Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun break down the success of the Florida Panthers, plus the continued struggles of the Columbus Blue Jackets:
Burnside: Well, my friend, the end of the week is upon us and it can't come soon enough for a few struggling teams. After so much debate and speculation about changes in Columbus, Scott Arniel remains coach and Scott Howson remains GM and the team's inability to win remains the same.
The Jackets were hammered 6-3 against Chicago on Thursday. Arniel was supposed to have introduced a new, more conservative system to coax some wins out of his team, but it's the same old, same old for the 2-12-1 Blue Jackets. Also noticed the announced attendance was 15,048, which is 83 percent capacity. Guess fans have started voting with their feet?
The news isn't much better for the New York Islanders, who were beaten in overtime by Colorado and have just one win in their past nine games, and Los Angeles Kings, whose descent through the Western Conference standings continued with a 3-2 loss against Vancouver. I'm surprised coach Terry Murray went back to Jonathan Quick after Jonathan Bernier got the win in the previous game. The Kings have just two wins in their past nine games.
LeBrun: Goalie Steve Mason struggled again for the Jackets. He let in a Jonathan Toews shot early in the game, the second goal, which should have never gone in. That completely deflates your team. Overall, the Jackets have looked more like a team devoid of confidence.
"Any mistake, it goes in the back of the net," Jackets blueliner James Wisniewski told Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch. "When you have a fragile team, as we are right now, a lot of guys are hanging their heads. We have to get over that. Just stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start playing some hockey."
Hard to believe Arniel will last much longer. It's certainly more surprising what's going on in Los Angeles, given the Kings' level of expectations. I know from chatting with Kings GM Dean Lombardi earlier this week he isn't totally happy with his "mix." I would expect a few call-ups, perhaps over the next week, to try to shake things up.
But really, did we go this long without mentioning your Florida Panthers? The team you picked to make a surprise playoff run is living up to the Burnside Billing so far with another win Thursday night.
Burnside: Well, as you know, it is all about me. But the 8-4-3 Panthers took over first place in the Southeast with a 5-2 win over Winnipeg in Manitoba on Thursday night. Kris Versteeg had three goals and an assist and has 17 points to lead the Panthers. It wasn't that long ago that fans in Toronto and Philadelphia were less than enthused with Versteeg's play. But I had a chance to talk to him during training camp; he's corrected some longstanding groin injury issues and said he felt fully healthy for the first time in years.
I think everyone wondered how GM Dale Tallon's revamped squad was going to turn out; as you know, when you introduce a lot of new faces, it often takes time to jell, but credit rookie coach Kevin Dineen for getting his squad in sync from the get-go. Kind of makes you wonder how things might have turned out had Columbus hired Dineen a couple of years back.
LeBrun: Consider me totally surprised by the Panthers. Long term, I had no doubt Tallon would make this team better given his track record and nose for talent. But considering the massive amount of offseason roster changes, I thought the Panthers would struggle early as all the new faces got to know each other. That's usually the track record for clubs who make a lot of changes; chemistry can't be forced, but simply forged over time. Somehow, the Panthers have sped up the clock and are playing like they've been together as a group for years. Kudos to Dineen, who should have received his NHL head-coaching chance a long time ago.
Burnside: It's not just Versteeg. Brian Campbell is having a big impact as the Panthers have played surprisingly well defensively. For the first time in a long time, there is a legitimate rivalry in Florida. It will be interesting to see if the Lightning's employment of the 1-3-1 defense that so infuriated Chris Pronger and the Flyers is repeated. I frankly don't understand what all the caterwauling about the incident was about, but I will be shocked if we see anything like that anytime soon.
LeBrun: I chatted with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman about it for my weekend notebook, and he certainly made no apologies for it. And frankly, I think everyone needs to chill. Teams do what they have to do, within the rules, to win games. I have no problem with that.
Well pal, have a great weekend. I'm looking forward to Monday's Hockey Hall of Fame inductions. As a reminder to our readers, we have feature stories on Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mark Howe and Doug Gilmour running all weekend.