Tag:Tomas Vokoun
Posted on: February 23, 2012 2:05 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 2:26 pm
 

Caps' Hamrlik questions Dale Hunter after scratch

Hamrlik has been statistically much better with Hunter than Boudreau. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals are imploding right before our very eyes. It's getting downright nasty in the nation's capital.

The most recent -- but check back in an hour -- development in How the Capitals Turn concerns veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik. On the same day that rumors started to spread that he was on the trading block, coach Dale Hunter had Hamrlik as a healthy scratch in the team's 5-2 loss to the Senators on Wednesday night.

Before the game Hunter gave his reasoning to the Capitals media, explaining why Hamrlik was joining them in the press box.

"We need him playing better defensively," Hunter said. "He's a defensive defenseman and the way we mark scoring chances [against] he's been involved in too many of them. That's why he was sitting out and that's why [Jeff] Schultz was sitting out before him.

"[Hamrlik] is backing in way too much. He's letting [forwards] come through and they're hitting the second tier. Sitting out is a humbling experience. We all went through it. If you played hockey or any sport you sat out. You've just got to go to practice and work hard like he did today. Watch video and learn from it and when you get the chance play well."

Hamrlik was asked about the words of the coach and the scratch after the team's skate on Thursday and, well, he wasn't very coy. Quotes courtesy of Sky Kerstein of 106.7 the Fan in D.C.

Hamrlik said he hasn't talked to Hunter on why he didn't play, asked why he might not of been in "I don't know, you should ask him. You should ask him [Hunter] about the penalties because when he played I think he [Hunter] make lots of penalties in himself so he should know better.

"I know I take bad penalty, but if that's reason I didn't play, but it's his decision"

Well then. I'm not sure how exactly that compares to Alex Ovechkin's infamous words behind Bruce Boudreau's back earlier this season that many think played a massive role in Boudreau's dismissal, but a player almost challenging a coach publicly? Gee, if Boudreau lost control of the locker room, what does that say for Hunter?

As for the trade rumors, Hamrlik shot down any notion that he wanted out. From CSN Washington:

"Nothing I can do about it. I'm happy to be here and do my job. I don't have control over that. I hope I stay here and make the team better and help them make the playoffs. I don't have reason to leave."

Adding to the drama was Hunter's frank assessment of the play of Tomas Vokoun, who was pulled for the second consecutive game in favor of Michal Neuvirth.

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“Tomas would like a few of them back. He wasn’t as sharp as he should’ve been and it was in the back of our net,” the Caps’ coach said. “We were playing well and it’s one of these things where you get deflated. ... We outchanced them, but we need our goaltending better and Tomas wasn’t sharp tonight.

“Just can’t get off to a bad start like that. If somebody’s not playing as well as they should, you have to block more shots and cover up for him more.”

Vokoun's agent Allen Walsh, never shy to stick up for his clients, added a little to the drama in an oh-so-subtle way.

“I’m not going to comment directly on what someone may have said after a game,” Walsh said in a text message to the Washington Times. “I will point out though that hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.”

But Vokoun didn't add fuel to any fire, saying it's not personal and he'd prefer too that his stats were better.

On top of all of this, Alex Ovechkin is day to day with a lower-body injury and didn't suit up on Wednesday in Ottawa.

When the Caps hired Hunter to replace Boudreau earlier this season it wasn't perfectly clear but it sure sounded like it was for the rest of the season and then they'd go from there. Neither the coach or the franchise knew how the fit would go. It's kind of safe to assume now that Hunter's odds of returning to the OHL London Knights are going up by the day.

By the way, the Caps are still only two points out of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Thanks, Southeast Division.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 23, 2012 10:01 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:40 am
 

Morning Skate: Playoff ramifications galore


By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

In this day and age with only two teams -- two! -- in the entire NHL being more than 10 points out of a playoff spot, it's hard to find a game on the schedule that isn't carrying a huge impact on the playoff picture. Save for Edmonton playing Columbus, they all have an impact.

That holds even if you have two teams hanging on by life support. Which is just what is on the schedule on Thursday night.

7 ET, Anaheim at Carolina: This is pretty much hockey's equivalent of a loser leave town match. The Hurricanes are eight points back of a playoff position, the Ducks are six back. So, you know, you can't lose this game if you want to stay in the conversation.

