Joe Corvo vs. Tomas Kaberle

The Carolina Hurricanes made their first significant splash in free agency a few days ago by signing long-time Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle to a three-year deal worth $12.75 mil. They followed this by trading Joe Corvo to the Boston Bruins for a fourth round pick in next year’s draft. This is the Canes attempt to juice up their sad powerplay a little bit by acquiring a guy who has a strong reputation as a great offensive defenseman and just helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup only last year. The question is just how much of an improvement is Kaberle over Corvo? Or is he that much of an upgrade at all? While it’s certain that Kaberle will provide improvement on the powerplay for the Canes, there’s a lot of things that Corvo did that make him slightly more valuable than Kaberle might be now, especially when the former’s contract is a lot cheaper.

GP G A P Rating PPG 5v5 TOI/G 5v4 TOI/G 4v5 TOI/G 5v5 OZ%
Kaberle 82 4 43 47 4 0 17.16 3.86 0.28 51.8
Corvo 82 11 29 40 -14 5 17.17 3.86 2.63 49
Zone ∆ 5v5 Corsi 5v5 CorsiRel Qualcomp CorsiQualcomp 5v4 SF/60 5v4 G/60 5v4 A1/60 5v4 A2/60
-2.2 -1.02 0 -0.031 0.234 48.3 0 1.33 2.27
0.3 -1.62 -2.31 0.025 0.646 43 0.95 2.09 1.14

Corvo killed penalties, played tougher minutes against better competition in addition to having better basic stats on the powerplay. Kaberle was better at generating chances on the powerplay but he definitely had problems at even strength and didn’t kill penalties that often. Kaberle was also given heavily sheltered minutes in the playoffs and only played 10-12 minutes a night in Boston as opposed top minutes like he did for most of his career. If that continues in Carolina then there could be problems because Corvo played top 2 minutes there and unless they expect Tim Gleason or Bryan Allen to play  more minutes, which is possible.

Something important to take note of here is that Kaberle seemed to fare better against weak competition than Corvo did against tougher competition but it’s very possible that Corvo might see softer competition in Boston with the depth they have on the blue-line and it might be the opposite with Kaberle in Carolina because the Canes just lost one of their heavy lifters and someone else is going to have to pick up the slack. That guy might have to be Kaberle. Just hope that Kaberle is able to kill penalties like he did two seasons ago and if not, at least the Canes get slightly better on the powerplay but Boston may have gotten a more versatile and slightly better player for half the cost.

Southeast Division Free Agency: Carolina Hurricanes

Over the next few days I’m going to look at all of the teams in the Southeast Division to see what kind of position they are in heading into free agency. What are their needs? Can they do enough to become contenders next year? Will they need to overpay for a player or are they best suited to not worry about free agency and let their younger players play. This is similar to what I did with the Southeastern teams at the trade deadline only this will be focused on their more recent transactions and have some focus on which players they could possibly target in a few days. I’m doing this in alphabetical order and since the Atlanta Thrashers no longer exist, the Carolina Hurricanes are first in line.

The Canes just barely missed the playoffs last season and they even had a chance to clinch a spot on their last game of the season but ultimately laid an egg against Tampa Bay to cement their spot at #9 in the Eastern Conference. It’s a shame because the Canes were not a bad team last year but it’s tough for me to say that they would have gone anywhere in the playoffs as the #8 seed. A team who didn’t outshoot (47.3 shot%) or outplay (48.8 corsi%) their opponents at even strength isn’t going to go far. Neither will a team who had a ratio of -2.5 in terms of shots for/allowed per game. It doesn’t help that their third and fourth leading goal scorers are unrestricted free agents either so the Canes might have some work to do over the summer.

What Have They Done So Far?

Re-signed D Jay Harrison to a 2-year deal worth $1.3 mil – Liked this move even though Harrison is kind of a late-bloomer at 28. Still, they signed him at a low price and he was a good second/third pairing defenseman for the Canes last season. Also depended on for playing tough minutes at times and he was a regular on the penalty kill. He took the most percentage of defensive zone starts among Carolina defensemen and maintained a positive corsi rating despite that. He isn’t your ideal shut-d0wn guy but getting someone who can defend well, kill penalties and play tough minutes for under $1 mil a season is a good signing in my book.

