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Tag:Washington Capitals
Posted on: February 14, 2012 1:42 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:55 am
 

A Caps goalie beaten from center ice ... again

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The scouting report is out on the Washington Capitals. It doesn't matter which goalie is in net, just fire the puck from the red line. Chances are you are going to score.

For the second time in as many home losses -- 5-3 to the Sharks -- an opponent scored from center ice. Well that's not entirely accurate from Monday night, Dan Boyle's shot was deflected by Joe Pavelski around the blue line and bounced toward Braden Holtby, starting for the first time this season with Tomas Vokoun under the weather.

Holtby was left looking more like a first baseman picking a short hop than a goaltender.

"Just tried getting my stick out," Pavelski said. "You see it bouncing and you hope when you're that far away that something stupid happens."

Something stupid happened.

"I don't think I've ever been a part of anything like that," Boyle said. He's played in more than 900 NHL games so that's saying something.

"You could probably change a few things," Holtby said of the goal. "I'd probably liked to have been out further, but at that point I'm trying to make sure I'm in the right position, in case he rims it I [can] go and stop it. It happend pretty quickly to me, I wasn't expecting that so I'm not really sure what my positioning was."

It's just going that kind of way for the Caps right now.

Go back a few days when the Winnipeg Jets were at Verizon Center. They were trailing the Caps in the closing minutes 2-1. Just 12 seconds after scoring their first, Dustin Byfuglien hammered the puck into the offensive zone, only the puck went off Karl Alzner and Vokoun couldn't recover in time.

"I saw it, I was on the line. I can tell you, it's really hard for the goalies," Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "It hit the guy's stick -- absolutely no chance for Vokey there. Absolutely no chance. I saw it. It's just bad luck, hit the guy's stick and goes straight to the net. Buff did a good job, shot the puck as hard as he can and the puck find a way."

That's two goalies. What about the third, backup Michal Neuvirth? Yes, he has been victimized in recent weeks by the red line shot, too.

His came in one of the month's critical matchups against the Florida Panthers and Mikael Samuelsson.

Three goalies, three red-line goals.

What do they say? Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend? Well we're not going to call this a trend. It's not like teams are going to begin launching shots from the red line all the time on the Caps. It's not exactly a fool-proof strategy.

But it has made the Caps goalies look a little like fools, even if they weren't the easiest saves in the world to be made.

More from Eye on Hockey

Is Caps' season slipping away?
Recap: Sharks 5, Capitals 3
NHL Trade Deadline rumor mill
NHL Playoff Race

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

Posted on: February 13, 2012 10:58 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:27 pm
 

Is the Capitals' season slipping away?

The Caps might be losing their grip on this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- This season began with such promise for the Washington Capitals. They beefed up in an attempt to finally get over the Eastern Conference semifinal hump and hopes were high that this was the team.

It is starting to head toward an end of such despair.

Now granted, there is still time -- and a trade deadline to go -- but this team just isn't the contender so many saw. If you want, blame it on the injuries. It's tough for a team to play without its No. 1 center (Nicklas Backstrom) and No. 1 defenseman (Mike Green). But they aren't the only team dealing with injuries. That's not going to garner much sympathy.

But fact of the matter is they are slipping and are running out of games to pick it up. Depending on what happens with the Panthers take on the Senators on Wednesday night, the Caps could find themselves down by as many as six points in the Southeast Division. Adam Gretz already explained pretty well that that's obviously the worst division in hockey. So being six points back of the worst division leader isn't a good sign.

They have been tough to beat at home. Not for the San Jose Sharks, they weren't. Not on Monday night. The Sharks came in after a tough loss in St. Louis 24 hours ago and beat the Caps down, walking away with a 5-3 win (Caps scored a couple late to make it closer). It was Washington's third loss in a row, second at Verizon Center.

"I don't think we are frustrated," Alex Ovechkin said. "One [game] we have to win, but we didn't win. Everybody's trying. I can't say nobody's trying, nobody's playing 100 percent."

