Tag:Jose Theodore
Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 5:36 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Ducks searching for wakeup call

By Brian Stubits

Weekend schedule: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

You know it's bad when we're still early in November and the Anaheim Ducks call a closed-doors meeting. It stinks almost as much as the Avalanche calling Thursday's tilt against the Islanders a "must-win game." They did, barely (4-3 in OT).

But desperate times call for desperate measures. And right now, things are getting close to desperate in Orange County. The Ducks are the coldest team in hockey having lost six in a row. In a world without the overtime loser point, Anaheim is 5-10. That is not good.

"You have to eliminate any confusion, any doubt before you can take the next step forward," Carlyle said about the meeting.

"A lot of times coaches are talking and nobody says a word and you go to the ice and say, 'Well, I don't think that's work[ing]," Teemu Selanne offered. "It's important that the players can give their input also about the situation. It was really good. It was really honest conversations. I think it was a huge step forward."

They better get things figured out quickly. With Dallas playing as well as it is and San Jose in the division, the Ducks could dig themselves a hole too tough to get out of. They have the fewest goals scored and the most goals surrendered in the Pacific Division. In 15 games they have 29 goals, that's less than two goals per game.

How can a team with Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Selanne be struggling to score this much? Well presumably that's what the closed-door meeting was for.

I can't help but think it's the lack of power of the mustache. Since the month of Movember came around and the Ducks all began growing out their best 'staches, the team hasn't won a game. This is making me rethink my entire stance on the world. Here I was holding the mustache in such high esteem.

Or maybe it could be more rationally explained by figuring out where Lubomir Visnovsky has gone? The defenseman who had 18 goals and 50 assists last season has just four points (1-3=4) in 15 games and is a minus-9. Him finding his game would go a long way in helping the Ducks remove the ugly from their game.

So who do they get to try their presumably new tactics against first? How about the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night? Just the team for a struggling squad to face (the still-not-invented sarcasm font was on there).

But that's not all for the weekend. On Sunday the Ducks welcome the last team they beat, the Minnesota Wild. Of course since that win, these two teams have flipped their fortunes. The Ducks have become the coldest team this side of Columbus while Minnesota has been red hot.

SoCal struggles, Part II: This was supposed to be the season the Los Angeles Kings stepped forward, made a run for the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. It obviously still could be, the season is only a short way in. But right now they could use a swift kick in the rear to get in gear.

Los Angeles has followed a 5-1-1 start with a 2-5-2 stretch, including a five-game losing streak that has people wondering if the boot isn't being polished up before delivering the kick. After all, the Kings have not scored more than three goals in 13 of their 16 games. For a team that acquired an offensive talent like Mike Richards to go with a solid group already, that's not going to cut it.

"The offense, certainly myself at the top of the list, should be scoring more, getting to the net," Justin Williams said following Thursday's loss.

So do you put the blame for the struggling stretch on coach Terry Murray? After all, head coaches are always the first scapegoat. I find it hard to blame Murray. He's trying all that he can, mixing and matching the lines to try and create a spark. But as they always say, you can't really fire the players. I mean you can, but it's a lot more difficult.

One of the issues right now is the play of Jonathan Quick. Remember that shutout streak back in October? That's a thing of the past. In his last six starts, Quick has zero wins. He is giving up nearly three goals per game in that stretch.

About the only thing going well right now for L.A. is the play of Drew Doughty. His game has been on point recently with five points in the last three games.

Like their SoCal neighbors in the O.C., the chance to get on the right track will come against the Wild, Saturday night at Staples Center. Oh, Minnesota enters the game having won five of the last six.

What the ....? You know who's not struggling? The first-place Florida Panthers. Yes, you read that right, first-place Panthers.

Dale Tallon threw together a team that everybody anticipated would struggle to jell, but it came together like jell-o. The Panthers have tallied a point in six consecutive games, including back-to-back wins on the road in Toronto and Winnipeg.

If they want to make it seven straight, they will have to get through the Flyers, who are in Sunrise on Sunday.

