by Jon Jordan on 02/23/11 at 03:32 PM ET
A look around at the Southeast Division teams in action tonight:
Atlanta at Buffalo
If Rick Dudley is deciding between buyer and seller mode, this might just be the game to shove him swiftly in one direction or the other.
Atlanta has been in a tailspin in the new year, with just three regulation wins since we said farewell to 2010. Currently, the Thrashers have lost seven out of their last eight and are just 2-10-4 in their last 16.
They sit five points behind eighth place Carolina and are tied, points-wise, with tonight’s opponent, though their meeting with Buffalo becomes is that much more pivotal with the Sabres having two games in hand on Atlanta.
New faces Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart, acquired last week from Boston, will each play in their second game as a Thrasher tonight. Both made an impact in their Atlanta debut in Edmonton Sunday, despite the team’s 5-3 loss, with Wheeler assisting on an Andrew Ladd tally and Stuart scrapping with J-F Jacques in the second period.
Dustin Byfuglien’s goal Sunday gives him a pair to go with two assists in his last five games after a 13-game scoring drought that lasted a full month (1/5-2/5).
Atlanta has Florida and Toronto at home after tonight’s tilt in Buffalo before Monday’s trade deadline.
Florida at Ottawa
This won’t be dubbed tonight’s marquee game, by any means but if Atlanta needs a win, the Panthers need one tenfold.
That, of course, is assuming you’re still shooting for the playoffs which, at seven points out of eighth with three teams in between (and soaring New Jersey just a point behind), might not be Florida’s best bet – certainly not when the opportunity to finally push their rebuild out of its seemingly endless cycle by moving multiple coveted assets at Monday’s deadline exists.
That being said, Pete DeBoer’s club will surely put forth a better effort than they did Monday on Long Island, where they were drubbed 5-1 by the host Islanders. (DeBoer said of that performance, “There were 20 guys that were bad.” You do the math.) They’ll face an opponent in Ottawa that should be just as loose as the far-from-playoff-contending Isles, what with the Senators firmly implanted in dead last in the East and all. But the dismantling of this Senators club that began with sending Mike Fisher to Nashville (and is expected to stretch just as far as GM Bryan Murray can manage) makes this team a real wild card, in terms of what to expect from here on out.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, perhaps Florida’s premier trade chip, has lost his last three starts and five of six overall, despite a relatively respectable 2.68 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage in that span. (Story of his Panthers career…)
After Ottawa, Florida will travel to Atlanta before returning home to face New Jersey on Sunday prior to the deadline.
Phoenix at Tampa Bay
The Lightning are finally close to rounding out their monstrous 12-game homestand, with just New Jersey remaining on Friday after tonight’s visit from the Phoenix Coyotes before the Bolts take to the road for the first time since January 21st.
Overall, Tampa Bay has fared relatively well during their extended stay at home, going 5-3-2 so far and maintaining their status as both Southeast Division leaders and the Eastern Conference’s second seed.
But the Lightning are coming off a winless week (0-1-2) with a regulation loss to Detroit sandwiched between shootout downers against Philadelphia and Florida and their lead in the Southeast is down to just a single point over sneaky Washington, as the Caps have strung together three wins in four games. The Boston Bruins have pulled even with Tampa Bay in points at 75, though the Lightning get the edge for now with a game in hand.
Newly acquired defenseman Eric Brewer made his Lightning debut after Friday’s trade with St. Louis, playing 17:55 with a plus-1 rating on Saturday night against Florida.
Dwayne Roloson has just one win in his last five starts, with a 4.51 goals-against average and an .854 save percentage in that time. Dan Ellis could man the pipes against Phoenix. [Update, 1:45 PM: Looks like it will be Roloson tonight, after all. -JJ]
In an effort to break the monotony of the lengthy break from the road, the Lightning took to the road (of course!) traveling south to Naples for golf and a team dinner and practicing in nearby Estero, home of their ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades.
The Lightning host the Devils on Friday and head to New York to take on the Rangers in advance of Monday’s trade deadline.
Looking for Southeast Division trade deadline possibilities? Touched on just that, right here, on Monday.
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