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Southeast: Bouwmeester issue not bothering Panthers

by Mike G. Morreale /
The Florida Panthers, winners of five of their last six heading into Friday's matchup in Calgary, are one of the League's hottest teams right now.

But talk continues to circulate about the future of standout defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. According to the Miami Herald, Bouwmeester has been rumored to be on the trading block, particularly with the recent slew of injuries to Florida forwards Richard Zednik, Rostislav Olesz, Cory Stillman, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

There's no question the 6-foot-4, 212-pound defenseman would command a lot on the open market. He's second in the League in average ice time per game (27:43) through 28 games and is tied with forward Stephen Weiss for the team lead in scoring with 16 points. Additionally, he has 43 hits, 43 blocked shots and 10 takeaways.

"I don't really have any (thoughts) right now, I have a contract and that's what it is," Bouwmeester told reporters last week. "We'll just wait and see. The only time I get bugged about it is when I'm up here (in Canada). So it's not that big a deal."

The Panthers conclude a four-game Canadian swing Sunday when they visit Vancouver.

Bounce back -- Carolina Hurricanes backup goalie Michael Leighton earned his fifth victory of the season last week, over the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals, in dramatic fashion.

Not only did Leighton turn aside a season-high 38 shots, but he also denied Alex Ovechkin on a penalty shot with 1.2 seconds remaining in the second. Ovechkin, who assisted on Nicklas Backstrom's power-play goal in the third to tie the score 1-1, was credited with 11 shots on goal in the game.

"I've seen what he's done before and he usually tries to get it up," Leighton said of Ovechkin's penalty-shot style. "I just tried to come out and push him one way. It's not a guy you want to give a penalty shot to, but sometimes you would rather have a chance to set up and get ready for it rather than him coming down the ice."

Ovechkin attempted to fake Leighton with a shot and then go to his backhand, but he didn't have enough mustard on the shot, and as a result now is 0-for-5 on penalty shots.

"My first thought was that I really didn't have too much pressure on myself because he is the best player in the League and if he doesn't score that makes me look good, but if he does, well, that's Alex Ovechkin scoring a penalty-shot goal and it's no big deal," Leighton said. "I've seen him do several moves and just kind of stuck with that and was just hoping he would do one of those moves and he did."

Leighton's victory came on the heels of a heart-to-heart talk with coach Paul Maurice.

"The whole point of the meeting was to mentally put a separation between (a bad goal he allowed in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia the previous game) and the (Washington) game so that it wasn't something that he carried forward," Maurice told "It wasn't a meeting where I said, 'Hey, don't worry about it,' because players always worry about it. It was more of a challenge to view the next game as a huge opportunity in part for redemption and he's going to have to do that over the course of his career. He really came back strong against Washington because they had zone possession and controlled the game. The save on Ovechkin was just a huge emotional swing for both teams solely on Michael Leighton's back and it was an outstanding performance."

Saving grace -- The Tampa Bay Lightning may be in desperation mode now, but it hasn't affected goalie Mike Smith.

Despite his 5-10-7 record, Smith sports a 2.57 goals-against average and is 10th in the League with a .922 save percentage. In a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday, Smith denied P.J. Axelsson on a penalty shot when he reached back with his glove to cover the puck before it crossed the goal line. It was the first penalty shot Smith faced this season.

"This is a team with so much talent, especially up front, but we're near the bottom in scoring and we have to find a way to change that," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos told "Our goaltending has been as good as you could ask for with Smitty and Olie (Kolzig). They've kept us in some games and it's time we start rewarding them for their hard work."

"He's been an All Star," Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet told Tampa Bay's Web site. "I didn't really know much about him before this season, but he has really opened my eyes and played well. I always tell Smitty, you might let some goals in, just don't let in the third or fourth. That's what a guy like Grant Fuhr used to do. There's been a couple games where he's kept us in it so we could come back. Those are the goalies I like. He is such a competitor. He battles."

Bogosian the blogger
-- Atlanta Thrashers rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian, who has been sidelined since Oct. 29 with a broken left leg, has agreed to contribute to Ben Wright's Blueland Blog on the Thrashers' Web site this season.

Bogosian continues to skate on his own during his rehabilitation stint and could return by the middle of the month. In his first entry, on Dec. 9, Bogosian admitted he's looking forward to his return.

"When I finished (the treadmill), I started light skating on my own," Bogosian wrote. "That was about three and a half weeks after the break, so I wasn't fully healed and I had to take it easy. There's no way I thought I'd be skating that soon. The fracture that I had, it could have been four to six weeks or it could have been seven to eight. It's all about how I feel. It's probably going to be right around the six week mark.

"For now I'll keep watching our home games from the press box. It's frustrating not to be able to play and help the team, but this is a good learning opportunity. It's been a good way to see how different teams play and see how plays develop."

View Bogosian's blog in its entirety at

Alz well in Washington
-- Capitals rookie Karl Alzner, who has played a key role along the blue line in the absence of several injured members of the defense, said he is enjoying his time in the U.S. capital.

"I've been trying to keep tabs on everything," Alzner said. "I've seen all the monuments now and I definitely want to go to the museums because everyone keeps talking about how interesting they are. There're a lot of cool things like that in this city and, for a guy like me who lived on the West Coast, you don't think Washington D.C. is this cool a place until you finally get here. Without a doubt, I've enjoyed my time here and I think it's a wonderful city to play hockey in."

Alzner has a goal and 3 points in eight games since being called up from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Nov. 26.

Quotable -- "The most dangerous job in America is playing defense for the Carolina Hurricanes right now." -- Carolina coach Paul Maurice, pointing out the slew of Carolina defenders who have gone out with injuries, including Frantisek Kaberle, Niclas Wallin, Tim Gleason and Anton Babchuk.

Ice chips -- Lightning center Paul Szczechura scored his first NHL goal in a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday. Coach Rick Tocchet has liked what he's seen so far. "He had an excellent training camp and almost made our team," Tocchet said. "He's a heady guy who can score and is good defensively, so those are the kind of qualities we're looking for right now." ... Capitals forward Alexandre Giroux scored his first NHL goal since March 18, 2007 -- and it was his first NHL game-winner -- in a 3-1 victory against Boston on Wednesday. ... Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier has 6 goals and 9 assists in his previous 13 games, and rookie Steven Stamkos leads all NHL rookies with 67 shots on goal through 29 games. ... Florida goalie Craig Anderson made 41 saves Thursday in a 2-0 victory against Edmonton to raise his record to 8-2-3. He leads the League with a .946 save percentage and is second with a 1.94 goals-against average. ... Hurricanes right wing Justin Williams scored his first point of the season when he assisted on a Matt Cullen goal in a shootout loss to the Flyers on Thursday. Williams was playing in his fourth game after missing the start of the season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. ... Tampa Bay reassigned right wing Steve Downie to Norfolk of the American Hockey League on Friday. Downie played in eight games with Tampa after being recalled Nov. 27 and posted one goal while averaging 8:23 of ice time. ... Carolina coach Paul Maurice, summing up his team's stunning loss to Philadelphia on Thursday: "I think we played just some fine hockey for the first 40 minutes (when the team built a 5-1 lead) and then in the third got a lesson in forecheck pressure (with a 6-5 shootout loss)."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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