Florida Panthers

Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Going from Coast-To-Coast to the most confusing of the new Alignments, the Atlantic. That contains exactly none of the Old Atlantic Division teams (all in the Metropolitan Division). Also, teams from Ontario & Michigan, which  are land-locked (and in Detroit’s case over 600 miles from the Ocean). The Atlantic isn’t the first body of water you’d associate with Buffalo, either. Anyway, it’s a strange mix of old North Eastern teams with a couple of terrible Floridians from the South East and an escapee from Western time-zone tyranny in the Red Wings.

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Don’t Anther: Blackhawks Welcome Florida

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?

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Now Leaving Del Boca Vista: Boxing with Blackhawks and Panthers

Credit: Joel Auerbach, Getty Images

Much like the Boston game Oct. 15, the Blackhawks seemed to shift into neutral while sitting on a one-goal lead in the third period they hoped to close out.

And much like that contest, the opposition was able to tie it up and bring it to a shootout. At least they got two points out of this one, beating Florida 3-2 following the game of Candyland

I’m going to try something new and get even deeper into the Boxing theme here. Let me know if it works:

Jabs (Quick hits)

♦   Duncan Keith missing tonight didn’t have much affect against a mediocre team like Florida, and hopefully it won’t matter much against Tampa Bay, either. The Lightning have totaled three goals in their last two games. Sean O’Donnell and Nick Leddy seem a capable pair to be able to make up for Keith’s absence.

♦   Corey Crawford played a fantastic game tonight and kept the ‘Hawks ahead for as long as he could once they knocked back the throttle a bit. Allowing 43 shots obviously isn’t good, but the Panthers totaled 42 against Winnipeg four nights before. They fire the puck, so no need to panic, really.

Haymakers (Solid plays from the ‘Hawks)

♦   Jonathan Toews made a hell of a play to step in front of the pass and go hard to the net to score his goal. Vintage Captain.

♦   Patrick Kane once again showed just how well he can read a play to make the correct pass, firing it across the ice through the defense to set up Marian Hossa. Anyone shocked it was Tomas Kopecky who came into the play late to leave the slot wide open to allow that pass?

♦   Crawford was solid all night. Tough to pinpoint a single moment, but he was turning away a relentless amount of shots from the Panthers’ firing squad.
Counter-punches (The opposition)

♦   Both goals were tough on Crawford, who didn’t have much of a chance on either. Weiss’ goal took a tough bounce away from Crow, and Jovo’s goal was simply a great play by him.
Low Blows (Not-so-good stuff)

♦   The Blackhawks looked absolutely awful on their lone power play opportunity, once again making an otherwise talented team look silly. The ‘Hawks have scored 31 of their 38 goals at even strength, and they have one less short-handed goal (3) than they do with the man advantage. Just strange for a team with so much offensive talent.
The Decision

♦   Kaner really has that move down, saving a point for the ‘Hawks after they put it in cruise control once again. The Blackhawks need to learn how to finish these games out rather than riding a one-goal lead and hoping to hold on with conservative play. Nonetheless, Crawford stoned both shots in the shootout to pick up the win.

Onto Boxing…

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Florida Golf Outing Interrupted By Hockey Game

Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Every year the Blackhawks do a father/son trip, usually involving some kind of bonding excursion. This year it took the form of a golf outing while dodging alligators in the Florida heat. The event spilled over into the social media arena, with Daniel Carcillo dissing the Lepisto twosome for bird-watching instead of shooting birdies. But fun and games aside, we have two difficult contests to get through when we’re not wading through the Everglades looking for a #4 Titleist, starting with the new-look Florida Panthers.

This past March, we were chuckling to ourselves as we prepared to face a Panthers team assembled out of the remnants of the league-basement Florida squad from the previous year, and the bargain bin cast-offs picked up at the end of the free agent signing period. It was a joke on skates, the money-saving brainchild of former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon, and everyone expected a rout.

Everyone except the Panthers, it turns out: they caught the Blackhawks flat-footed and scrapped their way to a 3 – 2 victory. But a much different, and much more dangerous Florida team awaits the ‘Hawks tonight. Hopefully the Blackhawks’ players don’t leave their A-game on the fairway.

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Nine more lives: Boxing with Blackhawks/Panthers

"With Sharp gone, I can get used to being the most handsome guy on the ice." (Chicago Tribune)

It wasn’t exactly the entertainment I was accustomed to during my five nights in Las Vegas, but I’m not going to complain about two much-needed points.

