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.

Video: After blowout loss in Dallas, struggling Sharks off to slow start vs. Predators

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Last night, we asked: What is wrong with the San Jose Sharks?

Well, a day later, with the Sharks looking to avoid a sixth straight loss, the struggle continues.

After a blowout loss last night against the Dallas Stars, the Sharks have fallen behind the Nashville Predators by a score of 2-0 after the opening period.

Colton Sissons opened the scoring for Nashville.

It didn’t get any better for the Sharks.

Roman Josi walked right around Brent Burns, hitting the cross bar with his shot. Cody McLeod was right there for the tap-in to increase Nashville’s lead.

Maple Leafs goalie Andersen suffers upper-body injury vs. Sabres

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Anxious times right now for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Facing the Buffalo Sabres and looking to extend their winning streak, Curtis McElhinney took over in net for Toronto to begin the second period.

Adding to the situation was the fact Frederik Andersen, who started the game, was reportedly not on the bench when the teams came back out following the intermission.

And now we know why. The Leafs have announced Andersen suffered an upper-body injury and will not return.

Andersen faced 16 shots in the opening period, making 14 saves.

The Maple Leafs are third in the Atlantic Division with 85 points.

Video: Ovechkin joins elite company with this goal vs. Coyotes

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Barring a miraculous barrage of goals in the final stretch of games, Alex Ovechkin very likely won’t hit the 50-mark this season.

Now 31 years old, there has been talk that this could be the beginning of the decline for Ovechkin.

But on Saturday, he scored the 30th goal of his season, letting that famous Ovechkin shot rip from his favorite spot on the power play.

For Ovechkin, that’s 12 straight seasons with at least 30 goals scored. He has been consistently prolific since joining the league in 2005-06. He’s an elite player, as everyone has known for years, and he once again joined elite company with this latest goal.

Per the Capitals, Ovechkin joins Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky — he was good — as the only three players in NHL history to score at least 30 goals in each of their first 12 seasons in the league.

Sharp to undergo hip surgery, expected recovery is 4-5 months

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Patrick Sharp‘s difficult season is now over.

The Dallas Stars announced on Saturday that the 35-year-old forward will undergo hip surgery on Tuesday. The recovery time, according to the club, is between four and five months.

Sharp is in the final year of a five-year contract with a $5.9 million cap hit, per CapFriendly

“We are going to get the surgery done and let him heal. He’s going to train and let’s take a look at him,” said Stars GM Jim Nill, per NHL.com. “We’ve had conversations. If he comes back, he wants it to be Dallas. He thinks he’s a Dallas Star.”

Not only has Sharp dealt with injuries on the ice, but he is dealing with a personal matter off it.

From the Dallas Morning News:

But in battling through two concussions, hip pain, and his dad’s fight with leukemia, Sharp has shown significant fortitude. The Dallas chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Sharp Saturday as its candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy, given each season to a player who displays the attributes of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“It shows what kind of person he is and what kind of hockey player and leader he is,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “I think that’s why he’s a winner at every level he’s played at. I think that’s why he’s a great leader for this team and a great guy for a lot of these young guys to look up to.”

Sharp was first sidelined with a concussion in October. He was then placed on injured reserve with another concussion in December.

He has been held to just 48 games, with eight goals — his lowest total since the lockout-shortened season — and 18 points.