This is why things are hitting critical mass. They have been good at home for almost all of the season and pretty dang bad on the road. Washington's next four are on the road starting with Friday's massive game against the Panthers in Florida. That will follow with dates in Tampa Bay, Carolina and Ottawa too. Not exactly Murder's Row but for a team that struggles on the road, anything is tough.

It's not a stretch to say that they probably need six out of the eight points on that trip. They can't afford to fall any further behind Florida or the rest of their Eastern counterparts.

The good news? There is some. Ottawa is falling harder than the Caps right now, not making the bottom of the East out of reach.

It's pretty safe to say that the Caps need to do something at the trade deadline. They will be active no doubt. Tonight in Washington 12 scouts were on hand including two from the Blue Jackets, ex-Ducks coach Randy Carlyle (now a scout for Anaheim) and Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier. It's worth noting that this weekend in Columbus two Caps scouts were present.

"The determination is there -- I think -- in this room,” Matt Hendricks said. “I think the focus is there. The execution just isn't there right now."

This coming road trip is a crucial a stretch as any this season. It really could be the season for the Capitals after their recent swoon.

More from Eye on Hockey

Holtby beaten from center ice
Recap: Sharks 5, Capitals 3
NHL Trade Deadline rumor mill
NHL Playoff Race

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

Posted on: February 13, 2012 1:10 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 1:16 pm
 

Goal differential and the Southeast Division

SoutheastBy: Adam Gretz

Even though there are still three teams fighting for the top spot in the Southeast Division (yes, Winnipeg is still "in it" … barely) it's probably the worst division in the NHL, and there is a very real possibility that only one team will represent it in the postseason.

None of the teams have done anything to separate themselves from the other, and the team currently occupying the top spot, Florida, has fewer points than five other potential playoff teams in the conference as of Monday.

Also of note: every team in the division, again as of Monday morning, is on the negative side when it comes to goal-differential, with every team, including the currently first-place Panthers, having been outscored by their opponents over the course of the season.

Florida is at minus-11, Washington at minus-2 and Winnipeg at minus-22.

Of course, this isn't a good thing because, as common sense should tell you, good teams tend to score more goals than their opponents. A lot more. Since the NHL went to the three division alignment in the 1998-99 season, the average division winner (72 of them) has finished the regular season with a goal-differential of plus-45. Thirty-two have been plus-50 or better.

As the numbers above show, all three teams in the Southeast this season would have a hell of a long way to go  and need quite a few blowout wins over the final 25-or-so regular season games to reach that average mark. The Capitals having to spend so much time this season without two of their best players, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, has certainly impacted their numbers and on-ice performance, and the season has seemed to really fly off the rails since Backstrom went down with his concussion, pretty much eliminating whatever center depth they had. Still, how much of a threat would any of these teams as currently constructed be in the playoffs?

No division winner over the past 12 years has finished the season with a negative mark, and only five have finished with a mark worse than plus-10. Since it seems entirely possible that the winner of this division is going to post one of the worst goal-differentials for a division winner in recent NHL history, let's take a look at how the division winners with the five worst goal-differentials over the past 12 years did in the playoffs.

Interestingly enough, four of them also called the Southeast Division home.

2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes: 217 goals for, 217 goals against (even)

The Hurricanes finished the regular season with 91 points, fewer than six of the seven other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Amazingly, the Hurricanes went on an improbable playoff run and ended up winning the East before losing to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps showing that playoff run was a total fluke, the Hurricanes not only failed to make the playoffs the following season, they finished with the worst record in the league.

2006-07 Atlanta Thrashers: 246 goals for, 245 goals against (plus-1)

The only playoff experience in the Atlanta/Winnipeg existence, and it was a brutal one. The Thrashers not only failed to win a playoff game, they were outscored by the No. 6 seed New York Rangers by a 17-6 margin in the four games. Like the '01-02 Hurricanes, they failed to make the playoffs the following season, finishing with the third-worst record in the NHL.

