The Southeast this week: Happy New Years!
At first glance, it's been an awesome week for the Tampa Bay Lightning. An awesome-to-see 5-1 drubbing of the newly-but-not-really hated Philadelphia Flyers, and a come from behind victory in front of the home crowd ruining Montreal Canadiens faithful - pretty good, right?
From a pure entertainment standpoint, absolutely. I loved every second of it, but, it unfortunately does not indicate an instant turnaround of this season.
The first point of note is the obvious fact that we have no idea what is going on with Victor Hedman. He left the game against Philly with an "Upper-body injury," and that's still really all we know. As mistake prone as he can be, that's one more regular defender the Lightning don't have available. I'm available however, Mr. Yzerman.
At any rate, the other things to keep in mind are:
A.) For the rest of this season, at least, the boys feel like they have a score to settle with the Flyers because of their continued stall shenanigans.
B.) The Canadiens have been as thoroughly lackluster as the Lightning have been lately.
Now, there is certainly reason for be optimistic after the past two games, because by all accounts, the Bolts did show some characteristics we have not yet seen this season. But, until it's sustained for a couple weeks, don't set yourself up to be let down.
At the end of the day though, the Lightning are still not ready to be talked about in terms of playoff contention.
After the break: Ward scores; Winter Classic in Miami?; Caps need consistency; and Baby Buff. The week that was down South.
Carolina Hurricanes: For the first time in a long time, the Canes have won two of three this week. Even better than that, on Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Eric Staal seemed to be him old self as he scored two - including the game winner in OT - and added an assist. He didn't do anything the rest of the week, but it could be a jumpstart for a guy that is a known stud. Apparently he had some advice come from his younger brother. Aren't NHL brothers awesome?
Speaking of awesome, Cam Ward became the first goalie since 2006 to record a goal. For a team that hasn't had really anything go its way, that's a start. We'll politely ignore the fact that he has more goals than FOUR SKATERS on the team's listed roster.....
The Canes continue to be a sparkling presence in the community. Nothing but praise.
Despite their good week, the Hurricanes are only two points ahead of the New York Islanders for last place in the Eastern Conference. Worse? The Isles have played four fewer games.
Florida Panthers: A light, but decent week for the Cats so far. The only game was a 5-3 win over the Leafs.
Mike Weaver has signed an extension. As a fan of their "rival," it's hard sometimes to watch the Panthers succeed, but man, a lot of people sure benefit from it.
Panthers prospects are dominating the World Junior Championships. Scary.
Could Miami host a Winter Classic? Good luck getting NBC to sign off on it, but it would be awesome. Did I mention that there is no way in H-E-double hockey sticks NBC would be any part of this? Actually, ya know what? I don't want it to happen. Pierre McGuire going on for three hours about the quality of the ice in South Florida while everyone recovers from New Years hangovers is just about the worst idea ever.
The Panthers are still in fine shape for the playoffs, despite the Jets closing in a bit. That's more indicative of the scheduling than any real threat.
Washington Capitals: Another week, and more inconsistency by the Caps. A 4-2 loss to the struggling Buffalo Sabres on Monday, then a 4-1 win over the practically unbeatable New York Rangers on Wednesday. Odd.
Monday's loss was more of the same. And part of a bigger trend.
It's not all bad though, Caps fans. A Year in review.
And, in good news, Mike Green is closer than ever to finally returning.
The Caps are still just a winning streak away from the playoffs, as they sit three points out. Will inconsistency keep them out all season?
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets continued their hot play this week, beating a couple of Western Conference contenders (barely), the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings. Not a bad week for Jets' goalies as they have given up a combined one goal so far. Wowzers.
Remember Patrice Cormier? One of the big pieces in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, and despicable hitter? He's been recalled.
Dustin Byfuglien has missed some time, but not just because he just had a baby. Teachers everywhere hope the baby has her mother's last name. Congrats, and get well big fella.
The Airplanes have finally played themselves into a playoff spot, but the East is such a log jam, they need a big streak to feel secure.
Important Matchups this weekend: Rangers at Panthers (Tonight), Hurricanes at Lightning (Saturday), Leafs at Jets (Saturday).
Happy New Years!
Did I miss your favorite story from the Southeast Division this week? Feel free to shoot me links on Twitter to @MattAmos31 or @DontTradeVinny. Want to laugh at the Lightning and the NHL? Check out my "normal" work over at Don't Trade Vinny.