This is where I'd like to spread a little love on Kris Versteeg, the forward who is on his fourth team in a two-year span -- the one before the Panthers being the Flyers. He has apparently found the right fit and is scoring at a pace of better than a point per game, leading the Cats with 17 points in 15 games. Brian Campbell hasn't been too shabby either with 15 points in 15 games.

The surprises are all around on one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season. Jason Garrison is a sniper from the blue line? Who knew? But he's tied with Nicklas Lidstrom in the NHL lead for goals among defensemen with six. Jose Theodore can still be effective as a No. 1 goalie? Just talk to the folks in the Washington press box to see how hard that is to believe.

There's no telling how long this will last. First place in a division with the Capitals is asking a lot. But with a start like this, they can at least dream of ending that 10-year playoff drought in Florida.

Texas two-step: Want to know if the Dallas Stars are really as good as their 11-3-0 record indicates? Other than the fact that you are what your record says you are, as Bill Parcells would say, the Stars are in the midst of about as tough a three-game road stretch you can conjure up in the NHL.

They already went through the Capitals, handing them their first loss in D.C. this season. Now they have back-to-back games starting Friday in Pittsburgh. The game was viewed as a potential return date for Sidney Crosby, but that's not happening now. However it is still the top two teams in each conference and James Neal vs. the team that traded him.

If that's not enough, Dallas will take the trip to Detroit where the Red Wings await on Saturday.

I'm not sure how many more tests the Stars have to pass before this start and this team is believed to be for real by the masses. It might be already. I know I'm a believer. But just to be safe, a few more points in this weekend double-dip couldn't hurt.

The Bruins got their groove back: It only took a month, but now the Boston Bruins are showing the form the hockey world expected. After all, ask Boston fans and they will tell you last season was just a whole heaping of bonus -- this was the season when they were expected to be legitimate Cup contenders.

The team that in the early going couldn't score now can't stop scoring. Especially in bunches. Five times in the month of November the Bruins scored two goals within 49 seconds of one another. Five times!

Without a doubt, the most impressive player has been Tyler Seguin. The sophomore is showing why there was such a debate between himself and Taylor Hall before the 2010 draft. He is so quick and always seem to get his stick on the puck near the net.

The above items considered, it should come then as no surprise that the Bruins have won four games in a row and are streaking into their game against Northeast Division foe Buffalo.

The question there is which Sabres goalie will be entrusted with slowing down this now potent Bruins attack? That’s the question every day now in Buffalo where at the moment -- and I stress at the moment -- the goaltending job is a 50/50 proposition between Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. If Miller gets the call, it could be a tough situation to find a slump-busting performance.

Defense rules

The Tampa Bay defense, specifically the 1-3-1 trap that coach Guy Boucher loves to use, is the topic of the week in the NHL. The crux of the issue: people want to see more scoring, less stalling.

If that describes you, maybe you should find something else to do on Saturday night when the Lightning and St. Louis Blues meet. Offense might not be too plentiful.

With Ken Hitchcock now on the St. Louis bench and his preference to play a defensive-minded game, it could be a pretty slow and plodding game. Nothing as bad as the scene on Wednesday night, but still not offense friendly. In the two games under Hitchcock, the Blues have given up two goals.

Of course after all this you can now expect for the teams to hit the over.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 25, 2011 1:58 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 2:13 pm
 

Panthers sticking with Theodore over Markstrom

By Brian Stubits

Before the season began, if there were talk about a goalie controversy in Florida, most would have assumed it would be over the ineptitude between Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen.

But a funny thing happened to start the season. Knee surgery forced Clemmensen to the injured list so the Panthers had to keep top goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom with the NHL club instead of sending him back to the AHL for a little more seasoning. It was assumed when Theodore signed for two seasons, he'd be there to stem the tide until Markstrom is ready and pass the torch then.

Well "then" appears to be now to everybody watching the Cats. Everybody except for new head coach Kevin Dineen.

"Theo's our starter and a great player," Dineen told the Sun-Sentinel. "He's going to get back in there soon. Jacob not only earned that start but earned that victory."

