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Panthers' power play at a whole new level

Tuesday, 10.18.2011 / 1:12 PM / NHL.Countdown

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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Panthers' power play at a whole new level
The Panthers' power play, Nashville's need to work and Kessel's torrid start highlight Hradek's Tuesday take.
Let's hear it for the Jets! In their fourth try, the second-generation Winnipeg franchise finally recorded its first victory, a nail-biter of a 2-1 win against the banged-up Penguins on Monday night at a wild MTS Center.

Tricky, young Alexander Burmistrov assisted on both goals -- including the ice-breaker just eight seconds into the game -- while Ondrej Pavelec stopped 28 of 29 shots to get the victory.

With one win in the bank, we wonder if these Jets can take off. We'll have to tune in Wednesday when Winnipeg travels to Toronto for a confrontation with the Leafs.

For now, here's the latest edition of the Tuesday 10:

1
The new-look Panthers suddenly have some bite on the power play. They scored five power-play goals in the club's 7-4 win in Tampa on Monday. Through their first four games, the Panthers' power-play is clicking at a League-best 32.0 percent. While we're dealing with a very small sample, it's a huge improvement over last season, when they finished last in the League at 13.1 percent.

Brian Campbell
Defense - FLA
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 7
SOG: 5 | +/-: -3
Puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell is a big part of the turnaround. He possesses the speed and skill necessary to quarterback the power play, and on Monday he assisted on four of the five power-play goals. On the season, Campbell has a League-leading 7 assists.
 
2
If you're wondering how the Lightning gave up five power-play goals in a single game, here's one telling stat: They lost 12 of 16 short-handed faceoffs. When you consistently lose possession of the puck off the draw in the defensive zone, you're putting yourself in danger.

Tampa's penalty-killing crew also has been stretched due to the club's undisciplined play in the early part of the season. Through six games, the Lightning have been short-handed a League-high 36 times. By comparison, the Penguins, who have played one more game, have skated down a man 14 fewer times.

Tampa Bay will spend the next few days trying to tighten things up in preparation for a Thursday visit from the Islanders, who slammed the Lightning 5-1 on Long Island on Oct. 13.
 
3
After grabbing a pair of season-opening wins on the road, the Nashville Predators are 0-2-1 in their last three games. On Monday, after blowing a third-period lead en route to a 3-1 loss in Edmonton, Predators winger Jerred Smithson already had reached the breaking point.

"Just embarrassing," Smithson told Josh Cooper of The Tennessean. "We just got out-worked. It was right from the drop of the puck. If it wasn't for Peks (goalie Pekka Rinne), it could have been 5-1.

"It seems like I've been saying that every time now, but it's the honest truth -- we rely on this guy (Rinne) way too much. We don't work, we don't skate, we don't forecheck -- we have a hard-working team that doesn't work hard and I don't know. It's beyond frustrating right now. I've never been a part of something like this.

"It's got to change right now or we're going to be on the outside looking in -- December we'll be out of this. We have to change it right now."

They'll get a chance to turn things around when they meet the Canucks in Vancouver on Thursday. You remember, of course, the Canucks eliminated the Predators in the second round of the playoffs last spring.
 
4
Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen avoided suspension for his crushing open-ice hit on Sabres captain Jason Pominville last Friday at the First Niagara Center.

NHL Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan and his team closely reviewed the hit before opting against a ban. They felt the hit, which occurred a half-second after Pominville released the puck, was just within the time frame they view as permissible. The group considers a hit that times-out to be more than a half-second after a player has last touched the puck to be late. In this case, Allen's hit occurred on the very outer limit of that window, according to the stop watch.
 
Those split-second fractions that we're talking about here really remind you of just how fast these games are played.
 
There a few other things that worked in Allen's favor. He did not make contact with Pominville's head; it was a full-body hit; Pominville didn't sustain an injury on the play. Also, there was a feeling that Pominville put himself into a vulnerable position by looking down for a puck in his skates.
 
6
There could be some interesting times ahead in St. Louis if potential buyer Matt Hulsizer can complete his purchase of the Blues. On Oct. 6, Hulsizer reached a verbal agreement to buy the team.

