Kevin Dineen

Panthers face the second most travel of any NHL team as part of a rough 2011-12 schedule

With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Florida Panthers schedule analysis

Total mileage: 52,751 (second most in NHL, most in Southeast Division)

Back-to-back games: 14

Toughest stretches

If you’re among the growing group of people who think the Islanders will take a big jump next season, then the Panthers could be in for some trouble right off the bat. They play two games on the road (Islanders then Penguins) followed by a home-and-home with Tampa Bay. That second Lightning game is followed by a road contest against Washington then two home games (Buffalo and the Isles) followed by three straight road contests.

For a team that’s still getting to know each other, that’s a tough first month. Things get better for the majority of November until it bleeds into a challenging December. They play three road games in a row (including going from Carolina to Los Angeles), stop home for a tough match against the Capitals and then play three more away contests against 2011 playoff teams.

Luckily, the rest of the Panthers’ schedule is gentle – relatively speaking, at least – with just normal four-in-five away runs and similar smaller patches that could cause problems. The last shaky streak is a four-game road trip from late March to early April, but there aren’t a ton of runs that jump out at you (although their overall travel schedule is brutal, especially for an Eastern Conference team).

Easiest periods

November presents the first opportunity in the form of a four-game homestand, although three of those four teams made the playoffs last year and that other team is the enigmatic Devils. December includes another four-gamer with the Devils in the mix, but this time around the only playoff team is the Coyotes, who many believe are a likely cellar dweller in the West.

To nail down their best run, you probably need to look a little longer-term, from mid-February to mid-March.

Feb. 15: home vs. Ottawa
Feb. 17: home vs. Washington
Feb. 19: home vs. Anaheim
Feb 23. home vs. Minnesota
Feb 25. at Carolina
Feb. 26: home vs. Montreal
Feb. 28: at Toronto
March 1: at Winnipeg
March 3: home vs. Nashville
March 4: home vs. Ottawa
March 8: at Philadelphia
March 9: at Pittsburgh
March 11: home vs. Carolina
March 13: home vs. Toronto
March 15: home vs. Boston
March 17: home vs. Buffalo

That lengthy stretch includes two four-game homestands and 11 of 16 games in Florida. Their two sets of back-to-backs are reasonable travel-wise, although they probably won’t send a “Thank You” note to schedule makers after the Flyers and Penguins likely demolish them two days in a row. Still, this is the lengthy stretch in which schedulers give the Panthers the best available apology for a tough bunch of breaks.

Overall outlook

Who would have thought that the Winnipeg Jets wouldn’t even be the most-traveled team in the Southeast? Only the Kings’ rocky road is less friendly than the Panthers’ outlier of a schedule. Florida traveled a solid amount last season (43,144, good for 11th most in the NHL) but this is a significant bump for the Panthers.

Then again, maybe this group of strangers might bond over card games, PSP competition or whatever else they might do during long plane trips. It probably doesn’t bode well for the already shaky health of veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski, though.

Oilers recall D-man Oesterle from AHL Condors

EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 23:  Jordan Oesterle #82 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up against the Ottawa Senators on February 23, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers made a move Sunday, recalling defenseman Jordan Oesterle from the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL.

In 18 games with the Condors this season, the 24-year-old Oesterle has three goals and 11 points.

The decision comes one day after Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson missed Saturday’s contest against the rival Calgary Flames because of a lower-body injury.

While he isn’t a flashy player, Larsson seems to have made a positive impression on the Oilers coaching staff during his first season in Edmonton following last summer’s blockbuster trade involving scoring winger Taylor Hall.

No surprise this development is leading to questions about the health of Larsson, with the Oilers set to begin the second half of a six-game home stand and sitting second in the Pacific Division standings.

Video: Reaves and Boll drop the gloves in heavyweight bout

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Heavyweight fighters Jared Boll and Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves during the second period of Sunday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues.

Those were some thunderous right hands thrown there, both combatants landing their fair share of punches before officials finally intervened.

The Wild sit all alone in top spot of the Central Division

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The Minnesota Wild bested the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, and now sit in sole possession of first place in the Central Division.

Playing the second half of a back-to-back situation that involved travel from Dallas, where Minnesota won Saturday, the Wild fell behind Chicago courtesy two goals from Patrick Kane. Sure, the first goal on Devan Dubnyk was fluttered off the stick of Kane and under the arm of the Minnesota goalie.

But Dubnyk played the remainder of this pivotal game the way Wild fans have become accustomed to since he was acquired. He made 33 saves and was busiest in the second period. Outside of Kane’s second goal, Dubnyk was solid in the middle period and didn’t give up anything the rest of the way. The Wild came back for a 3-2 win. On the road. In hostile territory.

Minnesota, not far removed from a franchise-best 12-game winning streak, now sits at 61 points in 42 games, two points ahead of the Blackhawks and with four fewer games played.

Jason Pominville scored the winner early in the third period.

There are many reasons for the Wild’s success through the first half under coach Bruce Boudreau. Dubnyk’s play has been Vezina caliber. He has a .940 save percentage and a 1.77 goals-against average. Minnesota is second in the league when it comes to the lowest number of goals-against per game and only Washington is better in that category.

The Wild have been scoring plenty, too, fourth in the league with 3.19 goals-for per game, with contributions throughout their lineup.

Free agent signings can always be a risk — an expensive risk — but Eric Staal has rewarded the Wild by producing at just under a point per game rate. He could have his most productive season in several years — at the age of 32 and approaching 1,000 regular season games played.

They won’t have long to enjoy their view from the top.

The Wild host the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday to begin a four-game home stand.

More bad news for Bolts: Callahan out four weeks with lower-body injury

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 10: Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Four of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 10, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Four points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and about to begin a six-game road trip, the Tampa Bay Lightning face a tough task trying to climb the Eastern Conference standings.

There was more bad news for the Bolts on Sunday.

Forward Ryan Callahan, who hasn’t played since Jan. 7, will miss approximately four weeks because of a lower-body injury, the club announced.

Callahan made his season debut at the end of October. The start to his season was delayed due to the recovery from hip surgery he underwent to fix an issue from last season. Based on a report from Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday, Callahan is once again dealing with a hip injury, although the club didn’t elaborate, announcing it as a lower-body injury.

In 18 games this season, Callahan has two goals and four points.

The Bolts, Stanley Cup contenders that have gone deep into the post-season in each of the last two campaigns, are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Right now, Toronto, Ottawa and Florida all sit ahead of the Lightning in the battle for third in the Atlantic. Now into the second half of the season, they will have to quickly get out of this funk in order to close in the post-season race.

“The results are all that matters,” Brian Boyle told the Tampa Bay Times. “We need to change our attitude a little bit, kind of find our mojo, carry ourselves with a little bit more confidence. We can score quick goals. We can come from behind, jump out to leads and bury teams. We’ve done that in the past with this group.”

The Bolts begin this six-game road trip Monday against the L.A. Kings.