Re-signed RW Pat Dwyer to a 2-year deal worth $1.25 mil – Cheap contract for a decent fourth liner whose best asset seems to be killing penalties. He does play a lot of tough minutes, though but gives up a lot of chances at even-strength. You can do a lot worse for signing a guy for $625k per season.

Re-signed D Joni Pitkanen to a 3-year deal worth $13.5 mil – Very good signing by GM Jim Rutherford. Pitkanen is the backbone of Carolina’s defense playing in every situation and is usually among the NHL leaders in time on ice. A guy who can put up 30-45 points from the blue-line every year while playing solid defense like he has under Paul Maurice is very valuable and he is still only 27. They also kept him for only a $500k higher cap hit than his previous contract which is great considering that he could have gone for a lot more in free agency. Having him around for another three years should allow the organization to be patient with 2011 draft pick Ryan Murphy until he’s ready to be called-up. It’s possible that he could replace Joe Corvo after his contract expires next year, though.

Re-signed LW Chad LaRose to a 2-year deal worth $3.4 mil – This was exactly the same deal his previous contract was and it’s not a bad deal for him. $1.7 mil a year for a guy who is going to score at least 12 goals and 35 points a year and kill penalties is pretty good in my opinion. Although, it should be noted that LaRose was below average in shots allowed on the penalty kill but I still consider him a solid two-way player.

Cap Crunch

The Canes are a team that sometimes spends close to the cap but they haven’t done that the last two seasons as they have been in sort of a “rebuilding” phase, mostly the 2009-10 season where they got off to a terrible start and fell out of the playoff race early. They didn’t do a lot of big spending last season but they did trade with Calgary for defenseman Ian White (who they later traded to San Jose for Derek Joslin) and traded with Florida for both Bryan Allen and Cory Stillman in exchange for Sergei Samsonov and draft picks. Last season, they placed hope in the talent they already had on the roster plus a couple rookies and they did better than some were expecting. One guy who surprised everyone was Jeff Skinner who had a terrific rookie season where he won the Calder. He is under team control for two more years under an entry level deal so Canes fans are going to be very excited to see how this kid develops as a player, especially if he gets moved up to Eric Staal’s line.  This year they might see full seasons from rookie centers Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk, but the Canes are going to need to do some spending if they want to bring a second Stanley Cup to Raleigh. Before they worry about that, they first need to get to the cap floor. They have at little under $38 mil invested in 7 forwards, 6 defenseman and 2 goalies. Let’s take a look at who is currently under contract and who could be heading to free agency:

Ruutu ($3,800,000) – Staal ($8,250,000) – Skinner ($1,400,000)
??? – Boychuk ($1,195,833) – ???
LaRose ($1,700,000) – ??? – Bowman ($845,833)
??? – Dwyer ($625,000) – Samson ($512,500)

Pitkanen ($4,500,000) – Allen ($2,900,000)
Gleason ($2,750,000) – Corvo ($2,250,000)
McBain ($850,000) – Harrison ($650,000)

Ward ($6,300,000)
Peters ($525,000)

UFA: Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen, Cory Stillman, Jiri Tlusty, Troy Bodie, Bryan Rodney
RFA: Derek Joslin, Brandon Sutter, Oskar Osala

Team Needs

Carolina has tons of holes in the depth chart at forward so my guess is that filling those two wing spots on the second line will be the the first order of business. Carolina had one of the league’s worst powerplays too so possibly getting someone who can help upgrade that would be a welcome addition. However, they could do as they did last year and fill them with players within the organization such as Dalpe, Boychuk, Osala and a couple others but the Canes are also $10 mil below the cap floor which means that they may overpay to get a couple of top-six wingers, which isn’t the worst thing in the world when you have over $28 mil in cap space. One option here is to re-sign Erik Cole and give him a raise from the $2.9 mil he made last season but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him test the market after a great season. Jussi Jokinen is another one they would like to have re-signed but they apparently have not had a contract worked out yet. The Canes signing someone like Radim Vrbata, Antti Miettnen or Scottie Upshall isn’t out of the question but I think re-signing Jokinen and Cole would be the wiser move because those two are better players and were great for Carolina last season. However, I wouldn’t expect those deals to be too long because they have players in the minors who can fill these roles eventually, but not yet.

