NHL Southeast Division Week In Review 11/29-12/6

Here’s how the division stands now.

Looks about the same as last week only with the Thrashers and Lightning tied for second place now. It makes sense with how the Thrashers are on a roll (8-2-0 in their last 10) and the Lightning have been steady. Both teams are finally gaining some ground on the Caps and the Thrashers had a huge victory over them on Saturday night. Neither the Canes nor Panthers did much at all to gain any ground in the division.

Here’s how the week looked.

It’s kind of hard to make judgments with a lot of teams playing only 3 games this week but we’ll do it now for the hell of it. Thrashers continue to be the hottest team in the division winning 3/4 games. The Lightning are second despite an ugly loss in Boston. Caps managed to get lose a point against Toronto tonight to move them to third and the Canes and Panthers only picked up one win this week putting them at the bottom.

Now time to take a closer look at each team.

Thrashers (3-1-0)

It’s the Ondrej Pavelec show in Atlanta as he had another fantastic week stopping 126 of 134 shots. He has single handily won the job away from Chris Mason, who many thought would be the starting goaltender for the Thrashers at the beginning of the year. His best performance was his 46 save showing against the Washington Capitals on Saturday where Atlanta picked up a huge win. Their only loss this week came against a red hot Penguins team.

There aren’t too many other standouts on the Thrashers this week other than Dustin Byfuglien still contributing well from the blue-line with 3 assists and a goal. Sometimes it’s nice to have a fourth forward on the ice who has a physical game as well, which is what Byfuglien has brought to Atlanta. Craig Ramsay is utilizing him well to not put him in key defensive situations but he knows how lethal Big Buff’s shot from the point is and it’s worked heavily in the Thrashers favor this year. Also of note is rookie Alexander Burmistrov continuing to show small signs of brilliance with his goal against the Caps on Saturday. It’ll be scary when he puts it all together. Rich Peverley and Andrew Ladd also picked up a pair of goals this week as both have contributed well and they need to with Evander Kane missing a few games.

Lightning (2-1-0)

Aside from the 8-1 shellacking they took from the Bruins, it wasn’t too bad of a week for the Bolts. Simon Gagne’s makes losing Steve Downie not that bad as he has contributed right off the bat with 5 points in 3 games including the overtime game winner in Toronto. An interesting thing is that Steven Stamkos was held goalless this week and Martin St. Louis was the top scorer with 3 goals and 2 assists to go along with it. Ryan Malone was also very active in the offense netting 2 goals. Guys like Teddy Purcell, Sean Bergeheim, Mattias Ritola and Steve Thompson have also done their part in scoring, as well which is crucial with how the Lightning’s goaltending situation is.

It’s very strange how the Lightning are in such a good position despite getting terrible goaltending from Dan Ellis and Mike Smith. Both had save percentages of below .850 for the week and Smith’s was .771. The offense is scoring enough to win a lot of games like the Colorado game on Saturday but I still think the poor goaltending is going to become a problem soon because it’s going to get difficult to keep up a pace of scoring 4+ goals per game to make up for however many Smith and Ellis let in. That, and the goals these two have let in were AWFUL. Just watch the highlights. You would think goalies who have been around for such a long time would learn to play the puck properly. Also, Pavel Kubina finished the week as a -5 with no points. Ouch. The penalty kill finished at a respectable 8/11, though and the Lightning are still winning despite the struggles.

Capitals (1-2-1)

Definitely a rough week for Washington after starting off on a good note with a strong win over St. Louis where everything seemed to go tight. They were then shutdown in consecutive games by goaltenders who were playing out of their minds and then ended the week earlier tonight by choking away a 4-1 lead against Toronto. Definitely a lot of work needs to be done if Washington wants to go deep into the playoffs. Of course, I think they are talented enough to have these things fixed but the problems with defense and signs of them being in “Montreal Mode” a lot of times this year is starting to get concerning. We’ll have to see if they pull out of it or not, which I do think they will.

The Caps did make some noise in the trade talks by sending Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for defenseman Scott Hannan. Hannan has been solid in his first few games but injuries to the blue line have plagued Washington again as Jeff Schultz suffered a broken thumb and will be out for 4-6 weeks. It will be a good test for Hannan to show his value but Washington is going to need to get the best out of John Erskine during this stretch, too.

As for performances this week, the top point getter was Nicklas Backstrom with 5 as he had 2 goals against St. Louis and 3 assists. Alex Ovechkin also broke out of his 9-game goal slump by scoring twice in consecutive games. Mike Knuble also had a pair of goals and they got two very solid games out of Semyon Varlamov stopping 67 out of 71 shots.

Hurricanes (1-2-0)

Brutal scheduling can attribute to the Canes struggles this week as they had two back-to-back games where they had to travel, which is tough on any team. Despite that, it’s hard to win when your powerplay goes 0/10 on the week like Carolina’s did. Paul Maurice is trying very hard to develop some kind of chemistry on the team by juggling the lines and nothing has been successful so far aside from the fourth line of Ryan Carter, Jiri Tlusty and Sergei Samsonov but when that’s your strongest line, there’s problems.

Carolina had two ugly losses to Dallas and Nashville this week and an overtime win against the Avalanche and they got off to bad starts in all three games. It’s becoming a big problem for this team. However, their penalty kill was a perfect 7/7 and they got some great goaltending from Cam Ward as he was his usual workhorse self this week. Jeff Skinner also showed off some of his skills with his beauty of a  goal against Colorado. Still, no player on the Canes had a multi-point performance this week and you’re not going to win a lot of games if there isn’t a lot of scoring no matter how good your goalie is.

Panthers (1-2-0)

Panthers offense received somewhat of a spark from guys learning to crash the net more which is why Steve Bernier had two goals and why guys like Mike Repik ended up on the scoresheet. It was only good enough to get one win for the Cats this week as they are still struggling to find a consistent source of offense with Chris Higgins and Radek Dvorak held pointless and Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik getting only one point on the week. Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen did their best to keep Florida in almost any game this year but again, they can only do you so much. Clemmensen had to make 40 saves to get Florida the shootout win in Phoenix.

Florida didn’t play too bad this week but I think Stephen Weiss says it best here; “We played a good game but have said that before. Playing good games doesn’t mean crap in this league.” Hard to argue with that. The Ducks top line dominated them when they played them and they allowed George Parros to score twice. Yeah…that’s not good.

Still, Florida is taking whatever they can get and I can see some determination in the team with how they are crashing the net and always trying to score goals in anyway they can because their offense needs such a big spark right now. David Booth scored a goal this week but that was his first in 12 games. He has to be better, and he knows it.

Three Stars:

1. Martin St. Louis

2. Ondrej Pavelec

3. Simon Gagne

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