To be sure, both face very long odds. More specifically, the 'Canes have a 2.94 percent chance of seeing the postseason according to sportsclubstats.com while the Ducks have a 5.52 percentage.

For Anaheim it brings an end to one hellacious road trip that has been going since what feels like the All-Star break. And they've done very well on it until their last momentum-killing game, a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And Carolina? Well they are actually starting to brim with confidence. They just smacked down the Capitals 5-0 -- then again, who isn't these days? -- and are finally getting the expected production from Eric Staal.

So we have two teams near (or at, in Carolina's case in the East) the bottom of the standings playing some of the best hockey in the league. The game is make or break for both. Should be fun.

7 ET, San Jose at Toronto: The Maple Leafs are still in the thick of the futility battle that is the race for eighth in the East/the Southeast Division. It's like everybody has hit a slump together, giving hope to teams that once appeared on the outs. Toronto is no different.

The goaltending was looking good not long ago. Now Leafs fans are begging for help. They are 1-5-1 in the last seven games. In the last six games -- one OT win in there -- they have yielded 27 goals. That's 4.5 per game. They need to take advantage of the home games they have left, starting tonight.

The Sharks, meanwhile, find themselves actually in a battle for the Pacific Division crown. As of now, they are tied with the surging Coyotes. Now the Sharks do have two games in hand on Phoenix, but those do you no good if you don't win them.

On their own whirlwind road trip, the Sharks are riding a four-game losing streak, three in a row without points. Apparently they think the race for eighth looks so interesting they thought they might play their way into it. As of now, they are only three points up on that eighth spot, but again, have games in hand.

7:30 ET, Vancouver at Detroit: Here's the game of the night without a doubt. Neither team is fighting for their playoff lives, instead they are fighting each other for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Oh, and there is something about a 23-game home winning streak being on the line for the Red Wings? I suppose that might garner some interest here too.

But in reality this game is massive on many levels. In addition to the two-point discrepancy between the teams in the standings, it would do the Canucks a world of good to knock off Detroit at the Joe, prove to themselves that they can do it in case it comes up again at playoff time.

Unfortunately for the Wings -- and fans -- Pavel Datsyuk won't be in the lineup for the Wings, sitting out a couple weeks after having his knee scoped.

9 ET, Phoenix at Calgary: This is the West battle being waged in Calgary right here. The Coyotes have been on fire, winning eight of their last nine games and shooting into not only seventh place in the West but in a tie with the Sharks in the Pacific. And they just added Antoine Vermette.

If Phoenix takes two points tonight, you start to wonder if they can prepare for some playoff games in the desert again. Of course that's no guarantee, but they'd be in one good position for it.

But don't sleep on the Flames. They enter the day in ninth place, one back of the Kings and this will be their one game in hand. Here's what makes the Flames a real threat for a playoff berth, if you can believe that. They have 22 games remaining, 14 of them come at home. That's as favorable as any playoff hopeful down the stretch run.

Also worth watching: The Panthers host the Wild with Florida still clinging to the Southeast lead and Minnesota still clinging to their playoff hopes.

The Blues and Predators renew acquaintances in their continued battle for that crucial fourth seed in the West. The Preds have just owned the Blues this season.

The Stars visit the Blackhawks where Chicago has reeled off four in a row after the nine-game losing streak. Dallas is another team that's hanging within striking distance in the West.

The Lightning visit the Jets with Winnipeg entering in a tie for both the Southeast lead and the eighth spot in the East. They need to win these games since they've played more than any team. But the Lightning are still clawing, hanging five points back of the playoffs.

Your promised miscellany

  • Capitals coach Dale Hunter was hard on goaltender Tomas Vokoun after Washington's second big loss in a row on Wednesday. Of course, without Vokoun, there's no telling how low the Caps would be this season. He's been good for them the majority of the season. (Washington Times)
  • Here's a good read from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun about the always interesting P.K. Subban of the Canadiens. (ESPN.com)
  • Now this is entertaining. Check out Maxime Talbot of the Flyers taking on a fan in a Just Dance 3 challenge at the team's recent fair. (Puck Daddy)
  • While Milan Michalek scored one very pretty goal against the Capitals, Mathieu Perreault had one ugly goal that tried to make him ugly (the puck went in off his face). Guess what? They both counted as one score.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 8:36 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 9:05 pm
 

Milan Michalek goal of the year candidate

By: Adam Gretz

There are so many beautiful things about this Milan Michalek goal during the first period of Ottawa's game against Washington. If you're a Senators fan, that is. 

The pass from defenseman Erik Karlsson that covers nearly three quarters of the ice. The move by Michalek to dangle through defenseman Dennis Wideman, a move that Michalek attempted earlier in the period against Dmitry Orlov and nearly pulled off. The casual way he beats Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun to score his 26th goal of the season.

It also perfectly sums up the way both teams have been playing over the past week. The Senators look like a buzzsaw that is just ripping through people. The Capitals? Well, the less said about them right now, the better.



For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 17, 2012 1:58 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 5:01 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Hockey Weekend in America

Hossa and the 'Hawks are about ready to return home. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Weekend schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

In case you didn't know -- and chances are you didn't -- this weekend is Hockey Weekend in America. Mostly it's a name attached to a normal weekend of games, but dammit it's Patriotic and I'll be a son of a gun if Old Glory doesn't get me pumped up for anything.

The weekend showcase will be the triple-header early Sunday in what has become the spotlight game of the week now that football is in hibernation until the end of summer. Your choices -- OK, NBC's choices to show you based on where you live -- are Sharks at Red Wings (yes please!), Blues at Blackhawks (I'll take that) and Penguins at Sabres (hey, it looked good at the start of the season). It wraps with a game at 3 ET on NBC Sports Network as the Bruins visit the Wild.

With no slight to that Blues-Blackhawks game back in Chicago (home sweet home, eh 'Hawks?) the Sharks-Wings battle is the one to really watch. For if the Red Wings are still riding their record win streak into Sunday -- a mighty big "if" with the Predators visiting the Joe on Friday night -- then this will be the biggest threat to date.

There aren't many teams that can say this, but the Sharks have had Detroit's number recently. They are one of the few teams who have won in Detroit this season, doing so way back before Halloween. Go back to the beginning of last season and the Sharks are 9-4 vs. the Wings, including the playoffs. That includes five consecutive wins in regular-season matchups.

Must be coach Todd McLellan still knowing a secret or two to beating his old squad.

So while the bout in Motown might be the best from an action standpoint and as far as NHL history is concerned, I argue the more meaningful game is the one in the Windy City.

It was such a massive relief for the Blackhawks to finally end their losing streak that had peaked at nine games. Against the Rangers, no less. That's not like ending the skid against the Blue Jackets -- their final stop on this massive road trip Saturday -- it's the type of win that can really signify that things are alright. Taking down the best team in the league in their barn? Talk about a slumpbuster.

A return to home ice will be nice. Think about how you feel when you walk back in your front door after a vacation. Now think of how great that feeling is when you've had about the worst vacation you can imagine.

Then again, it's not so great when you have a house guest like St. Louis sitting on your porch awaiting for you to let them in. The good news is they aren't the type of guest who trashes your place, they're respectful that way. They are just 10-12-3 away from Scottrade Center.

Extended metaphor aside, there's no better time than now for the Blackhawks to regain their footing. That would put an end to the ridiculously stupid Patrick Kane trade suggestions and allow them to safely put space between them and the playoff chasers in the West.

One thing to consider: Face-off will be at 11:30 local time to accommodate NBC's time slot. That's an awfully early wakeup call after so long away from home.

Southeast showdown Part V

The Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals will square off for the fifth time this season Friday night in Florida. Strangely enough, it's going to be the first time that Tomas Vokoun has started a game back in Sunrise, his former stomping grounds, and the first start against the Capitals period for Jose Theodore this season. It's a bit odd that the No. 1 goalies have only received two of the eight starts in this series so far this season.

It makes sense both starters get the nod on Friday. It's another massive night for these teams. If the Panthers can do what they have done twice already this season and beat the Caps at home, they'll move six points up on Washington in the division. That's a nice cushion when we're getting down to 25 games or fewer left this season. Not insurmountable, but nice.

This is the third time these two have met this month. The last meeting was a 4-0 whitewashing by the Capitals in D.C. Coach Dale Hunter referred to that as a playoff game before it began and the Caps make it look as such. Since? They're 1-3-1. By my count, that'd have them eliminated (from the mythical Feb. playoffs, folks).

The good news is that Mike Green might return for the Caps against the Panthers. He's stopped and started so many times this season you'd think he was driving on the Washington Beltway during morning rush hour.

There will be a lot of interesting things to watch for in the game, but one for me will be the intensity of the Caps. In their last visit to Florida, Karl Alzner explained away their poor start by the lack of energy in the building. A pretty soft excuse in a pivotal division matchup.