There also a void at third line center but I would expect that to be filled by re-signing Brandon Sutter. Derek Joslin will probably be re-signed to play as a 7th defenseman seeing how he was given a qualifying offer. I would also expect to see them sign a winger for the fourth line with Jiri Tlusty leaving. It’s better they get someone who can kill penalties after being in the bottom 1o in the league in that category last season. Other than that, there aren’t any other glaring holes.

Expectations:

Whether or not people agree, this team is slowly rebuilding but remaining competitive in the process. Part of that is because they are building around Eric Staal, who I think is one of the best in the league and they have some great prospects who are really starting to reach their potential. That and Cam Ward keeps them in every game. Carolina’s best option for next season could be to do what they did last year and give their younger players more ice time and let their youth developed. Worked out well for Jeff Skinner and to a less extent, Jaime McBain. Unfortunately with the new cap floor, the Canes are going to have to take a few roster spots away from some of the younger plaeyrs but it might improve their chances of winning this season. The re-signing of Pitkanen tells me that Rutherford is not going to let key players leave via free agency so that could mean that him re-signing Jokinen and Cole aren’t out of the question but Pitkanen appears to have more value on the team’s future than either of those two do. If the Canes have another rough season then it’s possible that those two can be traded (along with some other very tradeable contracts on this roster) and Carolina can continue rebuilding.

It’s kind of a rough time for Canes fans because this team still doesn’t look good enough to go all the way but they might be just good enough to have a shot if the right moves are made over the next couple of months.

Carolina Hurricanes at the deadline

The Hurricanes are in an interesting spot. They are hanging onto a playoff spot by 3 points, have benefited from a bit of luck this season and have loads of expiring contracts on the roster which they could get a decent amount of value for. Canes GM Jim Rutherford is going to have to make a decision on whether or not he wants to trade players like Erik Cole and Joni Pitkanen for future considerations or keep them and see if the Canes have another Cup run in them. One things for sure, the Canes need to have better special teams if they are going to go anywhere in the playoffs.

I always thought Carolina had a solid team and the only reason they were out of the playoff race last year was due to a horrible start where the team was riddled with injuries. It’s tough deciding whether the biggest blow was either to Eric Staal or Cam Ward. This year, if the Canes didn’t have Ward, I am willing to bet they would be in the same position as the Leafs are right now in the East. Ward has a marvelous .922 EV save percentage and he plays on a team which is outshot regularly. Taking nothing away from Staal as he’s having another really good season and will probably have at least 80 points by the end of the year. The play from the two of them along with rookie Jeff Skinner has the Canes in a good position to make a playoff run but what separates them from the other teams trying to make the playoffs and is it worth not selling at this deadline? Last season, Rutherford traded away a lot of players for prospects and picks but it’s not looking like it will happen this year even though it would be a good time to do so.

Big Picture:
The Canes haven’t spent close to the cap this season and have about $10 mil in space right now and will have a lot more next season with all of the potential free agents on the roster. All of the holes for the middle and bottom-6 forwards will probably be filled by re-signing Sutter, Tlusty and Bodie. They will probably call-up Zach Boychuk next year and there are some solid prospects waiting in the AHL like Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe and Oskar Osala that might be called up, as well.

Top 3 Forwards: Staal, Ruutu, Skinner $13,450,000
Middle 6 Forwards: ???, Boychuk, ???, ???, ???, ??? $1,708,333
Top 4 Defensemen: Gleason, Corvo, McBain, ??? $5,850,000
Goaltending: Ward, Peters $6,825,000
Bottom 8 Players: Lawson, Samson, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? $552,500

UFA: Cole, Samsonov, Larose, Jokinen, Carter, Dwyer, Pitkanen, Harrison
RFA: Carson, Joslin, Sutter, Tlusty, Bodie

