Kukla's Korner

Southeast Tonight: Four Games on the Schedule, Five Teams in Action

All five Southeast clubs are in action tonight, with four games on the docket, including a division matchup between the Panthers and Thrashers. All Southeasterners, save for Washington, have been busy already in the trade market and I don’t expect that will cease any time before it has to on Monday afternoon.

Now then, to tonight’s schedule…

Pittsburgh at Carolina
They’re gettin’ the band back together in Raleigh (again), as GM Jim Rutherford hooked up with his Florida Panthers counterpart, Dale Tallon, to bring Cory Stillman back to Carolina. Heading Florida-way is forward Ryan Carter and a fifth round draft pick for the Panthers, who most expect are only getting started on the trade front.

Stillman managed seven goals and 23 points in 44 games for Florida this year and the Hurricane hope is that he’ll give a lift to the power play and provide an overall spark to the offense.

The thinking here is that the addition of Stillman also gives Carolina a little more flexibility, in terms of moving any one (or more) of his forwards on expiring contracts for a little help on the blueline, if they so choose (or, perhaps, something bigger?) Rutherford told the Raleigh News & Observer he may not be done indeed but that he was not planning on peddling any of his top prospects.

Tonight’s opponent has also been busy wheeling and dealing of late, with Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero also playing the reunion card in bringing winger Alexei Kovalev back to the Penguins for a second tour of duty. Shero, of course, also turned a few heads earlier in the week, flipping d-man Alex Goligoski to Dallas for forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. He may not be done either, as the Pens gear up for a playoff push with (or without) superstar Sidney Crosby, still out after a January concussion.

Carolina sits eighth in the East today, three points ahead of ninth place Buffalo. (The Sabres have two games in hand and are at home to face Ottawa tonight.) The ‘Canes are just 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and losers of two straight, though they did manage a point in a shootout loss to the Rangers on Tuesday.

The Hurricanes will be in Montreal tomorrow night to face the Canadiens in their last game before Monday’s deadline.

Rangers at Capitals
As the Lightning, Hurricanes, Thrashers and Panthers all begin to wheel and deal, there the Capitals continue to sit idly by, though surely general manager George McPhee is sifting through all of his options, considering how best (if at all) to fortify his club for this year’s playoffs.

Despite their well-chronicled struggles this season, the Caps are still just three points behind the Lightning for the top spot in the Southeast Division and just four in back of Pittsburgh for a home ice position, with a game in hand on the Penguins. They’ve strung together a pair of wins and three in their last four outings, and have played in five straight one-goal games, temporarily shrinking the distance between them and Tampa to just a single point before the Lightning took care of Phoenix on Wednesday.

McPhee has stood firm all year long regarding goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, insisting that the team is pleased with their performance and the numbers, overall, don’t lie. The young tandem is a combined 28-17-8 this season with a 2.37 goals-against average and .918 save percentage – aggregate numbers that are right there with the Eastern Conference’s best. That said, temper any expectations for Washington’s pursuit of a goaltender – doesn’t look like that’s happening.

Instead, the Caps are reportedly targeting some second-line center and defense help, with several names surfacing. Too bad they’re not targeting a goaltender (allegedly) and too bad they’re divisional “rivals” (cause, you know, that matters – see: Stillman, Cory), cause wouldn’t the Capitals and Panthers make for perfect trade partners on a mega-blockbuster involving Cats Stephen Weiss, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Vokoun?

Well, wouldn’t they?

Washington hits Long Island tomorrow to play the much-improved Islanders to wrap up the pre-deadline portion of their schedule.

Devils at Lightning
The Bolts got off the schneid (or whatever a “schneid” for this non-slumping team is, that is) with a big 8-3 win over Phoenix on Wednesday.

Their reward? The New Jersey Devils come to town, a team Lightning head coach Guy Boucher says, “Gives you nothing,” and, as he has been far more often than not in his first season behind the Tampa Bay bench, he’s right. It’s no secret that the Devils are on a remarkable run, winners of eight straight, 9-0-1 in their last ten and an incredible 16-1-2 since January 8th. They’ve allowed no more than two goals in their last eight and have only once allowed even that much in regulation during that span. All that considered, they’d still need to go roughly 17-5 in their final 22 to have a shot at the playoffs.