They can't afford to start slow again. The Panthers have been doing that a lot lately themselves and coach Kevin Dineen is determined to make that stop in such an important game.

Desert streaking dogs

Holy Coyotes that team is hot right now.

Perhaps it's been a push to help garner interest to keep them in Phoenix, I don't know, but the Coyotes have caught fire. Just when you were ready to bury them in the desert sand, they spring off a run like this. "This" would be six wins in the last seven games to get into the playoff seedings at the moment.

To further their standing in the, um, standings, they get their own pivotal matchup. The Dallas Stars, one of the plethora of teams on their heels outside of the playoff picture at the moment, come to the desert on Saturday night.

It's a classic "four-point game" for the teams battling in the West and Pacific Division. Here's hoping there's a better than normal crowd to watch it, should be close to a playoff atmosphere.

Keystone clash rekindled

The Flyers and Penguins will renew acquaintances again this weekend. It's the start of a stretch with a lot of meetings for the intrastate rivals.

It will be the first of four meetings for the teams from now until April 7, the final day of the season. No wonder the chirping between the fan bases has been mostly quiet this season, they have hardly met.

The importance here should be pretty clear. As of now they are jockeying back and forth -- and with New Jersey -- for that all-important fourth spot in the East, the only home-ice award that goes to a non-division winner. It's very possible that these four tilts, starting with the Saturday matinee, will decide that race.

Plus it's about that time of the season where the Flyers could really stand for Ilya Bryzgalov to heat up and carry some momentum into the postseason. He's back in action now after an illness and this is the type of game where it would be so big if he came up humangous big for the Flyers but unfortunately the kind we've come to expect a few bad goals this season.

Sibling rivalry renewed

Unlike the last time the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings met, this one won't be about the coaches. Very much, at least.

Brothers Brent and Darryl Sutter this time get the undercard billing with another battle of teams at the bottom of the playoff picture out West.

After their own long road trip, you'd think coming home might be enough to jolt that putrid 2.07 goals per game number for the Kings. Well they were shut out by the Coyotes on Thursday night at Staples Center, so you can probably shoot that theory down. Fact is they haven't been able to score much anywhere, no matter if it's at home or not.

The way it stands going into the weekend, L.A. is clinging to the eighth spot out West and Calgary is right behind them. Pretty astonishing I think, but the Flames are still right there.

So you see, this one is about a lot more than a sibling rivalry.

We're going streaking!

Here are the streaks -- both good and bad -- headed into the weekend.

Red Wings: Considering they've been playing a lot at home recently and they have an NHL record win streak going, it's no surprise they've won four straight. Two toughies this weekend with Nashville and San Jose visiting.

Anaheim Ducks: In the midst of an eight-game road trip, the Ducks have run off three in a row. They head to the Southeast now and face the Carolina Hurricanes and Panthers.

Sabres: It keeps getting worse and worse. After seven unanswered goals against on Thursday, they now have a three-game skid. They have the Canadiens on Friday and Penguins on Sunday.

Capitals: Needing to go on a tear late like they have in recent seasons, the Caps are instead sputtering. They do the Florida double-header this weekend entering with a three-game slide.

Wild: Six-game skid ... and likely counting. A back-to-back at the Blues and vs. the Bruins doesn't figure to be the remedy. This weekend could all but officially bury their once promising playoff hopes.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 14, 2012 1:42 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:55 am
 

A Caps goalie beaten from center ice ... again

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The scouting report is out on the Washington Capitals. It doesn't matter which goalie is in net, just fire the puck from the red line. Chances are you are going to score.

For the second time in as many home losses -- 5-3 to the Sharks -- an opponent scored from center ice. Well that's not entirely accurate from Monday night, Dan Boyle's shot was deflected by Joe Pavelski around the blue line and bounced toward Braden Holtby, starting for the first time this season with Tomas Vokoun under the weather.

Holtby was left looking more like a first baseman picking a short hop than a goaltender.

"Just tried getting my stick out," Pavelski said. "You see it bouncing and you hope when you're that far away that something stupid happens."

Something stupid happened.

"I don't think I've ever been a part of anything like that," Boyle said. He's played in more than 900 NHL games so that's saying something.