One question going around Canes Country this whole season is whether or not the team is “re-building. It’s hard to say that they weren’t last season with all of the trades they made and the young talent on the roster but I don’t think they are in full rebuild mode right now. If the Canes were losing then I would think they would try to deal players like Cole, LaRose and Pitkanen in a heartbeat, especially since they’re UFAs but that isn’t the case so it’s hard for me to judge what they will do. Out of the players that are UFAs, the ones who I think they could get the most value for are Pitkanen, Cole and Jokinen, but I think that they will re-sign Jokinen since he’s still young and is a good fit on their first line. The Canes didn’t do much in free agency last off-season because they were saddled with a lot of these contracts but it will be the opposite of that this summer so I think they will be more active this time around. This deadline will be a different story, though. They already dealt Ian White to the Sharks for future considerations and they traded for him earlier in the year for Anton Babchuk and Tom Kostopolous, clearing some salary cap room. They also tried to help their penalty kill by trading for Ryan Carter of the Ducks but it hasn’t helped too much since they are still 22nd in the league on the PK. Let’s look at their depth chart to see what moves they can make that would boost their chances of making the playoffs.

Jokinen-Staal-Cole
LaRose-Ruutu-Skinner
Tlusty-Sutter-Samsonov
Samson-Dwyer-Bodie
Boychuk (AHL), Carter (Inj.)

Corvo-Pitkanen
Gleason-McBain
Harrison-Carson
Joslin
Lawson (AHL)

Ward
Peters
Pogge (AHL)

Those first two lines are very good at putting the puck at the back of the net as they’ve combined for 105 goals between the six players. After that, there isn’t much aside from Brandon Sutter, who is a very underrated two-way player. Sergei Samsonov is probably the most overpaid player on the team but you could argue that Tuomo Ruutu is also overpaid even if he’s been solid on the powerplay. Pitkanen is always among the NHL leaders in ice time but his production on the PP isn’t there. Only 9 assists and that’s it. Joe Corvo, on the other hand, has been quietly having a good season and I think they will hang onto him. Rookie defenseman Jaime McBain is also coming along nicely but it helps that he plays with someone like Tim Gleason and doesn’t exactly spend a lot of time on the PK. Cam Ward has been the one keeping them in most games and I think that’s how it will be for the rest of the season.

As I mentioned earlier, the Canes are going to be looking for powerplay and penalty kill help them over the next couple of months. The two who they will get the most for are Cole and Pitkanen but I could see a few teams looking at Jokinen as well even though I don’t think the Canes will trade him. The problem with trading with someone like Pitkanen is that they will be looking for the same thing the Canes are right now; special teams help, which Pitkanen has only been delivering on the PK this year. Corvo would also generate a nice return even though he’s pretty valuable to the Canes right now if they’re going to be buyers. Cole is also having a nice year so far and one plus with trading him would mean that Skinner would get bumped up to the first line with Staal and that could be a lethal combination. It would take away from the team’s depth, though. Ultimately, I think the Canes will be quiet this deadline and we’ll see a few moves to get some bottom-six forwards or a depth defenseman that can help on the PK. Special teams are going to be what decides if this team will sink or swim in the next few months. That and if Ward can continue being his usual self.

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

Southeast Division Report 11/22-11/28

I’m going to start a new segment where I look at how each team in the Southeast fared for the week and talk about whether they are in the right direction or not. The Southeast has always been known as the “SouthLeast” to NHL fans and with good reason seeing how the Caps ran away with it in recent years. This year, it appears to be a tad bit more competitive and we could see two or possibly three teams make the playoffs out of it. Being a Caps fan, keep a close eye on almost every team in this division so I think this will help others get a closer view on it. It’s also a way for me to branch out instead of just writing previews and recaps, haha.

Right now, the division looks like this.

Here are the numbers for the past week:

So, a great week for the Caps and Thrashers with the Lightning right behind them. Thrashers are the hottest team in the division right now and are getting amazing goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec along with a lot of scoring by committee. Capitals are on a 3 game win streak after that meltdown against the Devils to start the week. The Lightning are scoring enough to win games but also giving up a ton of goals. Cam Ward is doing all he can to keep the Canes in games but it’s not enough.Panthers can’t score enough to win anything.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s been going on with each team this week.

Capitals (3-0-1)

After being shutout and embarrassed against the Devils on Monday night, head coach Bruce Boudreau bag skated his team on Tuesday’s practice hoping to wake them up a little bit. It seemed to have worked since they have gone 3-0-0 since then with all three wins coming against divisional opponents. Their shutout against Tampa Bay on Friday night was arguably the best game they have played all season. Alexander Semin’s also been scorching hot this week recording a hat trick on Friday and another goal on Sunday against Carolina.