2007-08 Minnesota Wild: 223 goals for, 218 goals against (plus-5)

Minnesota's last playoff team, the Wild narrowly edged the Colorado Avalanche for the top-spot in the Northwest Division and ended up facing off against their divisional rivals in the opening round of the playoffs. The Avs ended up taking the series in six games, owning a 17-12 edge on the scoreboard, with Minnesota's only two wins in the series coming in overtime, meaning they were just a couple of breaks or bounces away from being dismissed in four games. Minneosta hasn't been back to the playoffs since (and has a fight on its hands to get back in this season).

1998-99 Carolina Hurricanes: 210 goals for, 202 goals against (plus-8)

The worst playoff team in the Eastern Conference during this season, and not surprisingly, the only one from the Southeast Division. The Hurricanes finished the regular season with just 86 points in the standings, four fewer than any other Eastern Conference playoff team. The Bruins team they played in the first round, for example, finished the season with 91 points and had a goal-differential of plus-33. Not surprisingly, Boston won the series in six games and outscored the Hurricanes 16-10. Carolina followed this season up with a nearly identical 84-point campaign (with a plus-1 differential) in 1999-00 and missed the playoffs.

2002-03 Tampa Bay Lightning: 219 goals for, 210 goals against (plus-9)

After knocking off another Southeast team (Washington) in the first round, Tampa Bay dropped its second round series to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils in the second round. Tampa Bay came back the next season won the Stanley Cup.

Photo: Getty Images


For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 12, 2012 3:35 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2012 6:32 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Callahan, Rangers keep rolling

Callahan had four goals in the Blueshirts' two weekend wins. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

At this point I'm wondering what the New York Rangers have to do to convince everybody they are this good. I'm already there but I still find a lot of skeptics.

They do everything well enough. Some things they do exceptionally well, like stop pucks from going in the net. You can thank Henrik Lundqvist for that largely, but it's a team effort. There might not be a tougher team to get shots through the defensemen than the Rangers. They are physical, evidenced by their league high fighting majors. Now they are scoring just enough to support Lundqvist.

And they have passed pretty much every test thrown at them this season, including this weekend. Back-to-back against the Flyers and Capitals? No problem. They took all four points possible, including a fifth win in five chances against Philly on Saturday, 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center. That featured a Ryan Callahan hat trick.

Captain Cally kept it up with the first goal of the Blueshirts' 3-1 win on Sunday over the Caps. Go back to Thursday night win over the Lightning and that's five goals for Callahan in his last three games.

To give it a little more significance with a much larger sample size, Dave Lozo of NHL.com did some quick math today: using Callahan's last 113 games, he has averaged 32 goals per 82 games, a full season's worth. Not bad for a guy who has a career high of 23 set last season (which he is one away from breaking this season).

That doesn't even factor in the shots that he blocks. He is the epitome of John Tortorella's Rangers: hard-nosed, two-way player who will throw his body in front of anything and give the team all he has. Basically he has all the intangibles you love in a player while actually possessing many of the tangibles, too.

If you have any doubt, check out the goal he scored on Sunday. It was ugly but beautiful all at the same time.

At this point, the Rangers are atop the NHL standings in points (depending on Sunday's result in Detroit). Even if they aren't there at the end of the day, their points percentage is tops in the league. They have 77 points in 54 games, the Wings have played two more games (three more by the end of the night.

New York is actually pulling away from the rest of the East in the race for home-ice throughout the conference playoffs. They are up seven points now on the Boston Bruins.

The thing that gets me was on display this weekend. They have been just as good on the road as they have been at Madison Square Garden. They won both games this weekend despite one being in Philadelphia. Overall, they are 18-6-2 at MSG, 18-7-3 away from it. That's pretty remarkable. Winning on the road is crucial, especially when it comes to postseason success.

It all has people dreaming of the summer of 1994 again, another summer parade down Broadway.

Personally, I've run out of reasons to think it can't happen.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories
More Eye on Hockey

Blackhawks (falling) down

While they aren't pressing it yet, I get the sense that a lot of Blackhawks fans are digging through their things looking for that big red button. No, I don't mean the tchotchke Staples easy button.

