal allowed. Last night it was 45-26. You can’t keep asking Goalies Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson to be almost perfect every game. It still looks like a long year for South Florida hockey fans.

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Florida Panther Defenseman Bryan Allen ‘out indefinitely’

He will have knee surgery on Monday. From AP-

SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida defenseman Bryan Allen is set to have surgery on his left knee Monday and will be out indefinitely.

Allen, one of the Panthers’ three alternate captains, has been out since playing in the Panthers’ first two games of the season. He underwent surgery on the knee in the summer and sat out all but the last of Florida’s preseason games.

The Panthers are still without defenseman Bryan McCabe, who has been out since the season opener Oct. 10 because of a back injury. Panthers general manager Jacques Martin said McCabe is making progress and the team is hoping he can begin practicing next week.

Martin also said the Panthers have had discussions with veteran defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who played with the team last season but wasn’t re-signed.

Allen’s abscence is already being felt. Over the last two games, Florida opponents Ottawa and San Jose took 90 shots on goal. So much for the purpose of the Olli Jokinen deal which was to decrease the pressure on Florida goaltenders.

Florida plays St. Louis tonight. Having played in Florida last night, and then Missouri tonight, I expect Craig Anderson to be in goal. If he isn’t, Coach Peter DeBoer has to be taking direction from GM Jacques Martin. Martin showed little confidence in Anderson, and as of now DeBoer seems to be following his predecessor’s lead.

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Ron Wilson becomes new Toronto Maple Leafs coach

He was fired by San Jose less than a month ago. From AP-

TORONTO — Ron Wilson was introduced Tuesday as the new coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, less than a month after he was fired by the San Jose Sharks.

The 53-year-old Wilson appeared at a Tuesday news conference at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre after signing a four-year deal.

Wilson was fired May 12 by San Jose after the Sharks lost to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the playoffs. He succeeds Paul Maurice, who was fired by Toronto last month after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

“I’m the happiest person in the National Hockey League today,” Wilson said. “I’m fulfilling a dream.

Wilson played for Toronto back in the 70′s. In addition he coached at Anaheim and Washington before his stint in San Jose.

Can Wilson succeed in Toronto? The Maple Leafs have been mired mostly in mediocrity for a time span that predates Ron Wilson’s time as player with the team. The Leafs have Mats Sundin, but not a whole lot else that stands out. This dream job stands a good chance of ending up as a nightmare.


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.


Post NHL All-Star game playoff assessment- Western Conference

From top to bottom, the standings

Detroit Red Wings 51-37-10-4-78
San Jose Sharks 50-28-15-7-63
Dallas Stars 54-29-20-5-63
Anaheim Ducks 53-27 20-6-60
Minnesota Wild 50-28-19-3-59
Calgary Flames 50-25-17-8-58
Vancouver Canucks 51-26-20-5-57
Colorado Avalanche 50-26-20-4-56

Phoenix Coyotes 50-27-21-2-56
Columbus Blue Jackets 52-25-21-6-56
Nashville Predators 51-25-21-5-55
St Louis Blues 49-23-19-7-53
Edmonton Oilers 53-23-25-5-51
Chicago Blackhawks 50-23-23-4-50
Los Angeles Kings 52-20-29-3-43

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

Teams in Bold are Northwest Division teams

I think its more than reason to say Detroit, San Jose, Dallas, and Anaheim are going to make the playoffs, while the LA Kings have no chance. Edmonton’s chances are slim also.

The closest division is the Northwest. Three points separate first to fourth place. I like Vancouver because of Goalie Roberto Luongo. The division is both talented and very tight and I could see anyone but Edmonton could come out on top and deservingly so. The Avalanche, Wild, Canucks nor Flames rate as mediocre or badly underacheiving teams unlike members of the Southeast Division.


Sharks Goalie Evgeni Nabokov shuts out Phoenix third straight time

Nababov has started every Shark game so far this season. From AP-

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Evgeni Nabokov shut out Phoenix for the third straight time as the San Jose Sharks beat the Coyotes 1-0 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Milan Michalek’s goal with 15 seconds left in the second period was the difference in the Sharks’ fifth consecutive road victory.

San Jose improved to 4-0 against Phoenix this season. The Coyotes scored the first goal of the series, then the Sharks scored the next 16. Nabokov has shut out Phoenix 5-0, 6-0 and now 1-0. The Coyotes have gone just under 231 minutes against the Sharks’ goalie without scoring.

Nabokov has four shutouts this season and 38 for his career, moving him into a tie for fourth with Buffalo’s Jocelyn Thibault among active goalies.

Michelek, who scored his ninth goal of the season, slipped a wrist shot past goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from about 10 yards in front of the net, with an assist from Joe Thornton. Jeremy Roenick got the second assist.

Nabokov, who had 26 saves, is the only goalie in the NHL to start all of his team’s games this season.

San Jose better be careful. While Nabokov has been playing in the NHL only 7 years, he’s been playing professional hockey for twice as long. Some goalies can take a heavy workload, Martin Brodeur for example. Nabokov on the other hand hasn’t played more than 59 games in goal during an NHL regular season since 01-02. The Sharks may want to avoid burning out the Russian.

I always wondered why no one picked up former Florida Panther goalie Eddie Belfour after the 06-07. He’s playing in Sweden now. The Eagle showed he could still play last year. He’d be a more than good #2 goalie for some NHL team.


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.


The Eagle has flown- Eddie Belfour no longer wanted by the Florida Panthers

In the wake of the Tomas Vokoun deal, Florida management has decided they no longer need the veteran goaltender.

General manager/coach Jacques Martin said Friday it will not be Ed Belfour, 42. Belfour played in 58 games last season and set the franchise record for consecutive starts, but he will not be invited back.

Look for Florida to re-sign Alex Auld and Craig Anderson, and have them compete for the spot in training camp. The loser will have to look for work elsewhere.

Eddie did a good job in goal last year before tiring near season’s end. Besides Auld and Anderson, do the Panthers’ have anyone in the minors worth giving a shot to? I don’t much about Florida’s farm system, but what I know of Auld and looking at Anderson’s stats, don’t make me confident in their ability to be an adequate backup. Who knows I could be wrong.

The Panthers chose Keaton Ellerby in the first round of this weekend’s NHL Draft. One scouting expert wasn’t impressed.

But draft guru Kyle Woodlief isn’t so sure.

Woodlief, who publishes the independent Red Line Report and is considered hockey’s answer to Mel Kiper Jr., said Ellerby failed to progress in his third season of junior hockey last season and had enough conflicts with Kamloops coach Dean Clark that he was benched for a time.

“I just think he lacks hockey sense,” Woodlief said. “He’s a big kid, he skates well … (but) I expected him to step up and take a dominant position this year and he didn’t do that.”

Woodlief said Clark almost never disciplines a player, but decided he had no option with Ellerby.

“He wasn’t listening to the coaches, (he was) really full of himself. Dean Clark had to sit him for a game or two. And it’s tough to get on Dean Clark’s bad side.”

Woodlief rated Ellerby the No. 21 prospect in the draft, while the NHL’s Central Scouting had him No. 5. In his comment on Ellerby, Woodlief wrote: “Has even less hockey sense than (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman.”

Ouch! A player with a big head before turning pro is liable to only have it increase in size. We’ll have to wait a few years to see if Florida management or Woodlief is right about Ellerby.


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.


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