Sports Outside the Beltway

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.


NHL Players complain about European games

This season’s opener was played in London. On Saturday, the NHL announced its intention to play two games in Europe to open the 2008-09 season. From AP-

ATLANTA – Basking in the spotlight of its All-Star game, the NHL decided Saturday was the perfect time to unveil a big announcement for the start of next season: Four teams will get the honor of opening in Europe.

Maybe the league should have made sure the players were on board.

Saying there were still details to be worked out, the leader of the NHL Players’ Association objected to the league announcing two games would be played in both Prague and Stockholm to start the 2008-09 season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the New York Rangers are scheduled to meet the Tampa Bay Lightning at Sazka Arena in the Czech Republic, while the Ottawa Senators would face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Globe Arena in Sweden’s capital city.

The games would be played Oct. 4 and 5 — assuming the Players’ Association signs off on the plans.

That might be a problem. Paul Kelly, the NHLPA’s executive director, said he was aware of the European games but warned the league not to make a firm announcement until the two sides worked out all details.

“If they want the Players’ Association to be a true business partner, then they have to include us in discussions about these matters at the earliest stages,” Kelly said. “We shouldn’t read about it in the press and we shouldn’t find about it after the fact.”

Kelly said he was approached by league officials Friday night and asked to sign off on the European games, which would mark the second straight year the NHL has opened its season on the other side of the Atlantic.

His response: “Look guys, you know we have a lot of details to work out. Travel, promotional issues, NHLPA involvement, accommodations, the schedule, etc. So there’s still lots of details to work out, but if you want to announce it generally, that’s fine.’

From Kelly’s statements, it appears the NHLPA is unhappy because they weren’t included in the decision making process. They should have been, but that’s water under the bridge now.

As to playing games in Europe, I don’t like it from the point of view of the Sports US fans. Both Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay will be losing one home game. If you’re a season ticket holder of either team, you have a right to complain. Why should your team have to play a home gain 1/3rd the way around the world? I didn’t like it when the Miami Dolphins agreed to play The New York Giants in London last year. Dolphin fans had more reason to be upset, considering they only get 8 home games a year, and the Giants were making a rare appearance in South Florida.

US football in Europe if it wasn’t a financial bust, was hardly a success either. As to hockey, most countries have their own hockey leagues. How many Czechs and Swedes are playing in the NHL now? Quite a few. I think local fans prefer to watch their own teams. Not ones brought in from another continent. Even if interest is generated, I’d bet it is only temporary.


Ottawa Senator Daniel Alfredsson scores 7 pts in win over Tampa Bay

And you were worried the defending Eastern Conference Champ may miss Deny Heatley. From AP-

TAMPA, Fla. – Daniel Alfredsson had three goals and four assists for an Ottawa-record seven points, leading the struggling Senators to an 8-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who had two goals and two assists, scored 29 seconds apart during Ottawa’s three-goal first period. The Senators’ captain added a short-handed goal and his 500th career assist in the second as the Senators took a 5-0 lead.

Alfredsson topped his career high of six points at Buffalo on Nov. 2, 2005.


Alfredsson scored from the top of the left circle at 13:43 of the first. Spezza made it 2-0 from the high slot at 14:12.

Alfredsson scored a power-play goal with 1:19 left in the first and added his sixth short-handed goal of the season on a 2-on-1 to put Ottawa up 4-0 at 4:38 of the second.

Alfredsson got his 500th career assist on Vermette’s goal later in the second at 9:36.

One third of Ottawa’s ‘Cash line’, Alfredsson has been one of the NHL’s most consistent scorers for over a decade. All for Ottawa. Its players like Alfrdesson, Heatley, and others who make the Senator’s the class of the Eastern Conference.


Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby out with ankle injury

It is uncertain how long last season’s leading scorer will be out for. From AP-

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby badly sprained an ankle while ramming into the boards in the first period, and the Andre Roy-led Tampa Bay Lightning took advantage of his absence for a 3-0 victory over the Penguins on Friday night.

Crosby was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, an injury to the large ligament that connects the two biggest bones in the lower leg, the tibia and fibula. The injury is more serious than the traditional twisted ankle and can sideline an athlete for a month or more.

Roy, a Pittsburgh castoff, had a goal and two assists to figure in all three goals as the Lightning won for only the third time in 12 games (3-7-2). Tampa Bay had been an NHL-worst 5-14-3 on the road.

Crosby, tied for the NHL scoring lead with 63 points coming into the game, was shooting from the edge of the right circle when Tampa Bay defenseman Paul Ranger rammed him with his stick halfway through the first period. Crosby dropped to the ice on his rear end but managed to swipe at the puck a second time before ramming awkwardly into the rear boards, his left leg up.

Crosby’s right ankle appeared to twist to the side as that leg absorbed the impact of the collision. Crosby initially got up and began to limp toward the bench, only to turn around and enter a tunnel to the Penguins locker room. He pulled up in visible pain in the walkway and had to be helped the rest of the way.

The Penguins said Crosby would be re-examined Saturday by team doctors. If the early diagnosis is accurate, last season’s NHL scoring champion and MVP seems certain to miss the Jan. 27 All-Star game at Atlanta. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been out since Dec. 6 with the same injury.

