Not again, Tim Thomas: You could almost hear the groan from the Florida Panthers’ management suite late in Tuesday night's entertaining tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks when Tim Thomas got up from the crease, limping. The veteran netminder left the game and did not return. When he's been between the pipes, Thomas has been very good, giving the rebuilding Panthers a chance to win pretty much every outing. It was so Tuesday, as Florida fell behind the defending Stanley Cup champs 2-0, but Thomas held the fort even though the Panthers were outshot 22-14 through the first two periods. The Panthers took advantage of Thomas’ strong play and scored twice in succession in the third period to secure a point. Thomas ended up stopping 27 of 29 shots before leaving the game late in the third. No word yet on the extent of Thomas' injury, but it's the second time this early season he's had to leave games with an injury (head coach Kevin Dineen told reporters Tuesday's injury was not a repeat of an earlier groin issue), and it in some ways answers the question of what happens when a 39-year-old netminder stays away from the game for an entire season. When Thomas attended training camp on a tryout basis and then signed a one-year deal, the expectation was that he would perhaps help in the maturation of youngster Jacob Markstrom and then yield an asset at the trade deadline. And while his play suggests he still has the tools to be attractive to teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, that might be looking to add veteran goaltending depth, the problem early on is that those tools come with significant rust. In the end, that might be enough to scare off potential suitors.
Someone has to win: Really looking forward to the New York Rangers' visit to Philadelphia Thursday night in what might be called the Dung Beetle Cup. The teams, both considered to be playoff teams, have combined to go 3-12 and boast a minus-31 goal differential. The Rangers are banged up and netminder Henrik Lundqvist is off the rails. The Flyers can’t score and fired their coach in what now seems to have been an ill-advised panic move. Flyers captain Claude Giroux, off to a woeful start with just three assists, insisted the Flyers can still make the playoffs. Hey, Washington looked like roadkill through the first quarter of last season and ended up winning the Southeast Division, so it’s possible. If the Flyers still have a shot, so do the Rangers. But when you stink this badly, the clock starts ticking that much more quickly on kissing the season goodbye. So who takes that first shambling step forward?
This discipline thing is hard: The supplemental discipline merry-go-round continues with what seems to be an inexhaustible lineup of miscreants looking to pay their debt to hockey society. Good thing the league’s message is getting through. Or not. But as we watch Michael Grabner deliver a blind-side shot to the head of Carolina’s Nathan Gerbe and get away with a two-game ban and Cody McLeod of Colorado go to the Brendan Shanahan Reform School for five games for crunching Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall in a play that Kronwall acknowledged he was partially responsible for by turning back into harm’s way, let’s be honest about how the system works: the outcome of the hit is every bit as important as the hit itself. We have no problem with that. Ryan Garbutt was immediately offered an in-person hearing after he cracked Dustin Penner in the head area with a shoulder that left Penner out of it on the ice and unable to continue. Penner remains out of action. Kronwall hasn’t returned since the McLeod hit while Dan Boyle is still out for the Max Lapierre hit that earned Lapierre a five-game ban as well, which means Garbutt is looking at about five games. Gerbe? He continued to play even though we would argue the recklessness of the Grabner hit was every bit as onerous as the others, maybe worse, given that he clearly sees Gerbe is vulnerable and in our view purposefully delivers the shot to the head anyway. Don’t have a problem with punishing the outcome of the crime as much as the crime itself but let’s not pretend we’re doing anything else.
What would the NHLPA do? Loved that Matt Cooke told our Pierre LeBrun that he would willingly help Patrick Kaleta change his game, even though the two have no real connection. People get tired of hearing about Cooke’s reformation but the proof is in his play. We chuckled at Kaleta insisting that he’s tried to change his game. Ha. Ha. Oh, you were serious. People are watching Kaleta’s appeal of his 10-game suspension with great interest. Assuming that commissioner Gary Bettman, the first step in the appeals process, doesn’t knock down the league-imposed 10-game penalty for yet another cowardly, dangerous hit on Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson (that decision was expected sometime Wednesday), the player, with the support of the NHLPA, can go to an independent third party for a final assessment -- a new wrinkle to supplemental discipline that came out of the new collective bargaining agreement. Wonder what a jury of Kaleta’s peers would say? Our guess is that 10 games would just be a starting point.
A Giguere revival: We spent some time around the Colorado Avalanche early this season and to say Jean-Sebastien Giguere was a bit of an afterthought would be an understatement. But credit to Giguere and to rookie head coach Patrick Roy for not falling into the pattern of simply accepting that Giguere was only going to play when starter Semyon Varlamov got tired or hurt. Roy told us last week the goaltending plan was initially for Varlamov to continue to draw most of the assignments through October. But Roy deviated from his original plan and ended up using Giguere in back-to-back games against Buffalo and then Monday’s highly anticipated showdown with Pittsburgh. Giguere, of course, was sensational, turning aside all 34 shots in a 1-0 victory that was heavily lopsided in Pittsburgh’s favor in terms of scoring chances. The veteran netminder is now 3-0 with two shutouts and suddenly a position that at the start of the season looked like it might be one of the team’s weak points has turned into a much more balanced strength and key factor in the team’s surprising 8-1-0 start.
That's no dud: Interesting to see some refer to the showdown between Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, boys Sidney Crosby and 2013 first-overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon as a dud. True, the two small-town boys turned hockey icons didn’t trade hat tricks but that was a compelling game if only for the wave after wave of pressure the Penguins brought -- led most often by the league’s top point-getter, Crosby -- only to see the Avs, including MacKinnon, turn the attacks aside. While it might have lacked in scoring, this game hardly lacked for drama.
What's Hall's deal? Whenever we talk about a player’s durability or lack thereof, there’s always a moment of hesitation as though by raising the issue we are somehow blaming a player for getting hurt. Now, if a player is chronically out of shape and suffers an injury as a result that’s one thing, but if a player goes down as a function of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, it does seem a bit unfair to question his value. Still, it remains a puzzler that a promising young star such as Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers simply can’t stay on the ice. The Oilers announced Tuesday that Hall would miss a month or so with a knee injury. The former first overall pick, who won’t turn 22 until November, has already amassed a long and varied injury list that includes ankle, shoulder and concussion issues. The bottom line is that no matter Hall’s potential -- and it is significant -- if he’s not on the ice, that potential is worthless. As for the Canadian Olympic team, we see no way he misses this much time and makes the squad that will go to Sochi.
Not yet Miller time: Speaking of the Oilers, it's amazing what a couple of strong outings by your goaltender -- and a couple of wins -- will do to douse a raging inferno. Devan Dubnyk stopped 29 of 32 shots to earn his and the Oilers’ second straight win Tuesday night. The Oilers are home to a Washington team that can light it up with anyone and then are on the road Saturday and Sunday against Pacific Division foes Phoenix and Los Angeles. Let’s see whether this two-game win streak is the start of something meaningful or whether we start to hear the "Bring us Ryan Miller" chants once again.