Usually, at this time of the season, I’m making off-season plans, soliciting reader responses for year-end fan polls and compiling the results, pondering summer changes for my primary team of focus, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and finalizing preparations to decrease the workload a bit or take some time away from writing altogether.
Can’t do any of that this year – not with the Bolts in the dance for the first time since 2007 – and the divisional focus is still alive as well, with the Washington Capitals not only Southeast champs for the fourth consecutive season but also in the driver’s seat for the Eastern Conference’s top seed, now leading Philadelphia by two points (and Pittsburgh three) after locking up the division with a shootout win in Toronto last night. Also, the Carolina Hurricanes are still clinging to life, though a home loss to Detroit tonight would kill their postseason dream outright.
So, with two Southeast clubs headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs (and maybe, maaaaayyyyybeeeeee three), I’m in business for a while longer than usual this year – at least in terms of sticking with my assigned beat and not having to look elsewhere for material, unless I so choose.
And along with remaining in work mode this year (hallelujah, by the way) comes the return of my very own playoff beard (and the tracking of progress with pictures, thereof).
If you want to play along, you have to abide by my simple rules:
The AHL’s regular season wraps up this coming weekend and the affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division teams should be well-represented when all is said and done.
The Hershey Bears and Charlotte Checkers have already clinched playoff berths and the Norfolk Admirals are on the doorstep, with five games left on the schedule and a magic number of three over Worcester. In the West, the Chicago Wolves are in a battle for a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs by way of the crossover rule, currently four points over the North Division’s Abbotsford Heat but trailing division rival Oklahoma City by a single point. Chicago and Oklahoma City each have three games remaining to Abbotsford’s five.
Only the Rochester Americans are sure to miss the AHL postseason this year, last in the North and well out of playoff contention.
With postseason berths at stake, the upcoming week is full of crucial games and once the playoff seeds are set, the focus of this weekly update will shift that way and include some more detailed recaps. Until then, let’s have a look back at the week gone by:
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 3/29/11: Manitoba Moose 3, Rochester Americans 2
Rochester goal-scorers: Eric Selleck (3), Bill Thomas (14)
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Marc Cheverie (43/46)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Bill Sweatt, MTB; 2 – Marc Cheverie, RCH; 3 – Jason Jaffray, MTB
My initial plans for last night/this morning called for a Tampa Bay Lightning playoff-clinching column but, while the Bolts held up their end of the bargain, those pesky Carolina Hurricanes didn’t cooperate, toppling the Washington Capitals in a shootout.
Instead, I’ll toss out some quick food for thought today, stemming from a press box discussion last night as we sifted through every possible combination and computation related to clinching scenarios and tiebreakers and so on and so forth.
I’ve moaned about three-point games already this season but, as we subtracted a point from Tampa Bay’s magic number when Carolina and Washington were knotted after regulation, carried the one when the ‘Canes prevailed in the shootout, multiplied by six when the Lightning one and determined the square root of the product thereof (or, um, something), another angle of the ridiculousness of the loser point struck me.
This is just far too complicated.
Hershey’s clinched in the East Division and both Charlotte and Norfolk are getting awful close. Chicago’s in a dogfight in the West (with an added lift from the crossover rule), while Rochester is left to play for pride. Amid some serious playoff race action, here is your weekly stats pack-style glimpse at the week gone by for the AHL affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division clubs:
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 3/22/11: Charlotte Checkers 5, Adirondack Phantoms 2
Charlotte goal-scorers: Mike McKenzie (1), Chris Terry (29), Zach Boychuk 2 (19), Jacob Micflikier (24)
Charlotte goaltenders (saves/shots): Justin Pogge (17/19)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Zach Boychuk, CHA; 2 – Michal Jordan, CHA; 3 – Jacob Micflikier, CHA
Tuesday, 3/22/11: Lake Erie Monsters 2, Rochester Americans 1
Rochester goal-scorers: Kenndal McArdle (14)
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Marc Cheverie (31/33)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Travis Gawryletz, LE; 2 – Shawn Belle, LE; 3 – Kenndal McArdle, RCH
Less than two weeks remain on the regular season schedule as of today and, for the teams of the NHL’s Southeast Division, the post-season picture is beginning to clear up.
First thing’s first: The Florida Panthers have missed the playoffs for a tenth consecutive campaign. Nevertheless, the Cats from Sunrise appear to be on track for marked improvement in the coming years with a solid nucleus in place and a wealth of young talent coming up the pike.
At the opposite end of the division standings are the Washington Capitals, seeded second in the conference presently, just two points in back of the Philadelphia Flyers for first overall, with Philly holding a game in hand over Washington. The Caps lead the Tampa Bay Lightning by seven points with six games left to play, with the Bolts possessing a game in hand on Washington as well.
March has been unkind to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But it’s time for the Tampa Bay Lightning to be unkind right back.