"You could probably change a few things," Holtby said of the goal. "I'd probably liked to have been out further, but at that point I'm trying to make sure I'm in the right position, in case he rims it I [can] go and stop it. It happend pretty quickly to me, I wasn't expecting that so I'm not really sure what my positioning was."

It's just going that kind of way for the Caps right now.

Go back a few days when the Winnipeg Jets were at Verizon Center. They were trailing the Caps in the closing minutes 2-1. Just 12 seconds after scoring their first, Dustin Byfuglien hammered the puck into the offensive zone, only the puck went off Karl Alzner and Vokoun couldn't recover in time.

"I saw it, I was on the line. I can tell you, it's really hard for the goalies," Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "It hit the guy's stick -- absolutely no chance for Vokey there. Absolutely no chance. I saw it. It's just bad luck, hit the guy's stick and goes straight to the net. Buff did a good job, shot the puck as hard as he can and the puck find a way."

That's two goalies. What about the third, backup Michal Neuvirth? Yes, he has been victimized in recent weeks by the red line shot, too.

His came in one of the month's critical matchups against the Florida Panthers and Mikael Samuelsson.

Three goalies, three red-line goals.

What do they say? Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend? Well we're not going to call this a trend. It's not like teams are going to begin launching shots from the red line all the time on the Caps. It's not exactly a fool-proof strategy.

But it has made the Caps goalies look a little like fools, even if they weren't the easiest saves in the world to be made.

More from Eye on Hockey

Is Caps' season slipping away?
Recap: Sharks 5, Capitals 3
NHL Trade Deadline rumor mill
NHL Playoff Race

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 13, 2012 10:58 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:27 pm
 

Is the Capitals' season slipping away?

The Caps might be losing their grip on this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- This season began with such promise for the Washington Capitals. They beefed up in an attempt to finally get over the Eastern Conference semifinal hump and hopes were high that this was the team.

It is starting to head toward an end of such despair.

Now granted, there is still time -- and a trade deadline to go -- but this team just isn't the contender so many saw. If you want, blame it on the injuries. It's tough for a team to play without its No. 1 center (Nicklas Backstrom) and No. 1 defenseman (Mike Green). But they aren't the only team dealing with injuries. That's not going to garner much sympathy.

But fact of the matter is they are slipping and are running out of games to pick it up. Depending on what happens with the Panthers take on the Senators on Wednesday night, the Caps could find themselves down by as many as six points in the Southeast Division. Adam Gretz already explained pretty well that that's obviously the worst division in hockey. So being six points back of the worst division leader isn't a good sign.

They have been tough to beat at home. Not for the San Jose Sharks, they weren't. Not on Monday night. The Sharks came in after a tough loss in St. Louis 24 hours ago and beat the Caps down, walking away with a 5-3 win (Caps scored a couple late to make it closer). It was Washington's third loss in a row, second at Verizon Center.

"I don't think we are frustrated," Alex Ovechkin said. "One [game] we have to win, but we didn't win. Everybody's trying. I can't say nobody's trying, nobody's playing 100 percent."

This is why things are hitting critical mass. They have been good at home for almost all of the season and pretty dang bad on the road. Washington's next four are on the road starting with Friday's massive game against the Panthers in Florida. That will follow with dates in Tampa Bay, Carolina and Ottawa too. Not exactly Murder's Row but for a team that struggles on the road, anything is tough.

It's not a stretch to say that they probably need six out of the eight points on that trip. They can't afford to fall any further behind Florida or the rest of their Eastern counterparts.

The good news? There is some. Ottawa is falling harder than the Caps right now, not making the bottom of the East out of reach.

It's pretty safe to say that the Caps need to do something at the trade deadline. They will be active no doubt. Tonight in Washington 12 scouts were on hand including two from the Blue Jackets, ex-Ducks coach Randy Carlyle (now a scout for Anaheim) and Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier. It's worth noting that this weekend in Columbus two Caps scouts were present.

"The determination is there -- I think -- in this room,” Matt Hendricks said. “I think the focus is there. The execution just isn't there right now."

This coming road trip is a crucial a stretch as any this season. It really could be the season for the Capitals after their recent swoon.

More from Eye on Hockey

Holtby beaten from center ice
Recap: Sharks 5, Capitals 3
NHL Trade Deadline rumor mill
NHL Playoff Race

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 9, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 11:03 pm
 

Jets finally find luck on Byfuglien goal in win

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The Winnipeg Jets were pretty much left for dead. Down 2-0 with three minutes to play and unable to solve Tomas Vokoun of the Capitals, it appeared a huge four-point swing wasn't going to be in their favor.