A former Division III player at Amherst College, Hulsizer could be a hands-on owner.

"He has a lot of ideas about the game and how a franchise should value its players," said one well-placed source. "He's not going to be a shrinking violet when it comes to running the team."

Previous to his interest in the Blues, the Chicago-based businessman had hoped to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes.

If Hulsizer and the group currently running the Blues can continue to move forward in the legal process, the League's Board of Governors could take up the transaction at their meeting on Dec. 5-6 in Pebble Beach, Calif.
 
6
Phil Kessel
Right Wing - TOR
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 9
SOG: 16 | +/-: 6
Toronto forward Phil Kessel continued his torrid goal-scoring pace in Monday's 3-2 overtime loss to visiting Colorado. The 24-year-old lit the lamp for the sixth time in just four games. He currently leads the League in both goals (6) and points (9).

Also, Kessel appears to be more dug-in during the opening days of the season. Leafs coach Ron Wilson has noticed the effort and rewarded Kessel with important minutes protecting leads late in games. Kessel's plus-6 rating trails only team captain Dion Phaneuf (plus-8) on the Leafs' roster.

Kessel and linemates Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul have combined for 17 points and a plus-16 rating, helping the Leafs to a 3-0-1 start.
 
7
The Sharks hit the road later this week in search of their scoring punch. After scoring six against the Coyotes in their opener, the Sharks have just four goals in their last three games -- all regulation losses.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture have combined for no goals and 4 assists. I can't imagine that's the kind of start that any of them were looking to have.

At some point during their upcoming six-game road swing (which begins Friday in New Jersey), San Jose will get a boost from the addition of talented right wing Martin Havlat, who is waiting to get medical clearance to return to action. Acquired from the Wild in July, Havlat has been recovering from off-season surgery on his left shoulder. He has been skating and practicing with the team for a while, but hasn't yet received the go-ahead from the Cleveland-based surgeon who performed the procedure.

Starting goalie Antti Niemi made his season debut in the club's 3-2 home loss to the Ducks on Monday. Niemi, who didn't play during the preseason after having a cyst removed from an area near his right knee just prior to the opening of training camp, turned back 19 of 22 shots in a losing effort.
 
8
Like his team, Avalanche forward David Jones has gotten off to a fast start. The late-blooming 27-year-old scored his fourth goal of the season Monday, the overtime score in a 3-2 win against the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The win completed a perfect 5-0 road trip for the Avs.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Jones took advantage of his first real NHL opportunity last season, scoring a career-best 27 goals. He looks like he might be ready to challenge that number this season.

David Jones
Right Wing - COL
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 5
SOG: 12 | +/-: 2
The 288th pick of the 2003 Entry Draft, the native of Guelph, Ont., spent three seasons at Dartmouth College before turning pro after his junior year, in 2007. In pieces of three NHL seasons, he had 20 goals before having a break-through 2010-11 campaign.

It seems he's found some chemistry with clever center Paul Stastny, which bodes well for Jones. And if you're looking for a fantasy-league sleeper (if you can call someone who scored 27 goals in a season a sleeper), Jones might be your guy.
 
9
The beleaguered Blue Jackets take the ice tonight in Columbus (against the visiting Stars) seeking their first victory of the season after getting off to a franchise-worst 0-4-1.

If they're going to get that elusive first win, they'll need goaltender Steve Mason to deliver a solid performance. In his five starts, Mason has been a lot like the rest of his teammates -- mediocre at best. His 3.40 goals-against average and .889 save percentage rank him in the bottom-third of League goaltenders. He's going to have to be much better -- and real soon -- if the Jackets are to have a chance to get back on track in the West.

 
10
I'm sure the Kings will be thrilled to hit the ice for their home opener tonight against the Blues. They haven't skated at Staples Center since dropping a 3-1 preseason game to the Ducks on Sept. 25. They don't get to stay home for long, though. They'll travel to Phoenix to meet the Coyotes on Thursday.
 
Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie