Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Just past the midway point of the season, Kris Versteeg has come on out of nowhere and is leading the team in scoring. Brian Campbell is third, boasting a team-high 31 assists. Tomas Kopecky has amassed 19 points, but his -12 tells a bigger story than his point total. And Jack Skille is still not showing the spark that General Manager Dale Tallon felt he would bring to the team, with only 6 points on the year.

Could be a paragraph out of January 2010, could it not? Well, maybe not the part about Steeger. But alas, no, dear reader: this is the current state of the Florida Panthers. Chicago South, as it were, as Tallon continues to stack his deck with former members of the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup-winning roster — adding as-yet-unsigned free agent John Madden just three weeks ago.

Is it paying off?

Well, yes and no. Florida is clinging to the 8th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after being atop the Southeast Division not more than a month ago. A streak of 3-5-4 since December 20th is largely responsible for that decline. So, things were going okay there for a while…

The news didn’t get any better earlier this week, as defensive backbone Ed Jovanovski underwent surgery on Wednesday to fix the hand he damaged when he tried to dent the melon of Boston winger Daniel Paille. Jovo-Cop will miss four weeks, though with a plus-minus that’s fifth-worst on the Panthers squad he may not be missed so much as forgotten.

Other noteworthy forwards include top producers Steven Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann, both of whom are putting up solid numbers, and both of whom are viciously effective on the power play. On the blue line it’s Campbell carrying the load now, along with Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison.

And in goal, it’s hard to tell who Coach Kevin Dineen considers his “number one” netminder, or who will start on any given night, or how much time they will spend between the pipes if things go south. Looking at who has been in goal for the last 12 games is like trying to re-assemble a Rubik’s Cube after your little brother got frustrated and pried it apart with needle-nosed pliers.

Scott Clemmensen appears to have 7 starts, but was — to the best of my ability to tell — yanked twice. Jose Theodore has started 4 games, but was, himself, yanked in one of those, and came in to relieve Clemmensen twice. Rookie Jacob Markstrom got a start in there somewhere before injuring his knee. Theodore started the last game, taking the OTL against Colorado; but Clemmensen had started the last 3 straight. Theodore is the announced starter for Florida, but given the state of affairs I wouldn’t put any money on that.

Neither goaltending, nor goal support, nor (of late) defense have been problems for the Blackhawks this last streak of 5 games. The ‘Hawks have taken 9 out of a possible 10 points in that stretch, scoring 22 goals while allowing only 11. Rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes have taken the team by storm, with 9 goals and 4 assists between them since being called up just 3 weeks ago. Their energy and bust-ass hustle appears to be contageous, as the entire team is driving to the net like laser-guided bombs. Even the formerly-sluggish blueliner Sean O’Donnell is winning foot-races and blasting shots from the point like he did during his first full NHL season in 1996.

When Jonathan Toews was… eight years old.

We’re stabilizing on defense, but the blueliners are also chipping in with some much-needed helpers; we’re getting hot streaks from guys like Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg; Captain Serious and Marian Hossa are reaching the apex of their mid-season, nothing-stops-me-bitch streaks; and netminders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are giving the team a chance to win every night.

Now if we could just get Kaner out of his funk, we’d be in great shape. Even a game against his hometown club didn’t break the curse.

Administrative nonsense: moderately long list of injuries on the Panthers in addition to Jovanovski, but fortunately that will not include Blackhawks 2005 draft pick Jack Skille, who will return to the lineup tonight after mending a shoulder injury. Forwards Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm will sit tonight due to injury. For Chicago, it’s just Patrick Sharp sitting this one out as he heals his broken wrist. No telling who the netminder will be for Florida, despite who is announced; Coach Joel Quenneville is giving the start to Emery in the first of weekend back-to-back games.

7:30pm puck drop at the United Center. Television coverage is courtesy of Comcast SportsNet; WGN AM-720 has the broadcast on terrestrial radio; XM subscribers will find the game on channel 92; Sirius Premiere customers should turn the dial to channel 207.

What’s with the title, you ask? Look it up. A little Odgen Nash never hurt anybody.

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