In the meantime, however, Dineen hasn't said yet who will start Thursday in Ottawa, saying it is a "good decision to have.''

Markstrom rode the pine for the first four games of the season behind Theodore before Dineen gave the Panthers' first pick in the 2008 NHL Draft his first career start. His Panthers were thoroughly outplayed by the Capitals, but Markstrom was brilliant, keeping the Panthers within striking distance, allowing just two goals in a 3-0 loss (one empty-netter). He then relieved Theodore in the third period of a game against the Islanders when Theodore got a little dinged up and closed like Mariano Rivera, stonewalling all 18 of the Islanders' shots.

Then came Monday night in Montreal when Markstrom received his second career start. All he did there was stop 40 of the Canadiens' 41 shots, including some spectacular stops (see for yourself) on seemingly sure goals. The Panthers needed every one of those 40 saves, too, as they won just 2-1.

That brings his season total to 87 saves out of 90 shots. It also prompted one of the postgame quotes of the year from teammate Scottie Upshall.

"He’s like a Transformer," Upshall said. "We’re not sure if he’s human or if he’s part alien."

Theodore, meanwhile, hasn't been bad for the Panthers, but he hasn't been as good as Markstrom. Theodore's states on the season show a 2.62 goals against average and .913 save percentage as well as a shutout in his debut.

Thus, Dineen put the speculation to rest on who his No. 1 goalie is. But it doesn't answer the question of what happens to Markstrom when Clemmensen is healthy to return, which isn't far away? Do the Panthers carry three goalies a la the Isles with Evgeni Nabokov, Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro? Do they send Markstrom back to the AHL even though he's shown he's more than capable of playing at the highest level?

At this point, the AHL doesn’t seem to be in play, no? How do you justify sending down somebody playing so well? Instead, you could see Clemmensen become expendable, although it’s unlikely there would be much of a market for him.

File this in the good-problems-to-have folder.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 12, 2011 10:09 am
Edited on: October 12, 2011 10:31 am
 

Panthers still a work in progress

Panthers

By: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- No team in the NHL went through a larger roster overhaul this past summer than the one orchestrated by Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon. From the head coach (Kevin Dineen) to as many as 10 new players in the lineup on any given night, this year's Panthers squad doesn't look anything like the team -- on paper -- that stumbled to a 30-40-12 record a year ago, and missed the playoffs for a 10th straight season.

The combination of being in a situation where spending money was a necessity due to their need to reach the NHL's salary floor, as well as being mired in the longest non-playoff streak in league history, meant drastic changes were on the way. And were they ever. Along with hiring Dineen to take control behind the bench, Tallon was the busiest general manager in the NHL this offseason when it came to the trade and free-agent markets.

Veteran defenseman Brian Campbell and his once thought to be untradeable contract was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. Kris Versteeg came over from the Philadelphia Flyers, and free agents Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Tomas Kopecky, Jose Theodore, Ed Jovanovski and Matt Bradley were signed to multi-year deals.

With so many new faces, as well as a new coaching staff, a new system, and an entirely new way of doing things, there is probably going to be some growing pains and bumps in the road. And through two games, a 2-0 win over the New York Islanders to open the season on Saturday, as well as a 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, things are still very much a work in progress for the Panthers.

"I thought we were stronger on Saturday," Dineen said following the loss on Tuesday. "We seemed to have more energy. I think we had our moments [on Tuesday], but it wasn't throughout the game and that's the way you have to play to have success."

It's not is if the Panthers played poorly throughout the game on Tuesday; they ended up finishing with a 34-29 edge in the shots department, while attempting 59 shots to Pittsburgh's 50. Still, there were some problems that need to be ironed out. Consistency and the power play being two of them, as well as their struggles to clear the crease and help get the puck away from new goaltender Jose Theodore after allowing the Penguins to score three goals from right in front of the net.

"We had our moments," said Dineen. "But we need more consistency to our game. It wasn't a complete game for us."