But when you’re on a 16-1-2 run, you certainly can’t discount that kind of possibility.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has been busy of late, last week bringing in defenseman Eric Brewer from St. Louis and, just yesterday, swapping backup goaltenders with the Anaheim Ducks by acquiring Curtis McElhinney in exchange for Dan Ellis. Yzerman saves some green with the deal and the additional flexibility of McElhinney’s impending free agency coming in, with Ellis, whose deal extends through next season, heading out.

Also yesterday, Mike Smith was placed on re-entry waivers with the intent of calling him back up to Tampa from AHL Norfolk. McElhinney’s arrival could be a bit of a safeguard, in the event Smith gets claimed by another team, who would be on the hook for half of what remains of his $2.4 million salary. Should Smith clear, the expectation here is that he will serve as Dwayne Roloson’s backup and then, perhaps, McElhinney would be either flipped again or waived, in an effort to get him to Norfolk to back up Dustin Tokarski for the Admirals’ playoff push. (Cedrick Desjardins, who shined in two starts for the Bolts earlier this season, has been out with a shoulder injury since mid-January but continues his rehab and “has progressed to skating and facing shots on the ice,” as per an official statement from the Lightning.)

If Smith does clear, Tampa Bay would then have three goaltenders in he, McElhinney and Roloson on expiring UFA contracts.

Word is, Yzerman’s tinkering may not be done and that Brewer’s arrival might possibly have made a fellow defenseman expendable, should the right deal come along. One would think the Lightning could use some veteran forward depth in particular, with Ryan Malone still expected to be sidelined for some time.

Captain Vincent Lecavalier has been dominant since the All-Star break and has six goals and 14 points in his last 11 games, topped by Wednesday night’s five-pointer, in which linemate Teddy Purcell celebrated his first career hat trick.

After tonight’s visit from the Devils, the Lightning hit the road for the first time in over a month, facing the Rangers in New York on Sunday as their last contest prior to the trade deadline.

Panthers at Thrashers
Both clubs are fading and the Stillman deal likely signals the beginning of Tallon’s moving of as many expendable parts as possible to expedite the Panthers rebuild. Atlanta is five points behind eighth place Carolina and Florida is eight back. With multiple clubs in the way (not to mention surging New Jersey coming up the rear), a playoff berth seems a real reach at this point and the opportunity for each of these teams to retool at the deadline has far more long-term potential than any Cinderella-like run.

Thrashers GM Rick Dudley was busy again on Thursday, sending forward Nigel Dawes and defenseman Brent Sopel to the Montreal Canadiens for minor league forward Ben Maxwell and a draft pick. Dawes was great at AHL Chicago, with 27 goals and 44 points in 47 games but managed just an assist in nine appearances for Atlanta. Sopel, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, became expendable upon Dudley’s acquisition of Mark Stuart from the Boston Bruins last week.

The Panthers really could hold the biggest key to the deadline, with McCabe and Vokoun definitely available, Weiss and perhaps even David Booth in play, according to some reports and several other potentially serviceable vets available for a playoff-bound club. If recent weeks are any indicator, there’s no guarantee Tallon will wait until Monday to finish up the task(s) at hand, although it does sound as though the no-movement clauses held by both McCabe and Vokoun could complicate matters at least somewhat.

Florida gets the Devils at home on Sunday before whatever meat is left can be picked from the Panther bones a day later, while Atlanta will host Toronto.

***

As announced via Twitter this morning, The Bolts Beat podcast is officially on hiatus/in limbo/taking a break or however else you might describe it for what yours truly is calling “creative differences”.

We simply have some things to sort out before we resume this labor of love of ours. (A studio to call home once again, after our old one became a non-option, suddenly, tops the list and Plan B, um, just didn’t work.) There are no plans to cancel the show permanently and we are working diligently to get on the same page and resume the broadcast, better than ever.

Stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks… (I hope…)

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter
The Bolts Beat podcast archive

Filed in: Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

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