Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)
After a blowout loss at Winnipeg and a defeat at home to Nashville, the Florida Panthers got back on track with an important 4-2 win Sunday over the Ottawa Sentors at the BankAtlantic Center. The Panthers now hold a four-point lead over Winnipeg — with a game in hand — and are five points ahead of Washington. And with seven wins in their last 10, the Lightning have crept into 10th place with 67 points, two less than the Capitals.
The Panthers will have three days off before they head to Pennsylvania for back-to-back road games Thursday and Friday at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Panthers have dropped two 3-2 losses to the Flyers this season — once in a shootout — and have lost two of three to the Penguins.
Two players to watch in the back-to-back games are Tomas Fleischmann, who has four goals and an assist in five combined games vs. the two Pennsylvania teams, and Mikael Samuelsson, who has two goals and an assist against the Flyers this season. There’s also a chance they will get back leading scorer Kris Versteeg some time this week, a big boost for a team that ranks 24th in scoring.
In net, Jose Theodore is an impressive 20-5-1-2 in 28 career games against Pittsburgh, the most wins he has against any team in his career, while backup Scott Clemmensen is 3-1-0-1 in his career against the Flyers. So if coach Kevin Dineen is going to give each of his goalies a start, the numbers indicate that it might be best to play Clemmensen in Philadelphia and Theodore the next night in Pittsburgh.
The Panthers week ends at home against Carolina, who they are 3-0 against so far this season with wins in regulation, overtime and the shootout.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes – Carolina closed out a six-game home stand with a 2-1-3 record, and now the Hurricanes hit the road with two sets of back-to-back games that will allow them to try and play spoiler against teams on the playoff bubble. They head to Washington Tuesday and on to Buffalo the next night, then will spend the weekend in Florida with games against the Lightning and Panthers on Saturday and Sunday.
Tampa Bay Lightning – The big news recently was Toronto stumbling out of the playoff picture, leading to the eventual firing of Ron Wilson. But an equally interesting story is the Lightning’s push to get back in striking range of a berth in the postseason. Tampa Bay will get a crack at two teams just ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings, hosting Ottawa — currently seventh with 76 points — before heading to Washington to play the Capitals, who are ninth with 69 points and just one ahead of the Lightning. They then close out the week at home against Carolina, who they defeated this past Saturday in overtime to continue their hot streak.
Washington Capitals – It looked like the Capitals had righted the ship with three straight wins, but they were blanked in home games on Friday and Sunday against New Jersey, 5-0, and Philadelphia, 1-0. Coach Dale Hunter explained away his decision to sit Alexander Ovechkin for nearly eight minutes in the second period of the loss to the Flyers, saying he was matching lines to keep Ovechkin away from Jaromir Jagr’s line due to a turnover by the Capitals captain that led to the game’s only goal. Chances are the Capitals will be playing with a big chip on their collective shoulders when the Hurricanes come to town Tuesday. Then they will face the Lightning Thursday in what now is a game with big implications. The Capitals end the week with two straight games on the weekend, first at Boston Saturday then back at home against the Maple Leafs Sunday.
Winnipeg Jets – The Jets close out their eight-game stay at home Monday against the visiting Buffalo Sabres, who have re-entered the playoff race on the back of their ace goaltender, Ryan Miller. A Winnipeg regulation win would push them four points in front of Buffalo and give them a three-point cushion over ninth place in the Eastern Conference. But a four-point swing the other way would create a bigger logjam, with Buffalo tying the Jets and moving in front of them, via tiebreaker, for the final playoff spot. After Monday’s big matchup, Winnipeg heads to Alberta for back-to-back road games against Vancouver Thursday and Calgary Friday.