WASHINGTON, DC - "Uh...guys? Guys?!?". Dustin Tokarski gets a taste of playing behind NHL defense, 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning style. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Hi there! Matt Amos, your usual host for this weekly walking tour of the division we all know and love, has apparently gone out and gotten himself something called "a life". Being as he's feeling all fancy about himself right now, he asked if I would do the honors for him this time. I was only too happy (and not otherwise occupied) to say yes.
So what happened this week?
Our own beloved Tampa Bay Lightning are two teams right now. One team is a scrappy group trying desperately to stave off what most observers feel is inevitable and imminent: their elimination from the 2011-12 playoff race. The other team is still in the early stages of assembly for what is expected to be annual trips deep into the playoffs, where the concern in March isn't whether or not they can make the playoffs but how highly they'll be seeded.
Under those circumstances, it shouldn't be a shock when Team One suffers an identity crisis for all to see like the one we witnessed this week. As much fun as it was to watch Tuesday night's game against the postseason-bound Bruins (hooray for early success and thorough domination that silences Boston fans for the entire evening!), we saw basically the exact polar opposite two nights later vs the also-ran Maple Leafs (boo for impossible-to-drown-out chants of "Go Leafs Go").
The good news is that Team Two picked up some more puzzle pieces in the emergence of possible goalie-of-the-future candidate Dustin Tokarski and the signing of forward Vladislav Namestnikov, the team's first selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
On the season, the Lightning find themselves with a record of 32-31-7, which puts them in fourth place in the division and seven points out of the eighth and final slot in the playoffs.
After the fold: Ward posts twin milestones; Panthers picking up steam; Mike Green returns (again); Ondrej Pavelec is one thing Jets fans (begrudgingly) give the Atlanta Thrashers credit for. The week that was in the Southeast.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes went 2-2-0 on the week, with wins over the Lightning and Blues and losses to the Panthers and Rangers. They're 27-29-15 on the season, fifth in the division, nine points out of the playoffs.
Cam Ward recorded the 200th win and 20th shutout of his career with the 'Canes 2-0 victory over St, Louis on Thursday.
The team announced plans for their first-ever alumni game, to be played on April 1st.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers were undefeated (3-0-0) this week and are hoping to build some momentum during the stretch run for the playoffs. They're 34-23-13, first in the division and currently seeded thrid in the Eastern Conference.
Among those wins was a beatdown of the Bruins that looked a lot like the one the Lightning had put on the B's in their previous game.
Washington Capitals: The Capitals were undefeated this week too (3-0-0), part of a current four-game winning streak after losing their previous three. The Capitals find themselves at 36-28-6, second in the division and currently occupying the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
Mike Green has served the three game suspension he earned for the head shot he delivered to the Lightning's Brett Connolly last week and is expected to be in the line-up Friday night when the Caps visit the Jets.
The team's "Courage Caps" campaign has raised over $100,000 for the families of fallen military service members.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets had a light schedule this week, splitting the two games they played (1-1-0). They've compiled a record of 33-29-8, which is third in the division and four points out of the playoff picture.
Goaltender Ondrej Pavalec's age and current rate of development sets up some potentially difficult decisions for Jets management in the future.
Next week: Matt returns (hopefully) and finds that not only did I write his column, but I did so while sitting at his desk here on the 91st floor of the palatial Raw Charge office tower. I also used his coffee cup.