The power play, which featured Jovanovski and Campbell at the points, as well as Upshall and Fleischmann up front -- none of whom were on the team a year ago -- looked sloppy at times, finishing the night 0-for-5 while also giving up a game-changing shorthanded goal. And while there were periods of strong puck control in the offensive zone and some quality scoring chances, there were also periods of players appearing to be out of sync and not knowing where their linemates were going to be or what they were going to do. Case in point: a 3-on-1 rush in the second period when Jack Skille attempted a behind-the-back pass that ended up resulting in a missed opportunity.

"I found that part of our issue is that there were times we were very cute, and that doesn't always work," said Dineen. "It's fun to watch sometimes, but on a game like [Tuesday] where you can feel the momentum is still up for grabs, if you're starting to make those nice plays sometimes that's not the right choice. That's a good lesson for us that we need to stay with our program."

The Panthers, however, including Dineen, didn't want to blame any of their struggles on any perceived lack of chemistry.

"I'd love to blame it on that," Dineen said. "But I think that's just making sure we just bear down. Those are key moments in the game, and those pucks are just sitting around that crease, and I think they [Pittsburgh] scored three or four from right around there that you can't hang on Theo. There's a real possibility to get those things out and when they don't get out, and that's when ugly things happen to us."

Campbell, a 10-year veteran that owns a Stanley Cup ring thanks to his time with the Chicago Blackhawks, was a little more blunt and to the point when asked if the mistakes were a result of new players still working to get familiar with one another.

"We've all played hockey before," he said. "Everybody knows what they're doing. It's time to play hockey, it's the regular season and we have to be ready. I don't really believe in that stuff and I would hope that nobody else does."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 10:12 am
 

Daily Skate: Panthers' Theodore cause for concern

By Brian Stubits

TROUBLE IN PARADISE: Jose Theodore, the Panthers' new starting goaltender, played the entirety of the team's final preseason game, a 7-1 shellacking in Dallas. Kevin Dineen expressed some concern over a bad camp but says there's lot of time. (Miami Herald). If he struggles, it will be Jacob Markstrom to come in as he beat out Tyler Plante for the backup job. (Miami Herald)

TRAVEL Kings: Ever wonder who does the most traveling in the NHL every season? Well this year it will be the Los Angeles Kings, who will rack up more than 55,000 miles with 15 back-to-back games and 13 one-game road trips. The Florida Panthers come in second. Surprisingly, the Winnipeg Jets are just 10th on the list. (Shark Page)

WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER?: There will be a change to the helmets in the NHL this season, but we aren't talking about player safety here. Instead, this season players will have their numbers plastered on the front of their domes in addition to the back, their jersey and shoulders. Just in case, you know, you missed it everywhere else. (Icethetics)

SECOND, BEST?: Most think if Phil Kessel when talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs and their best players. While he did lead the team in scoring last season, it just might be the second line of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur in Toronto that really does the damage and dictates the Leafs' success. (Globe and Mail)

MIKA MAKING IT?: The Senators figure to get a lot of time to look at their prospects this season as the prospects for a good season aren't high. So on that note, the team's first pick in the draft this summer, big Swede Mika Zibanejad, has pretty much nailed down a roster spot with the Sens. (Senators Extra)

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: Brett Connolly is the top prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a ballyhooed player the fans can't wait to see skating in Tampa. The 2010 sixth-overall draft pick is having a great camp and showing he's worthy of at least a longer look, the first nine games of the season. (St. Petersburg Times)

PICK MIGHT STICK: The Pittsburgh Penguins might have found themselves a real gem in the back end of the first orund. Their top pick Joe Morrow is still hanging around camp and keeps a chance to earn a roster spot alive, especially as long as Brooks Orpik is out with an abdominal injury. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

LOOKING GOOD: Nashville, music city, has plenty of good-looking people. A few minutes watching Country Music Television will tell you that. Nashville Lifestyles put together a list of the 25 most beautiful and wouldn't you know it, Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne cracked the list. (Nashville Lifestyles)

SUSPENSIONS STICK: Tom Sestito of the Flyers and Jean-Francois Jacques were each suspended by Brendhan Shanahan for action in preseason games and have both been subsequently sent down to AHL affiliates. Well the AHL announced on Thursday that it will enforce the suspensions as well. (TheAHL.com)

STILL GOT IT: Don't think Martin Broudeur has llost much yet. Check out this rob job in last night's Devils game in Philadephia, somehow keeping the puck out of a wide-open net.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 26, 2011 3:34 pm
 

Panthers G Clemmensen to miss start of season

By Brian Stubits

After losing Tomas Vokoun in the offseason in free agency, the Florida Panthers planned to enter this season relying on a duo in net of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. But the plan is already falling apart.