Then a funny thing happened. A couple of funny things actually.

With some shall I say fortunate breaks going their way in terms of officiating, the Jets found themselves with almost a minute of 5-on-3. With so little time left, coach Claude Noel elected to make it 6-on-3, pulling Ondrej Pavelec to the bench. The Jets then broke through with an Evander Kane rebound goal. It snapped Vokoun's scoreless streak of more than 130 minutes. More importantly it pulled the Jets within one, a whole new game as they like to say.

The the really funny thing happened. Still on the power play, Dustin Byfuglien stepped to center ice and hammered the puck into the zone. Instead of going to the right of the net where Vokoun was sliding, it deflected of Karl Alzner's stick and shot straight for the cage. It went in and the game was tied, just 12 seconds after the Jets had finally scored one they had scored two.

"I wouldn't say it was the way it was scripted," Noel said.

Talk about a good bounce.

"Oh I definitely think so," Byfuglien said when asked if the team was due for a break. "What a team always needs is some good luck and some bounces. I thought we've worked hard lately. We got a nice bounce, luckily we got it tonight."

"A little bit of a fortunate play, that was ... I saw the whole thing. It hit the stick. I didn't realize that it took a little bounce over his pads," Noel said. "We were a little bit fortunate on a play like that but we haven't had a lot of luck lately, we haven't been that fortunate. So for us we'll take that and we'll run with it."

Alzner meanwhile didn't have a lot to say. It was just one of those "hockey plays," as Caps coach Dale Hunter put it.

"There’s really nothing," Alzner said. "If I get out of the way earlier than that he just skates in. If I try and block the dump in who knows what happens? Just one of those that caught Vokey trying to stop the dump in so we could turn it up and [he was] a little bit out of the net."

Perhaps the best view of the play came from Pavelec, the compatriot of Vokoun on the opposite end of the ice. He wasn't going to feel too bad for Vokoun, but you could tell he did have a slight bit of compassion for a fellow netminder.

"I saw it, I was on the line. I can tell you, it's really hard for the goalies," Pavelec said. "It hit the guy's stick -- absolutely no chance for Vokey there. Absolutely no chance. I saw it. It's just bad luck, hit the guy's stick and goes straight to the net. Buff did a good job, shot the puck as hard as he can and the puck find a way."

The swing in the division was huge. The Jets would go on to win the shootout and take a critical two points from the Caps. The only downside is the Caps got one point. But it sure beats the alternatives of no points at all.

"A team like Washington, they're up four points on us with three games in hand," Kane said. "I think it was really big that we made sure we tied that game up and grabbed the extra point to move a little bit closer to them."

It certainly can prove to be a springboard win for Winnipeg, still hanging around in the Southeast race.

"We'll take them any way we can get them," a Jets executive said to me. Just as Rihanna's song that was blasting in the joyous locker room was saying, I'll drink to that.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 8, 2012 1:32 pm
Edited on: February 8, 2012 6:17 pm
 

Panthers clawing to stay in playoff picture

Florida is just one point behind Washington in the Southeast, two behind Ottawa in the East. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter billed Tuesday's matchup in D.C. with the Florida Panthers as a playoff game.

Imagine that, the Florida Panthers and playoff games? That's something we haven't seen in a decade. At this point it seems as real as the idea of the lost city of Atlantis being not far from the shores of South Florida.

And probably just how you'd imagine it would go if the Panthers were in a playoff game, the Capitals scored just 13 seconds in. That was the beginning of a frustrating night for the Panthers who mustered 42 shots on goal against their former goaltender Tomas Vokoun and still lost 4-0. It restored first place in the Southeast Division to the Caps for the time being and dropped Florida to ninth in the East.

Of course it wasn't really a playoff game. There are still 30 games to go before we even hit the postseason. The whole goal for the Panthers is to get into one of those real playoff games, show South Florida what the Stanley Cup playoffs look like. It's been so long it has forgotten.

The question is, will they get there? There has only been one season in the last decade that the Panthers were even truly in the hunt. In 2008-09 they finished tied with the Montreal Canadiens for eighth in the East but lost on the tie-breakers. Outside of that, they have been clear sellers at the annual trade deadline.

It was just over a month ago the Panthers were cruising toward the playoffs. They were way up in the division and were playing legitimately good hockey. They've slowed down. A lot. Most will likely say it was crashing back to reality.

