Carolina Hurricanes emerging from Southeast mess

Feb 19, 2013 3:03 AM

Let’s simply state the Southeast Division has issues. For those more blunt, the division is a mess and easily the weakest in the NHL.

You want disappointment? Just choose from any of the five teams, However, the one side starting to figure things out may be Carolina. The Hurricanes just completed a grueling 6-game road trip with a 4-1-1 mark, both losses coming at Philadelphia.

None of the wins were anything special except for the trip-capper, a 4-2 victory against Eastern Conference leading New Jersey. Sure, the Devils were coming off an emotional home-and-home series sweep of Pittsburgh plus it was homecoming for former NJ captain Kirk Muller, the head coach of the Hurricanes.

Yes, the Canes took advantage of the scheduling situation, which may be the key to a division crown. Get through some of the bumps on the road, then win at home. In the team’s next 14 games over the next calendar month, every tough opponent will visit Raleigh, which could allow Carolina to gain a top seed for the playoffs.

The Staal brothers — Eric and Jordan — rank among the scoring leaders, making up for the woes of goalie Cam Ward. Thus, high-scoring games (7-3-2 to the OVER) means there’s just one way to bet.

Tampa Bay: The Lightning enter the week with an NHL best 55 goals, four better than Pittsburgh. The Bolts also hold two games in hand to make their offense the league’s runaway leaders. Too bad their defense can’t come close, leaving Tampa Bay hovering at .500.

Because of travel distances by visiting teams, this team can dominate at home yet have no legs on the road. Steven Stamkos is on his way to another scoring title, thanks to the passing of Martin St. Louis. But the pair’s combined plus/minus is in the red. Bet OVER.

Winnipeg: “Manitoba’s favorite hockey team” according to the Toronto Sun — gee, ya’ think, eh? — is second only to Chicago in energyand work effort, yet still can’t find the back of the net. Thus the Jets rank 29th overall (behind only Columbus) in total points, while starting an extended, 5-gameroad trip this week.

The Jets are without goalies Al Montoyaand Mark Dekanich for at least another week, which means the margin of error for starter Ondrej Pavelec (a loser in 7 of his last8 starts)is slim. Unless they find an answer to start this trip with some victories, all Jets fans can hope for is leaguerealignment and a chance to draft Seth Jones, the potential No. 1 overall pick.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin was supposed to be revitalized after getting married to tennis proMaria Kirilenko in the offseason. However, he plays like his mind is elsewhere, with a mere five goals and a -7 rating through 15 games.

Only one line is scoring for the Caps, and both goalies — Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth — have a GAA over 3.00 and save percentages under 90%. About the best thing going in Washington is the NHL’s top play-by-play announcer in Joe Beninati (San Jose’s Randy Hahn is right there, too), but he doesn’t lace up the skates.

Florida:The Panthers are the defending division champions only because someone has to come out on top.They enterthe week No. 13 in the East, one point “better” than Winnipeg and Washington, reminding me of the 1994 baseball season when the bottom four teams in the AL all came from the West.

At a plus/minus of -18, Florida could battle the Jackets and Jets for the top draft pick. If you love frustration, this is your team (1-1-4 in their last 6).

The four wound up being losses in overtime or a shootout. And the schedule gets tougher, closing the month with six straight against non-division foes.

Just like football, bad teams drop close games. But without a point spread to worry about, there’s no need to bet on the Panthers.

Contact Nick at [email protected].

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