With a sweep on their weekend visits to San Jose and Phoenix, including a 3-0 blanking by the Coyotes on Saturday night, the Blackhawks have lost eight consecutive games. Eight! They have earned just one of the last 16 points available.

Their place in the Central Division race is all but gone. They trail the division-leading Red Wings by 11 points. With two teams in between them (the Blues and Predators) the hope of winning the division is all but gone, especially with the Wings not leaving Detroit often for the rest of the season.

More importantly, they have to watch their playoff spot. With the loss to Phoenix, the 'Hawks are only three points up on eighth place, five ahead of ninth-place Calgary. And that could diminish further as the Blackhawks still have three more games on this extended road trip.

Playing a little game I'll call fun with Twitter, the Eye on Hockey account (follow it here!) asked if this was the bottom for the Blackhawks, if they had really hit the floor yet. One fan -- @therudeinshrewd -- didn't think so. "No, something tells me the #blackhawks haven't bottomed out yet. i think the road trip will be winless. THAT will be bottom."

It's gotten to the point that Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times is wondering if coach Joel Quenneville's seat isn't hot. The defense has some serious issues, coming in 27th in the league in goals against per game with an even 3.00. Their goal differential is down to plus-3 thanks to their high goals for (174 to 171).

This can't be too far from the bottom you'd figure with a team that has this type of talent, but it's getting close to desperate in Chicago.

Just give him the Hart

Evgeni Malkin has been absurd -- in a good way -- for the Pittsburgh Penguins, especially in the past two months.

For the third time since Dec. 17, Geno had himself a five-point game this weekend in Pittsburgh's 8 -5 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. Unlike the previous two five-pointers, this one didn't come with a hat trick. He was in a much more giving mood this time scoring a goal with four assists.

The outburst gave him a little separation from the points pack as he moved five up on Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux with 67.

But considering the injuries the Penguins are dealing with again this season and their position of still being solidly in the East's playoff picture, Malkin is separating himself from the rest of the Hart candidates, too. Barring injury, it seems a safe bet that he'll take the "MVP" award home -- unless the aforementioned Lundqvist doesn't take it.

While we're at it ...

Might as well just hand Stamkos the Richard Trophy now too.

Scoring is down in the NHL, colleague Adam Gretz explained that in his most recent edition of Pucks & Numbers (a must-read weekly piece, hockey fans), yet Stamkos isn't stopping.

The 22-year-old is now up to 37 on the season after potting one in a 2-1 Lightning win in Buffalo on Saturday. That puts him seven ahead of Malkin and Phil Kessel in the goals department, a very comfortable lead with less than 30 games to go.

Like Malkin and the Hart, it's really hard to imagine at this point that Stamkos won't win the Richard barring injury.

Goals not so plentiful here

The Los Angeles Kings might be solely responsible for bringing down the league's scoring total mentioned above. Even with the coaching change from Terry Murray to Darryl Sutter, the Kings are still at the bottom of the league in that category, averaging just 2.07 goals per game.

That ineptitude was on display at the Islanders on Saturday. For the second straight game on their current road trip the Kings scored only one goal. The good news for them is that the Islanders only scored one goal in the first 60 minutes too before winning it in OT. So at least the Kings got a point.

But when you are fighting hard for a playoff berth in the Western Conference, scoring one goal in games isn't going to help you get to your end. The Kings are right now holding onto the seventh spot in the West after their league-high (tied with Florida and Carolina) 11th OT loss this season. Those extra points will be awfully important at season's end.

You have to think the Kings will be one of the more aggressive teams in the hunt for that elusive scoring forward at the trade deadline.

Quote of the weekend

For the visually/audio impaired ...

"I'm a little disappointed at the effort, the emotional level, a top team in the conference and league and to be honest. We got half the guys going and half not.

"That was my opinion. You might see differently, but that is what I saw. It’s a big game for us and I was expecting more. It was tight game, they got three power play goals, we didn’t score any.