That could be the case. But it's worth mentioning that it is tough to truly assess this team, it just can't seem to stay healthy. For the last couple of weeks the Panthers have been playing without their No. 1 goaltender Jose Theodore (and No. 3 Jacob Markstrom) while also being down strong defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Ed Jovanovski. It's understandable to struggle a bit in that situation.

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Playoff picture

"You always miss guys that are in the lineup on a regular basis. But if you're a good team you have good depth," winger Matt Bradley said. "Strachs [defenseman Tyson Strachan] has done a great job up from the minors. Guys are doing good jobs getting bigger roles. So there's no excuses for guys out."

That's certainly true, there are no excuses. It's not as if they will get a free pass into the playoffs if you miss x amount of games of manpower.

"What are you going to do? I don't think you feel sorry for us and I don't think anybody on that team on the other side of the ice is feeling sorry for us," first-year coach Kevin Dineen said about Florida's two-game skid. "This is NHL hockey, it's the best league in the world. You've got to understand when you take a good tail-kicking you have to accept it, recognize it and be better the next one."

That started with a postgame meeting on Tuesday. The hallway doors were closed before the Panthers even left the ice and the wait was longer than usual for the locker room to open up. It was clear the team had a little chat after its second regulation loss in a row, the first time the Cats have done that since mid-October.

"Kevin was very positive with us," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We're a team in here, we've got to find ways to get the job done and get it done more successfully on more nights than we are now. It seems like we're around .500 a lot and that's not good enough to get to where we want.

"We've got to stay positive. We stepped up our level. Some nights we're there, some nights we're not. It's these guys in the room. Nobody is going to be coming in to help us. We've got to get this job done in here."

This is new territory for the Panthers organization, being in the thick of a playoff chase. But it's not new for a lot of the players. Remember, GM Dale Tallon rebuilt this roster, there are a handful of guys who not only have experience with playoff races but winning a Stanley Cup, such as Campbell.

When you look at it, the Panthers are still in good shape. The East is whittling down to a nine- or 10-team race (if Winnipeg stays close) for the eight available spots. With the Senators hitting a wall and the Panthers having four games in hand on Ottawa, Florida still isn't in a bad position. But they have to figure things out, and quickly.

"There's urgency obviously within the division, with everyone," Kris Versteeg said. "I think you're going to see that on a nightly basis now. Obviously every team wants to win their division. It's something we want to do."

"It's not about just Washington," Campbell added. "It's about us winning games. If we put together some games and get going here we're going to find ourselves in a playoff spot. But if we don't we're going to be out of it."

One thing that helped launch the Panthers to the top of the Southeast in the first half of the season was their success away from home. They were able to pick up points in bunches while on the road, not easy for even the best teams in hockey to do.

But since their very impressive 2-0 win in Boston on Dec. 8, Florida is just 1-6-4 as the visitor. The difference is made even more clear when you look at what the Panthers have done in their two trips to Washington this season. In 120 minutes of game action thus far, they have been beaten 7-0. Vokoun has stopped all 62 shots he has faced. At home they have outscored the Caps 9-6 in two games.

Getting going on the road again would be a nice way to restart the batteries, give them a jump.

"I don't know. Whether it's line matches or who knows what it is?" Versteeg said. "Sometimes things happen and I'm not sure for whatever reason we've been good at home and not on the road. Obviously you want to be good at home. We've got to find some ways to win on the road, that's for sure."

The scoring for the Panthers has been done largely by the combination of Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann. Together, the line has accounted for nearly 40 percent of the team's scoring. So when they have tapered off, it's no mystery the team has too.

But don't expect the Panthers to be busy when it comes to the trade deadline, trying to add the missing pieces to bolster their offense. It's important to remember that whatever Florida does now is bonus, it is building for the future. Tallon has built a roster that hopefully can win in the interim before the team is turned over to the younger players that make up arguably the best farm system in hockey now, players like Erik Gudbranson, who are being slowly phased in.

Don't look for them to do anything to disrupt the long-term plan, the blueprint.

In the meantime, Florida gets to experience a playoff race. Those are as rare as snowy days in South Florida. But actually making the playoffs? Well that hasn't been done since Bill Clinton was the president.

Hopefully for Florida's sake Tuesday's loss in D.C. isn't the closest they get to a playoff game this season.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com