I think Pittsburgh can survive the temporary loss of Crosby and still advance to the playoffs this season. The southeast division is so weak or mediocre this year, only the division winner is likely to make the playoffs. That leaves the Penguins one of 10 teams fighting for the other 7 spots.


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.


Ottawa Senators suffer 1st 7-game skid since 1996

A team many thought was headed to the Stanley Cup finals, has hit a tough patch.

TAMPA, Fla. – Vinny Prospal scored in the fourth round of a shootout and the Tampa Bay Lightning extended Ottawa’s losing streak to seven games with a 4-3 victory over the Senators on Tuesday night.

The Lightning, who blew a 3-1 lead in the final two minutes, won the shootout 2-1.

Daniel Alfredsson scored twice during a three-goal third, helping the Senators tie it at 3. Alfredsson (1:57 left) and Wade Redden (1:21 remaining) completed the comeback scoring 36 seconds apart late in the period.

The Senators have lost seven games in a row for the first time since Feb. 22-March 9, 1996.

Mathieu Darche, Chris Gratton and Filip Kuba scored for the Lightning.

Despite the streak, the Senators are still 16-7-3. Hardly in danger of missing the playoffs.

Next up for the Senators? My home team, the Florida Panthers. Ottawa will be playing back to back days while the Panthers have been off for four days. Sounds like good news for Florida, except Ottawa easily won the only other meeting of the two teams this year. A 4-1 Senator win back in October.


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.


Detroit, New Jersey Win 1st Round Series; Dallas-Vancouver Game 7 Tonight

The New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings booked tickets to the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with their Game 6 wins in their respective series on Sunday. This leaves the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks as the only teams who have not finished their 1st round series, they play Game 7 tonight in Vancouver.

The Detroit Red Wings have won thier series against the Calgary Flames in six games by scores of 4-1, 3-1, 2-3, 2-3, 5-1, & 2-1.

The New Jersey Devils have won thier series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games by scores of 5-3, 2-3, 2-3, 4-3, 3-0, & 3-2.


Rangers Sweep Thrashers

Well, I’m 0 for 1 on my picks so far as the Rangers swept the Thrashers out of the Playoffs winning the four games with scores of 4-3, 2-1, 7-0, & 4-2. The Rangers just stuck it to the Thrashers as the veteran leadership figured to lead the Thrashers was hardly a factor in the series. Good job by the Rangers overall they turned their season around after looking like they would miss the playoffs two months ago. They got hot to make the playoffs and have carried that through, if they can keep this play up their second round opponent will have a tough series ahead.

Update on other First Round Series:
New Jersey Devils tied with Tampa Bay Lightning 2-2
Buffalo Sabres lead New York Islanders 3-1
Ottawa Senators lead Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1
San Jose Sharks lead Nashville Predators 3-1
Detroit Red Wings lead Calgary Flames 2-1
Vancouver Canucks lead Dallas Stars 3-1
Anaheim Ducks lead Minnesota Wild 3-1


NHL Faces CBC Anger Over NBC

Playoff scheduling by the league has raised the ire of the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) and many Canadian hockey fans.

It’s bad enough the Toronto Maple Leafs mismanaged and misplayed themselves out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers were both too lousy to qualify for the post-season doesn’t please many Canadian hockey fans either.

But now, to add insult to injury, Saturday’s Ottawa Senators-Pittsburgh Penguins game has been shifted to the afternoon to appease NBC.

No Hockey Night in Canada featuring a Canadian-based team. Instead, we get the trap-happy New Jersey Devils against the also-ran Tampa Bay Lightning.

NBC only bothers televising National Hockey League games in the afternoon, and it wants this game because Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby is the game’s marquee attraction. He’s young (just 19), successful (the NHL regular-season scoring champion) and plays hockey with a reckless abandon that endears him to fans everywhere.

One would think that this decision would be a no-brainer for the NHL suits, and league commissioner Gary Bettman. This season, the CBC is paying the NHL $65-million for the rights to broadcast hockey games. And the CBC has also extended its contract with the league for six years at a total of $600 million.

NBC pays nothing for the rights to broadcast NHL games. Instead it has a profit-sharing agreement with the league. Which begs the obvious question of why the NHL would bow to NBC’s request, rather than side with the CBC, which is paying the league all those millions.

Its hard not to blame the Canadians for being mad, their big teams aren’t in and now they can’t watch one of the few Canadian Teams in the playoffs as well as one of the best players in the game. Hockey Night in Canada is their Monday Night Football and they feel its a god given right to have the best teams (or the teams they want to see) playing. Unfortunatlly the league sees reality, the game is at critical mass in Canada. They don’t have to invest in Canada to attract fans in Canada it part of the Canadian gene make up, butthe NHL does need to invest heavily in the US to get the game fan base growing and the way they see doing that is getting the msot exciting young players in the game on US broadcast TV. The NHL need NBC (not vise versa), NBC can choose from a host of sports that would pull in simialr rates and make jsut as much money. Its a choice the NHL was willing to make as they try to become a big sport again, even though it may not work the have to try it.


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