That's because Clemmensen is going to miss the start of the season after undergoing a minor surgery on Monday on his knee. Coach Kevin Dineen was sure to stress that it was a minor procedure and it could sideline Clemmensen for "up to a month" but that the surgery shouldn't derail his season as Dineen is "very encouraged that [Clemmensen] is going to come back 100 percent healthy.

"We think very highly of all the goaltenders in our organization and that's why losing Clemmer is a tough deal for us," Dineen added. "He's worked hard all summer and I know he's disappointed right now, but I know that the month of October will slide right by and he'll be back before we know it."

While it doesn't figure to sideline him for too long, it does put a lot more of the burden on Theodore. And one of the Panthers' young netminding prospects.

The Panthers have arguably the top goaltending prospect in the NHL in Jacob Markstrom. He would seem to be the likely choice to remain with the team in Clemmensen's absence, but the Tyler Plante could earn the right to stay seeing as how the Panthers would like Markstrom to play a lot this season. In the AHL he will be able to do that, in the NHL he won't.

But the two will presumably have the remainder of camp to fight for the backup spot to start the season.

"I look at it as Mr. Opportunity is knocking on the door," Dineen said. "That opportunity will be given to [Tyler Plante] and [Jacob Markstrom] to scratch and claw and try to earn that right to stay here with the Panthers for the next stretch."

"Every day you're here is another special day," Plante said. "You work hard all summer to stay here as long as you possibly can. So, every day you're not getting a plane ticket down [to the AHL] is a day with a smile on your face."

One of them, likely Plante, will get to keep that smile on for a lot longer.

Clemmensen hasn't played too much in the past two seasons backing up Vokoun for the Panthers. What name recognition he does have came from his time as a fill-in for Martin Broudeur in 2008-09 when he was 25-13-1 with a .917 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. Last season for Florida he was 8-11-7 with .911/2.62 numbers.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:09 pm
 

Southeast Division preview: Still chasing Caps

By Brian Stubits

The days of the South-least Division are slowly fading away.

For the last half decade, the Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals' playground with four teams chasing. Of course the Caps have been very good through that time, but fattening up on their division "rivals" undoubtedly helped them to four straight division championships.

Just take the 2009-10 season as an example. That year the Capitals had 18 more points than the next closest team in the East while no other team in the division finished even in the top nine of the conference standings. That's especially amazing when you consider there are only 15 teams in the East.

They stil finished atop the East despite a transformation. Head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the way the team plays, trying to lock down on defense. As a result, the league's highest-scoring team the past few years dipped all the way to 19th in scoring. Alex Ovechkin had a very good season by almost anybody's standards. Just not his own.

The trick for Boudreau is to find that happy medium. They showed defense is something they can and in the past they showed they can score. Now they need to show they can do both. If they don't, especially early, Boudreau will hear the calls for his firing. The most successful regular-season team hasn't done enough after it to satisfy the increasingly antsy and demanding fan base.

But the somewhat surprising emergence of the Lightning last year has beefed up the division's rep. Tampa Bay figured to be on its way back up the NHL ladder, but the boom that came out of last season seemed to be ahead of schedule. Now the division has two of the game's elite scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin. With the Bolts unceremoniously sweeping the Caps in the playoffs last year, we just might have the beginning of an actual division rival for Washington.

The division also features something new: the most amped up fan base in the league, at least for one season. The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck playing in a division that will have them being true fish out of water. To say the Jets will suffer from jet-lag isn't just a fun pun but a reality they face. With that said, what was one of the easiest road trips in the NHL just became one of the toughest, especially for the teams in the Southeast that should look into taking the Concord to Manitoba.