The Blackhawks welcomed me back home with a 4-0 snoozer I largely blame on the Panthers being, well, bad. With that, the ‘Hawks are now tied for 5th in the West with nine more games which will be much tougher and more exciting than Wednesday’s.

Against Florida, the ‘Hawks got away without needing a Dave Bolland nor a Patrick Sharp nor a 100-percent healthy Brian Campbell. Don’t get used to it with Anaheim, Detroit and Boston looming. Pardon the pessimism, especially knowing each game is a must-win given the standings, but the Blackhawks will need more against those squads.

With that said, the defense played like they should have in a home game against a team looking up at New Jersey and the New York Islanders in the East. Corey Crawford did what he needed to, aside from re-enacting Al Pacino’s scenes from Scent of a Woman each time he touched the puck.

A couple other quick thoughts before Boxing:

→   I was very impressed the way Viktor Stalberg responded to the top line promotion, playing actively and drawing a penalty by taking it hard to the net on the first shift of the game. He later took a feed from Jonathan Toews on the doorstep for a goal in the first minute of the third period. Sweet.

→   Did anyone else have heart failure when Marian Hossa went back to the locker room after taking a spill?

→   For the first time all season, the idiots at the UC who constantly yell “SHOOOOOOOOT” each time a Blackhawk has the puck were right to direct it at Nick Leddy.

→   Not sure what the hell happened to Tomas Vokoun when he went ice fishing along the boards on the Tomas Kopecky goal, but that net couldn’t have been more wide open. Hossa, to Michael Frolik, to Kopecky on a great passing play started by Brent Seabrook, who can’t get credited for an assist unfortunately.

→   Speaking of Seabrook, he played a hell of a game which included the rocket that ended up being the game-winner.

→   Oh, and the Captain did his thing again.

Onto Boxing …

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Let’s Try This Again, Shall We? Hawks/Panthers

A little over two weeks ago, a cocky Blackhawks team took their 8-game winning streak for a little sun and fun in Miami, and promptly got their asses handed to them in a 3-goal first period melt-down that resulted in a 3 – 2 loss to the team sitting 26th out of 30 in the league. It was the anemic start to a dismal 3-game road trip that yielded a mere two out of a possible six points. Humiliating. Eye-opening. Infuriating.

It’s time to get some payback, gentlemen.

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Trapped at Del Boca Vista: Boxing with Blackhawks/Panthers

"Mr. and Mrs. Seinfeld, please, turn the air conditioner ... on!

Well, what are you gonna do? Shit happens, move on and be done with Tuesday.

Everyone knew the Blackhawks were going to lose, and sadly I said before this past weekend even started this will be the game it happens. I’m not trying to show off, but it’s a game like this streaking teams often fall victim to.

3-2, Panthers. Onto Tampa Bay.

Corey Crawford needed the entire night off, not just the last two periods. I’ve been clamoring for this, and if he starts Wednesday I’m going to sic Jack Klompus on Coach Q. While each goal can be attributed to a defensive lapse, Crawford gave up a couple of juicy rebounds which he normally snags. The game was lost too quickly for me not to believe Crawford’s start tonight was the major contribution to it.

Marty Turco got a nice easy go of it as Florida sat back with the lead and proved why it has the 3rd-ranked penalty kill in the NHL. When I say Turco should start, it’s because he’s the next in line and not because I’m licking his bunghole over a few saves. If what’s left of Rick DiPietro’s rotting corpse was wearing the baseball cap, I’d be asking for him to start. Crawford needs a break.

Speaking of goaltenders, Tomas Vokoun withstood a two-period barrage from the Blackhawks and he deserves a ton of credit for nearly single-handedly winning the game for the Panthers.

Boxing will do the rest. Enjoy

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Team Record In Sight: Hawks Take On Pus—- uhh, Panthers

There’s a back-story with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers, as most of you know. Former Blackhawks player/broadcaster/scout/general manager Dale Tallon was hired to take over the GM post down in Miami. It can be argued that Tallon orchestrated the drafting and roster moves that won Chicago the Stanley Cup, and some people love him for that.

It can also be argued that Tallon accepted the GM position in Chicago despite being completely unqualified, was thrown into the deep end without a life jacket, made the draft picks any idiot could have made given the same circumstances, and got lucky with trades. I think the next five years in the Florida organ-eye-zation will illustrate exactly which of the two is closer to the truth.

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