"They play the same way every night. There's no surprises and if there is a breakdown their goalie makes the save and they block a ton of shots. Somehow they get the job done. They work hard. They play the same system every night and their goal plays really well every night.

"You have to bring it every night. I don't care who you are ... Every game matters. You have to bring it!"

-- Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (from CSN Philly) on Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers.

Sounds like those five losses to the Rangers this season (seven in a row) are really starting to take their toll.

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

Posted on: February 9, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 11:03 pm
 

Jets finally find luck on Byfuglien goal in win

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The Winnipeg Jets were pretty much left for dead. Down 2-0 with three minutes to play and unable to solve Tomas Vokoun of the Capitals, it appeared a huge four-point swing wasn't going to be in their favor.

Then a funny thing happened. A couple of funny things actually.

With some shall I say fortunate breaks going their way in terms of officiating, the Jets found themselves with almost a minute of 5-on-3. With so little time left, coach Claude Noel elected to make it 6-on-3, pulling Ondrej Pavelec to the bench. The Jets then broke through with an Evander Kane rebound goal. It snapped Vokoun's scoreless streak of more than 130 minutes. More importantly it pulled the Jets within one, a whole new game as they like to say.

The the really funny thing happened. Still on the power play, Dustin Byfuglien stepped to center ice and hammered the puck into the zone. Instead of going to the right of the net where Vokoun was sliding, it deflected of Karl Alzner's stick and shot straight for the cage. It went in and the game was tied, just 12 seconds after the Jets had finally scored one they had scored two.

"I wouldn't say it was the way it was scripted," Noel said.

Talk about a good bounce.

"Oh I definitely think so," Byfuglien said when asked if the team was due for a break. "What a team always needs is some good luck and some bounces. I thought we've worked hard lately. We got a nice bounce, luckily we got it tonight."

"A little bit of a fortunate play, that was ... I saw the whole thing. It hit the stick. I didn't realize that it took a little bounce over his pads," Noel said. "We were a little bit fortunate on a play like that but we haven't had a lot of luck lately, we haven't been that fortunate. So for us we'll take that and we'll run with it."

Alzner meanwhile didn't have a lot to say. It was just one of those "hockey plays," as Caps coach Dale Hunter put it.

"There’s really nothing," Alzner said. "If I get out of the way earlier than that he just skates in. If I try and block the dump in who knows what happens? Just one of those that caught Vokey trying to stop the dump in so we could turn it up and [he was] a little bit out of the net."

Perhaps the best view of the play came from Pavelec, the compatriot of Vokoun on the opposite end of the ice. He wasn't going to feel too bad for Vokoun, but you could tell he did have a slight bit of compassion for a fellow netminder.

"I saw it, I was on the line. I can tell you, it's really hard for the goalies," Pavelec said. "It hit the guy's stick -- absolutely no chance for Vokey there. Absolutely no chance. I saw it. It's just bad luck, hit the guy's stick and goes straight to the net. Buff did a good job, shot the puck as hard as he can and the puck find a way."

The swing in the division was huge. The Jets would go on to win the shootout and take a critical two points from the Caps. The only downside is the Caps got one point. But it sure beats the alternatives of no points at all.

"A team like Washington, they're up four points on us with three games in hand," Kane said. "I think it was really big that we made sure we tied that game up and grabbed the extra point to move a little bit closer to them."

It certainly can prove to be a springboard win for Winnipeg, still hanging around in the Southeast race.

"We'll take them any way we can get them," a Jets executive said to me. Just as Rihanna's song that was blasting in the joyous locker room was saying, I'll drink to that.

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

Posted on: February 9, 2012 1:17 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 1:17 pm
 

Capitals' Backstrom hopes to be ready by playoffs

Backstrom hasn't played since Jan. 3. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals made a pretty sound statement this week when they smacked down the Florida Panthers, the team they are battling neck-and-neck with in the Southeast Division. It would be a tremendous boost to them if they could get arguably their best player (yes, even compared to Alex Ovechkin) Nicklas Backstrom back to help them out.

That doesn't sound too likely.