Southeast Division (in order of predicted finish)

Washington Capitals: The Caps have become one of the league's elite teams and have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their core together. Well this offseason owner Ted Leonsis and crew decided it was time to shake up the roster a touch to try and find the missing recipe to move Washington deeper into the playoffs. Enter Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun among others. I don't think there was a bigger offseason addition in this division than the Caps getting Vokoun, especially when you factor in the salary he'll be getting. Vokoun's talents have been hidden in Florida in the past four seasons, but he's an excellent goaltender but he is (or at least was) prone to prolonged slumps. As for Ward and Brouwer, they considerably beef up the Caps' toughness up front along the boards who are very capable two-way players.

Strengths: They have shown they can do every facet of the game well. It is a challenge to find a more talented team in hockey, including on the blue line. That's not something you could say in the past, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner complement each other well enough to make one of the best young defenseman duos in the NHL.

Weaknesses: It is tough to pinpoint any with this team, it is very well-rounded. It will be interesting to see how they handle expectations and increased heat when they hit some rough patches. Also, from an organizational standpoint the team has very little room to maneuver under the salary cap. That could be worth monitoring if/when GM George McPhee decided to tweak the roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Everything came together for a great run to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season under new coach Guy Boucher. He brought in the ol' 1-3-1 system that seemed to be a magic trick for the Bolts. Now the question becomes can they repeat or was last year lightning in a bottle (that pun really was not intended)? One thing strongly in their favor is that the return almost the entire roster intact from last season. They did lose a couple of players such as Simon Gagne, but not much in the way of being unable to repair. one player who is back is Eric Brewer, and he'll be better for having spent camp and beginning the season in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how this team fares with expectations on their shoulders.

Strengths: They roll out two excellent lines at the top. The Ryan Malone-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line is one of the best in the game and the second group of Nate Thompson-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell isn't too shabby, especially if Purcell continues his growth. They also had excellent special teams last year, ranking in the top 8 of both power play (it helps to have Stamkos, who scores 17 on the PP last year) and penalty kill a season ago. I also love the man on their bench as Boucher is a star in the making among coaches.

Weaknesses: I am still not in love with the goaltending situation. Dwayne Roloson was very good after being picked up by GM Steve Yzerman (he would qualify as another strength), but he just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me to keep it up. The addition of Mathieu Garon to back him up is a good one, though. Moreover, consistency might be an issue, especially for Stamkos. He really slowed down last season, failing to score 50 goals when he appeared to be on his way to 60 midseason.

Carolina Hurricanes: If the playoffs were a night club, the Hurricanes have been the guy standing at the front of the line until the bouncer says they're full. Every year it seems they are squarely on the playoff bubble, including last season when it came down to Game 82, which was a sound defeat. This season figures to be more of the same for the 'Canes as they might just be the next-best thing to a playoff team the East has to offer. They had a very pleasant surprise in Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner last season and captain Eric Staal is still leading the show. Gone, though, is another Carolina long-timer in Erik Cole (now in Montreal). One thing you have to love about this franchise, though, is its consistency. GM Jim Rutherford has been there ever since they became the Hurricanes (and before). It seems like their best players don't leave the organization, either. Hopefully for them the consistency in their finishes doesn't stay the same, but instead they crack the postseason. But in a beefed up East, that will be tougher said than done.

Strengths: They have an excellent captain in Staal, both from a leadership standpoint and player quality. They also boast one of the better goalies in the league in Cam Ward, an All-Star last season. And there's that whole consitency thing they have going on, often helps in the old chemistry department.

