Originally posted on The Victory Formation  |  Last updated 12/13/11

Yesterday, it seemed like a Crosby post was in order what with our young Jedi having some mind tricks done on himself. Again. Since Sid has been the overwhelming topic of conversation in the NHL, I figured I’d space it out a little bit and just include him in the 1-3-1 this week. We begin this week in a place where you wouldn’t expect, or even want, hockey to be played in. Raise your hand if you thought the Florida Cougars Panthers would be in first place at any point after at least 20 games had been played.

Not even 20, but 30! The boys down in Sunrise are leading the Southeast division by 6 points with the floundering Caps having two games in hand. The Cats only have a goal differential of +5 on the season. They’ve tallied a modest 82 goals (12th in the NHL) while giving up 77 (11th in the NHL). Pretty much every difference maker for the Panthers was brought in over the offseason. Kris Versteeg, their co-leading scorer with Tomas Fleischmann, were both offseason pick-ups. Versteeg via trade with the Flyers and Fleischmann a free agent. Their top defenseman Brian Campbell’s story is pretty well known. Also, in net, former Masterson winner Jose Theodore has had a bit of a revival in Florida.

All of these guys were acquired by Dale Tallon.

I give the Hawks old general manager his fair share of **** from time to time, but Tallon is proving that he knows a thing or two about putting together a hockey team. Albeit at a pretty expensive price tag for guys like Campbell and Tomas Kopecky. It’s still really early and the Panthers don’t exactly have a ton of depth on their team but points in November and December are worth just as many as they are in March. Versteeg has shown some skill in stops with the Leafs and Blackhawks but his 2.81 P/60 pace that he’s running at right now is well above what’s expected. Stephen Weiss is top 20 in the league in draws. Along with Versteeg and Fleischmann, they’ve had some impressive puck possession. That line has seen just over half of those draws take place in the offensive zone.

Predicting this team’s sustainability probably goes hand-in-hand with the other teams in their division. They’ve got three remaining against the Capitals should they get their own house in order. Florida took 4 of 10 possible points against Tampa yet the Bolts sit 11 points behind. With Carolina and Winnipeg being, well, I’ll just say it… awful, that gives the Panthers a better chance than most at a playoff spot.

Let’s get this over with. I’m lukewarm on all things Crosby. His outlook, the coverage of said outlook and pining for his return. Nothing but the best to the guy, but I’ll pay attention again when I hear he’s in the lineup. If you want to read the two quotes they managed to scrounge out of him, go ahead. While we’re talking about the Penguins, may as well get their attached-at-the-hip mates out of the way, too. The Capitals under Dale Hunter haven’t really been good or bad. They’ve taken 6 of a possible 12 points since he took over. I’d say give them until after the New Year to see if Hunter really has any discernible impact.

It should be noted that in those games, however, the combo of Ovechkin and Backstrom hold 10 points while Alex Semin is still lost at sea with a single point over that stretch.

If anyone can make something of the Pacific division, please send tips. Four teams within three points of each other and the Anaheim ******* Ducks under Bruce Boudreau having only Teemu Selanne’s swan song as a bright spot. The Kings have been tremendously disappointing with their retooled roster since the summer. Terry Murray has already lost his job which will qualify as our low for the feature. The Kings offense has been anything but dynamic. 65 goals ranks them 29th, with only the Islanders below them. The Blue Jackets have scored more than the Kings. If there’s a barometer of crappyness, that’s it right there.

The combination of Bernier and Quick are good enough in the league for 6th in GAA, so there’s that. The Kings were supposed to contend for this division with the Sharks though. I’ve got more faith in the Sharks than I do in Los Angeles. That San Jose roster has been together longer and provided consistent production. LA is dealing with a retool on their 2nd line as Mike Richards centers that. Just like the Capitals, I’d like to check with the Kings in a couple weeks after John Stevens or another voice has some sort of effect.

Phoenix and Dallas sit at the top of the division. Neither has a roster that jumps, or even crawls, off the page at you. I’m more inclined to think Phoenix can sustain than Dallas as they seem to have a supply of goalies that no one else knows about. They also play a style similar to what the Predators play. Mostly unwatchable but effective is how I would describe it. Mike Smith, a real John Houseman name that one, will have to be the reason the Yotes continue to play well. I won’t pretend to have watched Dallas Stars hockey (I don’t think anyone else can say otherwise), but suffice to say I think this is going to be shortlived for them.

The whole division is a ***********. If I knew how to put a poll up I’d do it. Here are your snipers of the week and instead of the Hart, we’ll do a Take Five on the Norris Trophy.

  1. Shea Weber (2nd in NHL in shifts per game, just behind Campbell in TOI, 4th in points among D, awaiting his next stache)
  2. Brian Campbell (2nd in points, just carrying the Panthers on the backend)
  3. Nicklas Lidstrom (same greatness, different year)
  4. Ryan Suter (plays with some guy named Shea Weber)
  5. John Carlson (‘Merican… oh, and T-6 in points, waiting for Mike Green to find Jesus)
I’d probably leave Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara out of the discussion at the moment but they’re right there.

 

Just unbelievable passing between these three.

Marian Hossa did it first, and did it better.

Hemsky and Eberle love that drag move in front of the net.

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