Out since early January when he suffered a concussion from a hit from then Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque, Backstrom recently talked to Gefle Dagblad in his native Sweden about his recovery efforts and it's not promising. Thanks to Capitals blog Japers Rink, here is a translated version of what he had to say.

"I don’t know when I will be able to play again, but I hope I will be ready for the playoffs," Backstrom said. "I’m getting better, but it takes time."

Hoping to be ready for the playoffs is not what anybody wants to hear. Even a couple of months down the line isn't certain. Of course we know that timetables are virtually impossible to set with concussions, but you would hope that they were a little more optimistic.

More importantly, there is no guarantee that there will be a playoff season to get ready for. While the conventional wisdom is that the Caps should be fine when it comes to making the postseason, they really are in a dog fight with less than 30 games to go. You'd have to like their odds a lot more if Backstrom were back playing with the team.

Backstrom tried at one point to begin the comeback, but shut things down after three minutes of skating.

"Two weeks ago I tried to get on the ice for a practice, but I got off after three minutes. It didn’t work. I just wasn’t ready."

As for the hit from Bourque that put Backstrom out and landed Bourque a five-game suspension? Backstrom isn't a fan of it.

"It was an unnecessary hit," he said. "I feel like he could have just skated by me instead."

Before his injury, Backstrom was in the middle of another very good season for the Capitals. He had 13 goals and 29 assists in 38 games. On a team whose offense is down, he was one of the few still making things happen. Not to mention he is that all-important top-line center.

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

Posted on: February 8, 2012 1:32 pm
Edited on: February 8, 2012 6:17 pm
 

Panthers clawing to stay in playoff picture

Florida is just one point behind Washington in the Southeast, two behind Ottawa in the East. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter billed Tuesday's matchup in D.C. with the Florida Panthers as a playoff game.

Imagine that, the Florida Panthers and playoff games? That's something we haven't seen in a decade. At this point it seems as real as the idea of the lost city of Atlantis being not far from the shores of South Florida.

And probably just how you'd imagine it would go if the Panthers were in a playoff game, the Capitals scored just 13 seconds in. That was the beginning of a frustrating night for the Panthers who mustered 42 shots on goal against their former goaltender Tomas Vokoun and still lost 4-0. It restored first place in the Southeast Division to the Caps for the time being and dropped Florida to ninth in the East.

Of course it wasn't really a playoff game. There are still 30 games to go before we even hit the postseason. The whole goal for the Panthers is to get into one of those real playoff games, show South Florida what the Stanley Cup playoffs look like. It's been so long it has forgotten.

The question is, will they get there? There has only been one season in the last decade that the Panthers were even truly in the hunt. In 2008-09 they finished tied with the Montreal Canadiens for eighth in the East but lost on the tie-breakers. Outside of that, they have been clear sellers at the annual trade deadline.

It was just over a month ago the Panthers were cruising toward the playoffs. They were way up in the division and were playing legitimately good hockey. They've slowed down. A lot. Most will likely say it was crashing back to reality.

That could be the case. But it's worth mentioning that it is tough to truly assess this team, it just can't seem to stay healthy. For the last couple of weeks the Panthers have been playing without their No. 1 goaltender Jose Theodore (and No. 3 Jacob Markstrom) while also being down strong defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Ed Jovanovski. It's understandable to struggle a bit in that situation.

More on the Panthers
Playoff picture

"You always miss guys that are in the lineup on a regular basis. But if you're a good team you have good depth," winger Matt Bradley said. "Strachs [defenseman Tyson Strachan] has done a great job up from the minors. Guys are doing good jobs getting bigger roles. So there's no excuses for guys out."

That's certainly true, there are no excuses. It's not as if they will get a free pass into the playoffs if you miss x amount of games of manpower.

"What are you going to do? I don't think you feel sorry for us and I don't think anybody on that team on the other side of the ice is feeling sorry for us," first-year coach Kevin Dineen said about Florida's two-game skid. "This is NHL hockey, it's the best league in the world. You've got to understand when you take a good tail-kicking you have to accept it, recognize it and be better the next one."

