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Around the Southeast this Weekend

A quick look at what’s happening (and what’s happened) with all five Southeast Division clubs as we head into the weekend:

We’ll go top to bottom:

Tampa Bay
1st place, 6-2-1 (13 points)
By and large, folks have been impressed with the Bolts thus far. As I wrote on Wednesday night, all six of their wins have differed significantly from one another and, though it is extremely early, that is a distinctive mark of a good team.

Tampa Bay is a little banged up at the moment but most, if not all, of the injuries are of the nagging variety. Most significantly, forward Simon Gagne has missed three games with a stiff neck, though he could return to the lineup on Saturday in Phoenix. Gagne’s start in Tampa hasn’t exactly been prolific. Pointless in six games and a minus-8, he isn’t exactly off to the kind of start all had hoped for upon his acquisition from Philadelphia this summer. Even so, hopes remain high for Gagne and both he and the organization have expressed consistent confidence that he will, in fact, shake off the slow start.

Defenseman Mattias Ohlund made his season debut on Wednesday night, playing only 12:14 but showing encouraging signs by playing his trademark, physical style after sitting out Tampa Bay’s first eight games with inflammation in his right knee.

With Ohlund back (and Gagne, perhaps, returning this weekend), defenseman Michael Vernace was placed on waivers and has since cleared. He will join AHL Norfolk. Forward Blair Jones (4-6-10 in seven games for the Admirals) has been recalled.

While the 5-3 comeback win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday served as the passing of one test for the Lightning, the western road swing that begins tomorrow night is definitely another. After Phoenix, Tampa Bay will visit Anaheim and then Los Angeles and San Jose next week before returning home for a November 9th meeting with Toronto and then back-to-backs in Washington and Pittsburgh.

2nd place, 6-4-0 (12 points)
They haven’t started horribly, but there’s something awfully non-Caps like about the Caps right now. For starters, they’ve scored less than division rival Atlanta – a bet that, surely, none of you would have taken had I made it pre-season.

The loss of Mike Green, Tom Poti and Semyon Varlamov have all played a factor in a mediocre start for Washington, but none more so than Green, whose offensive presence from the blueline has been missed, particularly on the power play, where the Capitals have gone just 4-for-38 so far.

Michal Neuvirth has filled in for Varlamov admirably in goal and may be making a case for the job long-term himself, after posting his first career shutout on Wednesday and a 2.17 goals-against average overall.

The Caps are in Calgary to face the surprising Flames on Saturday night in their only action of the weekend.

3rd place, 4-4-1 (9 points)
The Thrashers snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 6-4 win over the Rangers in Manhattan, getting goals from six different players in that one. Atlanta would benefit from that sort of all-hands-on-deck approach in the scoring department more consistently and perhaps they’re headed in that direction, with Rich Peverley and rookie Alexander Burmistrov the only forwards that have played in all nine games still without a goal.

Concerning for the Thrashers is the slow start of center Nik Antropov, who has just a point in eight games so far and sat one out as a healthy scratch. Many wondered if Antropov’s game could be elevated to that of a legitimate, first-line center this season and, to this point, that has not happened.

Bryan Little, who scored 31 goals two seasons ago before just 13 last year, notched his first of the 2010-11 campaign against New York.

Andrew Ladd leads the Thrashers in scoring with four goals and 10 points, while sophomore Evander Kane is making an early run at NHL Cy Young glory at 6-0-6 so far.

In a bit of a surprise (to me, anyway), despite what appears to be a deep defense corps, Atlanta has yielded 33 goals against in their nine games, second-highest in the Eastern Conference. Remember, of course, that goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is only now healthy enough to return to play after the scare of his opening night fainting spell and concussion. Pavelec is a good bet to start this weekend, as Atlanta has back-to-backs at home against Buffalo and in St. Louis against the Blues.

4th place, 4-4-0 (8 points)
The Hurricanes waited over three weeks and played in seven regular season games before finally suiting up in their own barn on Wednesday, where they were blanked by Neuvirth and the Capitals. And now? Back on the road, if only for a day, to face the Rangers in New York tonight.

The best news of all for Carolina? They’re reasonably healthy. After missing so many man-games to injury last season, I think I’ll continue to harp on this as a key for the ‘Canes all year long.

Rookie center Jeff Skinner has impressed enough to remain with the squad and has a goal and three helpers to his credit thus far.

As expected, Carolina has struggled a bit to score goals with just 21 in eight games, tying them with Florida for fewest in the division and better, only, than Boston and New Jersey in the East as a whole.

5th place, 3-5-0 (6 points)
You could look at the current standings and say you didn’t expect the Panthers to be anywhere but fifth but Florida has done some good things to this point already.

For starters, a 6-0 win over Tampa Bay in their home opener proved that anyone taking the Cats lightly this season will be in for a rude awakening.

After a hellacious 2009-10 campaign, complete with two nasty concussions, David Booth has started off strong this season with three goals and seven points out of the gate.

And Tomas Vokoun has been his reliable self, keeping his club in games routinely and with two shutouts already to his credit to boot.

But the Panthers still have the deck stacked against them in the division, in my opinion, though all would be wise to keep that shellacking of the Lightning fresh in their minds.

Florida is in Montreal on Saturday night.

JJ on Twitter
The Bolts Beat podcast archive/a>

Filed in: NHL Teams, Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: bryan+little, david+booth, jeff+skinner, mattias+ohlund, michal+neuvirth, nik+antropov, simon+gagne, simon+gagne, tomas+vokoun


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About Kukla's Korner Hockey

Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com


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