Since finishing February 19 games over “NHL .500” with a five-point lead over second place Washington in the Southeast Division, the Bolts have been overtaken by the Capitals and then some, now seven points behind in the division race and just 2-5-4 this month overall after a 5-2 home loss to the New York Islanders last night, coupled with Washington’s shootout win in Philadelphia.
With nine games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Lightning can pretty much forget any division title hopes – a shame, really, considering how dominant this club was for much of the year while the Caps were busy figuring themselves out – and the turning point in this race, looking back now, is clear.
When Washington took care of the Florida Panthers in overtime on March 6th to take over the lead in the Southeast for the first time since December 29th, it should have irked Tampa Bay, providing some outside motivation for a team that hadn’t had to worry about as much for so long. And maybe it did, albeit for a very short time. A night later, the Caps prevailed in a shootout over the Lightning and haven’t looked back since, 6-1 since that game (their only loss in that span coming at the hands of the Red Wings in Detroit) and on the verge of securing a fourth straight division championship.
Another week, another look at the Southeast Division’s AHL affiliates…
Let’s get right to last week’s results:
Click for individual box scores
Wednesday, 3/16/11: Charlotte Checkers 2, Bridgeport Sound Tigers 1 (SO)
Charlotte goal-scorers: Chris Terry (26)
Charlotte goaltenders (saves/shots): Mike Murphy (30/31)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Chris Terry, CHA; 2 – Joel Martin, BRI; 3 – Mike Murphy, CHA
Wednesday, 3/16/11: Hamilton Bulldogs 2, Rochester Americans 0
Rochester goal-scorers: none
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Tyler Plante (23/24)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Andrew Conboy, HAM; 2 – Tyler Plante, RCH; 3 – Drew MacIntyre, HAM
“Once the playoffs come, those third periods are important. They’re all 2-1, 1-0 games, so we have to get better at them.” - Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Vincent Lecavalier, to the St. Pete Times after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Senators in Ottawa.
A telling quote, really, for a team 2-4-4 in their last 10 games, with just one win in their last nine contests that were decided by a single goal.
Lecavalier’s right, the playoffs are coming. The fifth-place Bolts are 13 points up on ninth-place Carolina, meaning it would take a monumental (almost New York Mets-like) collapse for them to miss out on the postseason.
But he’s also right about the team needing to get better in tight games. They simply haven’t been able to close teams out. What’s more concerning, perhaps, is that three of their last four losses have come to teams well out of playoff contention – Ottawa twice and the Florida Panthers. That’s not always a truthful indicator, as these teams often play much looser once they have little left to shoot for, but it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the Lightning as a contender at this late stage of the game either.
As Paul pointed to a little over an hour ago, dump n’ chase’s Mike Vogel reports that Washington Capitals center Jason Arnott is not accompanying the team on its critical six-game road trip that starts tonight in Montreal and is fraught with dangerous opponents throughout.
Arnott is said to be week-to-week with an undisclosed injury and will leave a big hole in the Caps’ lineup, having been exactly what they were looking for in acquiring the veteran from New Jersey at the trade deadline. With Arnott, who has managed five points in his seven games with Washington, the Capitals are a perfect 7-0 and have reclaimed the Southeast Division lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As Vogel notes, Arnott has been a difference-maker for the Capitals both on and off the ice since his arrival – exactly as the school of thought that saw him as an ideal addition for this club had predicted. Without Arnott’s presence, closing out the division over Tampa Bay, who shrunk the gap to just three points with a win in Toronto last night, becomes that much more difficult. Both the Caps and the Lightning have 12 games remaining on the schedule.
Buffering the loss of Arnott somewhat are the potential returns from injury of another key trio: defenseman Tom Poti, forward Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Semyon Varlamov, all of whom have made the trip to Montreal with the team.
So, what of it then, fans: How much does the loss of Arnott hurt Washington’s chances? And who takes the Southeast crown?
Changing the name of this weekly installment one last time, more than anything, to reflect exactly what it is: A stats pack. Ergo, I think Southeast AHL Affiliate Stats Pack will work just fine from now on.
Let’s get to last week’s results:
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 3/8/11: Charlotte Checkers 2, Binghamton Senators 1
Charlotte goal-scorers: Zac Dalpe (19), Jon Matsumoto (17)
Charlotte goaltenders (saves/shots): Justin Pogge (38/39)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Justin Pogge, CHA; 2 – Jon Matsumoto, CHA; 3 – Ryan Keller, BNG
Tuesday, 3/8/11: Portland Pirates 3, Hershey Bears 2 (SO)
Hershey goal-scorers: Mathieu Perreault (10), Patrick McNeill (4)
Hershey goaltenders (saves/shots): Nolan Schaefer (28/30)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Corey Tropp, POR; 2 – David Leggio, POR; 3 – Nolan Schaefer, HER