The returning Semyon Varlamov has also been solid since returning from injury in stopping 73 of 77 shots in 3 games. Also of note is Alex Ovechkin recording 6 assists but no goals this week. He is still energizing the team by coming out and throwing a lot of hits in his first few shifts and he’s on track for a new Capitals record in assists if he keeps it up. The goals will come eventually. Until then, the “other Alex” seems to have that part under control. Rookie Marcus Johansson has also continued to look better and he’s had a wonderful handful of games this week. I still don’t know if he’s ready to center the second line yet but he’s playing well above what I expected him to, especially for his age.

Also of note is they were without Mike Green for two games and in those two games, their powerplay was 3-8 during that time. That’s largely part to John Carlson quarterbacking the powerplay very well while Green was out. The Capitals still need to work on playing for a full 60 minutes (the game against Tampa is a rare occurrence this season…) if they want to get further in the playoffs, though.

Thrashers (3-0-0)

Thrashers took a huge step forward this week with winning all three of their games, and against tough opponents. They started things off by dominating the Detroit Red Wings (best team in the West), then shut out the Montreal Canadiens and closed things up with a solid win over the Boston Bruins. They have been receiving stellar goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec ever since he returned from his concussion as he stopped 97 out of 99 shots faced. The offense is doing their part, as well by doing a nice job of scoring by committee. The main contributors this week were Rich Peverley (2 goal game against Montreal) and Dustin Byfuglien who had a 4-point game against Boston on Sunday. He finished the week with 2 goals and 4 assists.

Solid special teams play is also contributing to the Thrashers recent success. Their penalty kill only surrendered one goal this week and their powerplay connected 4 out of 12 times. What’s still alarming is they are giving up an average of 30+ shots per game despite blocking 41 of them through 3 games. Head coach Craig Ramsay has placed a huge emphasis on their defense blocking shots and guys like Brent Sopel are doing that well. What’s good is their goaltenders are continuing to stand on their heads despite the team surrendering a lot of shots, Pavelec especially.

It’s no doubt that the Thrashers are on a roll and there’s a lot claiming this is the best team they’ve iced in franchise history. There’s no real “stars” on the team yet but Atlanta has looked better than I’ve seen in awhile the past couple of weeks. I will say that Washington, Detroit, Montreal and Boston all played some incredibly lazy hockey when they played Atlanta but the Thrashers were playing smart enough to take advantage of that and beat them handily. Other teams are going to start to prepare for them better so we’ll see if Atlanta can hang around long enough for a playoff spot then.

Lightning (2-1-1)

Good start to the week for the Lightning with a rough finish. Wins against the Bruins and Rangers but they took a beating from the Caps on Friday and then fell to the Panthers in a shootout the following night. It wasn’t the best week for their goalies as Dan Ellis or Mike Smith had save percentages below .900 and them having a negative goal differential despite scoring 11 times shows that.

Steven Stamkos still remains the league’s top goal scorer as he tallied his 20th and 21st goals this week with the latter coming on this nice sliding attempt into the net. He had 2 goals and 3 assists this week and is still scoring at a steady pace despite being held goalless in his last two games. The loss of captain Vinny Lecavalier is having somewhat of an effect in terms of leadership but not in terms of production since Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and even Teddy Purcell had very productive weeks. Malone and Purcell scoring a pair of goals and Downie recording 4 assists.Victor Hedman also scored a goal this week and finished with a +2 rating.

One thing I did notice is that a majority of their top scorers ratings were in the minuses or even and they gave up A LOT of goals this week. It’s a combination of poor goaltending, backchecking and Tampa not doing enough to close out games.  They let the Rangers score 3 unanswered goals and blew a lead in the Florida game. Granted, they did rally to come back and force OT in the latter. Head coach Guy Boucher stated that he hasn’t been happy with he way the team played the past few games and it’s not hard to see why. The Lightning need to work harder at playing a full 60 minutes if they want to start winning some more division games, mainly ones against Washington. The good news is they still have four games left against the Caps and three of them are at home.

Hurricanes (1-1-1)

The Canes have not won a single game this year where they trailed after two periods and they were trailing 2-0 in both of their games against Washington this week. They had two valiant comeback efforts in both games and despite the great play of Eric Staal (scored both game tying goals) and Cam Ward, they could only get away with one point in both games. Ward did earn himself a shutout against Boston, though where he stopped all 37 shots despite his team being grossly outplayed by the B’s.

One thing I watched this week with the Canes was how much of an impact trade acquisition Ian White would have on the team. He had 2 assists and 8 blocked shots this week, which is pretty darn good buuut a bad pinch from him resulted in one of the Caps goals. Him and Tim Gleason should be a solid pairing in the future but there’s still some kinks being worked out.

One thing I can say is that that criticisms of Eric Staal being on the downside of his career might go away after this season with the pace he’s on. He didn’t set the world on fire with his numbers (2 goals, 3 assists) but he is providing a huge sense of leadership for this Canes team. He played a huge factor in the first goal of the game at Washington and scored the game tying marker. He’s also 6th in the NHL in points right now with 28. However, Staal can’t do it all by himself and sooner or later, someone else is going to have to step up. Paul Marice has shaken up the lines a little bit in the last couple of games so maybe that will have an effect later in terms of getting more people involved. Seemed to work for Erik Cole.

Panthers (1-3-0)

Pretty rough week for the Cats as they could only pick up one win and were outscored 6-12 in four games. You had to figure they would struggle to win games going into the season given their roster and lack of offensive talent. It’s even worse now that Stephen Weiss and David Booth aren’t scoring. They are trying, though. They were averaging over 30 shots a game for this week and had 40 in the Rangers game and all were shut down by Henrik Lundqvist.

Awful play on the special teams also contributes to Florida’s struggles. Their powerplay is worst in the league at 6.4% and didn’t improve at all this week and their PK gave up a goal in each game. It also wasn’t the best week for goalie Tomas Vokoun, who usually keeps them in every game. He still had a save percentage around .900 despite that. I feel that the goals will come to Frolik, Booth and Weiss seeing how they create so many chances but the three of them are almost the extent of their offensive talent so when they aren’t scoring, the team runs through a dry spell.

Brutal week for defenseman Dennis Wideman who was on ice for a lot of goals and finished the week with a -4. The assist he recorded wont make up for that. Stephen Weiss was completely held off the score sheet and was a -3, same goes for Chris Higgins. Getting Steve Reinprecht has given a small burst of life to this offense since he recorded a goal and Dimitry Kulikov recorded his first goal of the season this week.

What’s weird is despite all of these problems, Florida is barely a bottom-five team. I think that will change soon, though unless there’s some real shockers coming out of Sunrise.

Three Stars of the Week

1. Ondrej Pavelec

2. Eric Staal

3. Alex Semin

Caps-Canes Post-Game Thoughts

The entire year I’ve been saying that Michal Neuvirth has been the Caps MVP and few would argue with that. Tonight’s game against Carolina proved that even more as he earned his first career shutout stopping all 28 shots the Canes sent his way.  Tonight’s game ended up being the battle of two goaltenders between him and Cam Ward and Neuvirth was the one who ended up earning the shutout. I always thought it was ridiculous when people compared him to Dominik Hasek but they show some similarities in how they both make some saves that require insane reflexes. His ridiculous save on Jeff Skinner in the 2nd period shows evidence of that. Neuvirth’s best stop was his insane glove save on Eric Staal as he robbed him of what was sure to be the game tying goal. For the rest of the team, here’s my thoughts in the bullets below.

– If I had to give a name to this game it would be either “The Battle of the Awful Powerplays,” “Neuvirth vs. Ward” or “WhistleMania.” I think all three of those speak for themselves.

– Sometimes it takes a few lucky bounces (or in this case, rebounds) to get things clicking and that’s what happened tonight. Good for Nicklas Backstrom to bury that generous rebound Ward gave him. The first line is slowly improving and Mike Knuble was doing a great job at winning the battles along the boards and getting pressure in the front of the net. Alex Ovechkin also had a few good chances but unfortunately, Cam Ward was on his game.

– Aside from a few messes, it was a good defensive effort all around from the team. It was good to see Karl Alzner playing well again, might have something to do with him being paired with his former Hershey teammate John Carlson tonight.

– 4th line of Hendricks-Steckel-Bradley was forechecking great early on and it led to an early goal for the Caps. Ward was out of the crease when Steckel collided with him and he still had a chance to make the save, so there’s no goaltender interference like some were saying.

All in all, a good team effort from the Caps and they get their first shutout win of the season. Neuvirth bailed out the defense when he had to but they played very well tonight and prevented the Canes from getting a lot of scoring chances.

Three Stars:
1. Michal Neuvirth

2. Nicklas Backstrom

3. Cam Ward

Capitals-Hurricanes preview

After three days off, the Caps are about to embark on a long road trip beginning with tonight’s game in Raleigh against their division foe the Carolina Hurricanes. You could say that the Caps are off to a shaky start but a 5-3-0 record isn’t anything to complain about. Some of the key things from last year are missing, though. One of which being their effectiveness on the powerplay. The Caps powerplay percentage sits at 12.1% right now, which is around 20th in the league. Getting a healthy Mike Green back will do wonders for them if they wish to improve on that mark. The other thing missing has been the explosiveness of the first line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble. We are so used to seeing these three put up points at a ridiculous pace but they’ve been slow out of the gate this season. The good news is that they were showing signs of improvement in recent games but they still look a bit off and are having trouble scoring. One has to think that these three are too talented to be held scoreless for so long and they will break out of it soon, which I agree with.

Washington will be without defenseman Tom Poti for this road trip as he is out with an undisclosed injury. Also injured is goaltender Semyon Varlamov who started the season on the IR and is back on it yet again. Brandon Fahey and Braden Holtby have been called up to replace these two. I can only hope that Fahey looks better than he did in his NHL debut against Nashville. What I’m wondering is why most are saying that Karl Alzner will be scratched instead of him or Tyler Sloan, because that’s just a bad idea, in my opinion.

Know Your Enemy: Carolina Hurricanes edition

If you’re a Caps fan you should know that games against Carolina are always difficult for the Caps. No matter what their record is they always play Washington tough. This will be Carolina’s home opener as they began the season on a long road trip beginning in Helsinki, Finland and ending in Phoenix, Arizona. They came out of that stretch 4-3-0. Their powerplay has been about effective as ours (12.7%) and their penalty killing ranks at 26th in the league. It’s a good chance for the Capitals to get their powerplay going.

Who/What to Watch:

Washington Capitals

Mike Green – Getting him back couldn’t be more important to both the powerplay and the defense. Both have been incredibly shaky with him out and for good reason. Whether or not he is 100% is still the question.

Powerplay – As I said earlier, Carolina has one of the worst ranked PK’s in the league and it’s a good chance for the Caps powerplay to get things going.

Mathieu Perrault – He was great in his first game this season and continues to make the most of his time in the NHL. How he does on this road trip will likely decide whether or not he’s hear to stay.

Carolina Hurricanes

First line (mainly Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen) – Staal has destroyed the Caps in previous years and is always a factor whenever he’s on the ice. Jokinen had a 30+ goal season last year and is looking like he’s getting even better with the start he’s off to.

Anton Babchuk – He’s been very effective on the blue line after not playing last season and already has 2 goals. He’s also been promoted to the top defensive pairing with Joni Pitkanen. Also keep an eye on Joe Corvo just because I want to see if he screws up or not. /bitter

Brandon Sutter – I’ve always liked him and I’m curious to see how he plays tonight. He’s a great play-making center and plays a responsible, defensive game at the same time.

Line combos:

Washington Capitals



OvechkinBackstrom – Knuble

Laich – Perrault – Semin

Chimera – Fleischmann – Fehr

Hendricks – Steckel – Bradley

Green – Schultz

Carlson – Erskine

Sloan – Fahey

Neuvirth

Out: Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov, Tom Poti

Carolina Hurricanes

Jokinen – Staal – LaRose

Skinner – Ruutu – Cole

Samsonov – Sutter – Kostopolus

Bowman – Dwyer – Dalpe

Pitkanen – Babchuk

Gleason – Corvo

Harrison – McBain

Ward

Out: Justin Peters, Jiri Tlusty, Patrick O’Sullivan,