Weaknesses: There is not much depth to talk about in Carolina. After Stall, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, they aren't likely going to find a whole lot of scoring. They also don't posses a ton of size among the forwards, hence the reason they brought in Anthony Stewert and Alex Ponikarovsky this offseason to help. There just doesn't seem to be enough to crack the postseason, but Rutherford admits to this being somewhat of a "rebuilding" phase. That's a pretty competitive team for one that's rebuilding.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers were incredibly active in the free-agent market in July, adding a slew of veterans to hold the tide while the youngsters develop. Undoubtedly the Panthers are better than they were last season, but how much better? They did lose arguably their best player in Vokoun and are replacing him with the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, not exactly an exciting development. But it can't be denied that the Panthers now at least have NHL-quality players across their lines (and defensive pairings, led by Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski), but they still aren't high-quality players, not guys that you figure can get them into the playoffs, finally. The trick in Florida is not doing anything now to hinder the future, which is very bright as the system is loaded.

Strengths: I do like the defensive corps they are putting together, especially if 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick Erik Gudbranson makes the team as expected. It's very hard to say at this point with so many new faces coming together what kind of strenghts we're looking at, it's tough to predict how they will play together. But we do know something that isn't likely be a strength this year ...

Weaknesses: The aforementioned goaltender position. With Vokoun gone, the Panthers are relying on the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. Now, both do have experience, Theodore more so than the Clemmer, but in no way do they make up for what Vokoun, Florida's best player in recent seasons, took with him. You also have to wonder about chemistry issues with this team having brought in so many new faces. We'll put new coach Kevin Dineen as an "unknown."

Winnipeg Jets: The virtue of such a home-ice advantage will likely make the Jets a little better than the Thrashers were last season, but not enough. Thankfully for them the new home crowd in Winnipeg will just be jacked to have hockey back. They will need to take advantage of the home crowd, especially with a stretch of 10 home games in 11 contests that stretches from the end of November through December. But they will need to find scoring punch, especially from the forward group. They have excellent point producers among the defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but Ladd needs more help. Hopefully, that's where Evander Kane will fit in. In his third year since being drafted in the first round (all of his time spent at the NHL level) this could be the year he steps up his game and becomes a franchise fixture. He is already a popular figure partly by virtue of his Twitter account and the way he has taken to Winnipeg.

Strengths: They were above average on the power play last season, finishing 12th in the league thanks to Byfuglien and Enstrom. Thrown in the potential of Zach Bogosian as an offensive weapon and that's a lunch of firepower coming back the blue line. I like Ondrej Pavelec in net if he can get a little better support from his teammates. I will put one more in this category, and that's the patience of the front office. They have a lot of first-round talent on the roster and they don't seem willing to abandon the long-term plan for a quick fix to appease the riled up fans.

Weaknesses: The forwards need to show more. Outside of Ladd, nobody up front cracked the 20-goal barrier last season in Atlanta. They need to find a way to tighten down defensively after giving up the second-most goals per game in hockey last year at 3.20. The forwards doing a better job of creating scoring chances and possessing the puck will certainly contribute. The penalty kill was almost equally bad last year, clocking in at 27th in the NHL. Like the Panthers, we'll put new coach Claude Noel as an "unknown."

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.



Posted on: July 29, 2011 12:58 pm
 

Rebuilding of the Panthers through Weiss' eyes

By Brian Stubits

They sound like the buzzwords of a political campaign.

Change.

Hope.

New direction.

The blue print.

These have nothing to do with dysfunctional Florida politics. They are the words and phrases mentioned in the state about its moribound hockey team, the Florida Panthers.

There is nobody who knows about the team's optimisim and defeat better than the current longest-tenured Panther, Stephen Weiss. He has been there through it all, never leaving the organization after it made him its top selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. After seeing unparralleled misery -- 10 straight years of missing the playoffs -- he says the vibe is starting to match the rhetoric.

"Personally I do [have a new-found excitement] just because I feel like I don't really know anybody any more," Weiss said. "So I'm kind of getting those butterflies as if I'm going to a new team, new scenario, new coaches again. That's always exciting."

Excitement that the Panthers are going the right direction? Imagine that. Buzz is what general manager Dale Tallon brought with him. It has been a long time coming in South Florida.