That started with a postgame meeting on Tuesday. The hallway doors were closed before the Panthers even left the ice and the wait was longer than usual for the locker room to open up. It was clear the team had a little chat after its second regulation loss in a row, the first time the Cats have done that since mid-October.

"Kevin was very positive with us," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We're a team in here, we've got to find ways to get the job done and get it done more successfully on more nights than we are now. It seems like we're around .500 a lot and that's not good enough to get to where we want.

"We've got to stay positive. We stepped up our level. Some nights we're there, some nights we're not. It's these guys in the room. Nobody is going to be coming in to help us. We've got to get this job done in here."

This is new territory for the Panthers organization, being in the thick of a playoff chase. But it's not new for a lot of the players. Remember, GM Dale Tallon rebuilt this roster, there are a handful of guys who not only have experience with playoff races but winning a Stanley Cup, such as Campbell.

When you look at it, the Panthers are still in good shape. The East is whittling down to a nine- or 10-team race (if Winnipeg stays close) for the eight available spots. With the Senators hitting a wall and the Panthers having four games in hand on Ottawa, Florida still isn't in a bad position. But they have to figure things out, and quickly.

"There's urgency obviously within the division, with everyone," Kris Versteeg said. "I think you're going to see that on a nightly basis now. Obviously every team wants to win their division. It's something we want to do."

"It's not about just Washington," Campbell added. "It's about us winning games. If we put together some games and get going here we're going to find ourselves in a playoff spot. But if we don't we're going to be out of it."

One thing that helped launch the Panthers to the top of the Southeast in the first half of the season was their success away from home. They were able to pick up points in bunches while on the road, not easy for even the best teams in hockey to do.

But since their very impressive 2-0 win in Boston on Dec. 8, Florida is just 1-6-4 as the visitor. The difference is made even more clear when you look at what the Panthers have done in their two trips to Washington this season. In 120 minutes of game action thus far, they have been beaten 7-0. Vokoun has stopped all 62 shots he has faced. At home they have outscored the Caps 9-6 in two games.

Getting going on the road again would be a nice way to restart the batteries, give them a jump.

"I don't know. Whether it's line matches or who knows what it is?" Versteeg said. "Sometimes things happen and I'm not sure for whatever reason we've been good at home and not on the road. Obviously you want to be good at home. We've got to find some ways to win on the road, that's for sure."

The scoring for the Panthers has been done largely by the combination of Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann. Together, the line has accounted for nearly 40 percent of the team's scoring. So when they have tapered off, it's no mystery the team has too.

But don't expect the Panthers to be busy when it comes to the trade deadline, trying to add the missing pieces to bolster their offense. It's important to remember that whatever Florida does now is bonus, it is building for the future. Tallon has built a roster that hopefully can win in the interim before the team is turned over to the younger players that make up arguably the best farm system in hockey now, players like Erik Gudbranson, who are being slowly phased in.

Don't look for them to do anything to disrupt the long-term plan, the blueprint.

In the meantime, Florida gets to experience a playoff race. Those are as rare as snowy days in South Florida. But actually making the playoffs? Well that hasn't been done since Bill Clinton was the president.

Hopefully for Florida's sake Tuesday's loss in D.C. isn't the closest they get to a playoff game this season.

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

Posted on: February 5, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 4:16 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Nothing to Laich in Caps loss

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals lost to the Bruins on Sunday on their home ice, 4-1.

As big of a loss as that is for the Caps, seeing Brooks Laich go down in the game is as big of a concern as anything for Washington right now.

In the second period, Laich was playing the puck behind the Bruins net when Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg delivered a check into the boards. It looked innocent enough but there was some contact on the play that pinned Laich's knee against the boards. Moments later he was being helped off the ice and down the tunnel toward the locker room without putting any pressure on his leg.

He came out during a television time out to test the knee but he couldn't go on. He left the arena with a brace on his knee and with the help of crutches.

More from the weekend
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"I’m not a doctor, but with these things sometimes there’s some swelling ... But I don’t think it’s anything serious," Laich said after the game. "I'll get some ice on it and see how I feel when I wake up."