The Cats made the most noise on the first day of free agency. Florida went out and payed -- most say overpayed -- to completely overhaul their roster from just a few months before. The Panthers traded for veteran defenseman Brian Campbell and winger Kris Versteeg, then signed Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim, Jose Theodore and Tomas Kopecky. Ever since, people have criticized Tallon for overspending, but the Panthers had a cap floor to reach, so they had little choice but to spend money.

It's hard to argue, however, that after the first few days of July, Florida isn't a better team than it was before. If nothing else, the Panthers grabbed attention across the NHL.

"Around the league I hope it has given us a little bit more respect, that we're starting to turn the corner and starting to put some things together," Weiss said.

Even while the Panthers were trending in South Florida, on one of the biggest days in franchise history, Weiss wasn't keeping close tabs. He was instead vacationing at his uncle's cottage an hour north of Toronto, cell phone off. Later that night, he turned his phone on and saw the stream of text messages from friends, letting him know what Tallon had been up to.

"I'm certainly super excited to get that many guys and that many quality guys, it's unbelievable," Weiss said. "It's going to help us a lot. Totally changed our team around and made us younger and faster and more skilled. It's something that has needed to be done for a while and it's pretty neat that Dale's been able to do it. I can't wait to get to camp.

"That's just the start of it. Now, you have to back it up and put it on the ice. That's up to the guys and I'm sure we're all excited to do that."

Weiss has seen his fair share of new teammates and coaches in his camp days. That will once again be the situation this year as the team breaks in new coach Kevin Dineen to go along with the new faces. Dineen's task in his first NHL job will be to mold the players together and quickly find some cohesion. It is one which harkens back to the team's days at the old Miami Arena, also their most successful period in franchise history. That's when they had to start from scratch, literally building the franchise from nothing. With such turnover, it feels like they are doing the same again.

Bringing in so many new players in one offseason will present a challenge. But how big? Some say huge. It's one of the criticisms that has been levied against Tallon's spending spree. And it is not as if he is bringing a bunch of fresh faces into an established old guard. As far as Panthers holdovers go, the only veterans to speak of are Weiss and David Booth. Nobody else has been with the team for more than three seasons.

Sure, guys like Jovanovski have been in Florida before as the Panthers made him the first overall pick in 1994, but not with this cast of characters.

So will it be an issue? Weiss' inclination is no.

"There's always -- especially now with the way things are run -- there's a lot of turnover on teams year-to-year and that can be an issue with every single team, chemistry and things like that can be an issue with new guys," Weiss said. "I guess more so for us because we have so many, but at this level I don't think that's as big of a deal."

It better not be if this is going to be the group of guys to end the NHL's standard for futility.

Let's not forget that Tallon's blue print includes building the team through the draft. The Panthers did not have the richest farm system in hockey despite their years of picking in the lottery, but that has changed under Tallon's watch. Soon Florida will be looking to bring aboard recent draft picks Jacob Markstrom, Erik Gudbranson, Quinton Howden and Jonathan Huberdeau, among others. That's the new guard, the future of Panthers hockey.

And that's something Stephen Weiss can relate to. He, too, was once the future of the Panthers. Now he's the present, trying to get things turned around. Still.

"I never really envisioned thinking it would take this long to get things turned around here, but it is what it is," Weiss said. "It's really kind of bugging me deep down we haven't been able to put it together and get it done. Seeing the success [former teammates Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell and Dennis Seidenberg] had in Boston just kind of fuels you even more to get it done."

The closest the Panthers have come to competing for the Stanley Cup in the past 10 years was 2008-09, when they finished tied with the Montreal Canadiens in points and wins for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Florida, however, went 1-2-1 in the season series and lost out on the second tiebreaker, left tantalizingly close, but yet so far.

Having never appeared in an NHL playoff game, Weiss does not know the feeling of reaching the postseason, but he is aware of what it would mean to him after so many years of watching from home.

"It would mean the world to me, really," Weiss said. "I wanted to honor the contract that I signed there and I want to make it happen there.

"I have some pretty high expectations for this team this year. I think deep down this could be our year."

Finally, Weiss and the Panthers are seeing a light at the end the darkest tunnel in team history.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com