"He's day to day right now," Caps coach Dale Hunter said after the game. "We're just going to wait and see."

They better hope so. It's no secret that this season the Caps are in a dog fight just to make the playoffs. With the loss today, they remain out of the playoff seedings in the East at the moment. If they are going to sans Laich for any length of time, that makes things even tougher.

The Capitals already have a weakness up the middle with Nicklas Backstrom still on the sidelines since he was hit in the head by Rene Bourque. They can't afford to lose another center like Laich, who is one of their more consistent players and is a big piece for a team that hasn't been scoring much.

The good news for Washington is that despite the loss, they actually outshot an opponent on Sunday afternoon. They had 36 shots to the Bruins' 30, so there's that. Their pace of shooting has been way too low for well over a month now so that's a step in the right direction.

But they need to keep their fingers crossed Laich will be OK. He's a very underrated player for the Capitals, a solid two-way guy that probably every team in the NHL would like to have on their side.

With a win over the Canadiens on Saturday, normally you'd say a weekend split isn't bad. But depending on how Laich comes out of this, it could be.

Hit of the weekend

Watch Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik send Daniel Paille of the Bruins flying through the air at center ice.

I'm not sure it's 25 feet as the Penguins announcers says. I have a hunch they might have been dabbling in the art of hyperbole, something I do myself from time to time. But that still is probably the greatest hit in the history of hockey hits.

In this day and age you're not used to seeing the Bruins players acting as the ragdolls, they're usually the ones doing the pushing.

Shootout shutdown

The Colorado Avalanche are historically good when it comes to the shootout. They just don't lose in the "skills competition." That was until Saturday.

On the season the Avs were 7-0 in shootouts. Go back to last season and the streak was 10 consecutive shootouts. For an event that is statistically close to a tossup, that's pretty remarkable.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. The Avalanche finally lost a shootout this Saturday to the division rival Vancouver Canucks, failing to score in their three attempts.

Their shootout success has been a big reason why the Avs are as close in the playoff picture as they are. Those are crucial points to be picking up. And while losing the extra point to the Canucks doesn't seem like the biggest thing in the world considering they likely aren't catching the reigning Western Conference champs in the Northwest, it is obviously critical in the hunt for that eighth spot.

What a game

Speaking of shootouts, the only other team this season who had yet to fall in a shootout also suffered the fate on Saturday.

Despite two goals from Todd Bertuzzi (his first was the 300th of his career), the Detroit Red Wings couldn't hold onto their late third-period lead against the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course Sam Gagner played a huge part in the Oilers effort. He scored a point on each of the Oilers' eight goals against the Blackhawks in Edmonton's last game and then he was in on each of the Edmonton's first three goals against Detroit.

While he didn't get in on the game-tying goal in the final minute for the Oilers to snap his streak, Gagner did tally a score in the shootout, helping the Oilers eventually prevail thanks to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' shootout goal in his first game back, giving the Red Wings their first shootout defeat.

It was one of the better games of the season, a very entertaining, back-and-forth game. Minus the shootout, it had everything most every hockey fan likes to see.

Hit of the weekend Part II

I'm not sure this can compete with the Orpik-on-Paille hit, but it's still worth watching. I mean, who doesn't love guys being dumped over the boards?

The Wild and Stars got together for a crucial game for the West playoff picture and at least this hit showed how big it was. Watch Jake Dowell get dumped over the boards and into the camera well by Jed Ortmeyer of the Wild.

I'd say that's as good as time as any for a line change.

Quote of the weekend

“It was a party. It’s always fun. It keeps you in the game. Who knows, though? The next game I might get 15 to 20 shots, and you have to be ready for that, too.” -- Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators goalie on facing 43 shots against the Blues. (from the Tennessean).

Only a goalie could think his team facing 43 shots in one game could be considered a party.

Then again, when you beat a division rival 2-1 and move second place in the ultra-competitive Central, well then it might feel pretty good.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey 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