Tomas Vokoun, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcus Johansson

Southeast Division: As wide-open as it is pathetic

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In the bigger picture, the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers are one of the most pleasant surprises of the season.

Yet after the Anaheim Ducks shut them down 2-0 to give them their third consecutive loss, the Panthers helped to paint a larger picture of a group so weak that they might make the sixth seed worth fighting for.

Portrait of putridity

If division titles didn’t guarantee a team one of the top three seeds, the Panthers would be the only playoff representative at seventh place, with the Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning taking spots 9-11.

Anyway you break them down, these teams are underwhelming. No squad has a positive goal differential. The two teams that seemed like potential contenders have been somewhere between depressing (Capitals) and a disaster (the Lightning).

There’s one saving grace for the Southeast, though: the race to find a winner could be downright fascinating.

Handicapping the Southeast

The Carolina Hurricanes (55 points in 59 games played) have been hot lately, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll rule out the East’s bottom team. Here’s a real quick look at the rest of the division, as the streaking Lightning have a semi-reasonable chance now:

source: AP1. Florida: 27 wins, 65 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 58 games played; 12 home and 12 road games left
2. Washington: 29 wins, 63 points (28 regulation-OT wins) in 58 GP; 12 home and 12 road games left
3. Winnipeg: 28 wins, 62 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 60 GP; 13 home and 9 road games left
4. Tampa Bay: 26 wins, 58 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 58 GP; 13 home and 11 road games left

Honestly, all four teams have interesting prospects.

  • The Panthers have the division lead and for all their flaws, they’ve fought through some tough injuries.
  • With Mike Green seemingly circling a return, tiebreaker advantages in the “wins” categories and all that talent, the Capitals are still my best guess for the division champs.
  • Winnipeg’s Games Played gap worries me a bit, but they started a lengthy homestand that could very well catapult them into serious contention. The Jets aren’t going to be as insignificant as many assume.
  • Speaking of dark horse candidates, the Lightning could be in a remarkably similar situation to the one the Jets face – especially if they get the four points necessary to tie them up via shootouts on the road. Tampa Bay’s been dreadful, but that could be a blessing in disguise; if the Bolts get better in their own end, they might have that “everything’s coming together” feeling.

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Kind of a fascinating situation, right? With a surprisingly intriguing race in mind, I cannot resist asking what you think. Who’s your choice for the division-winner? And could any of these teams actually do damage in the playoffs?

Note: despite the fact that they have basically zero chance, I included Carolina in the poll to be nice – and so people won’t yell at me.

Here are highlights of the Ducks’ blanking the Panthers:

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Little-known Langhamer spurns Ducks comeback for Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Both of Monday’s games could have gone beyond regulation, yet the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks were left kicking themselves after failing to generate standings points.

In the case of the Ducks, they simply couldn’t overcome a lousy start to the Arizona Coyotes. They erased most of a 3-0 deficit but ultimately fell 3-2 on Monday.

Again, it was an ugly opening for Anaheim.

Randy Carlyle turned to John Gibson to start the second period and the red-hot goalie didn’t give up a goal; even so, his strong work wasn’t rewarded with anything but nice numbers.

Ryan Getzlaf scored both of Anaheim’s goals, including one with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period and the Ducks’ net empty. You’d think that would be the end of the drama, but that wasn’t the case.

Mike Smith needed to leave the net during the third, likely because of a collision with Jakob Silfverberg. (Sounds like he’s OK, though.)

This forced Marek Langhamer to close out the game, meaning he had to deal with Anaheim’s endgame barrage. That included making quite the clutch stop against Sami Vatanen, spurning quite the attempt to tie:

Wow.

A quick primer on Langhamer: he was a seventh-round pick by the Coyotes (then Phoenix, 184th overall in 2012). He’s spent chunks of this season in both the AHL and ECHL, so this must be quite the moment for the 22-year-old.

As cool as that story is, the Ducks have to be kicking themselves. Instead of going ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for the second spot in the Pacific, both teams remain locked at 72 points (with Edmonton holding two games in hand).

Coyotes fans might have mixed feelings about the returns for Michael Stone, but beating their division rivals had to feel like a resounding win.

Yes, the Florida Panthers are indeed on fire

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  Michael Sgarbossa #48 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated after scoring a goal during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers are on a ridiculous roll right now. They’re even hotter than the also-quite-hot St. Louis Blues.

You could practically hear the air leave the building in St. Louis as Vincent Trocheck‘s goal made it 2-1 with just five seconds remaining in regulation. To little surprise, that ended up being the final score on Monday in what was otherwise quite the goaltending duel between James Reimer and Jake Allen.

The Panthers won all five games of what seemed to be a harrowing road trip on paper:

Feb. 11: 7-4 win against Predators
Feb. 15: 6-5 OT win against Sharks
Feb. 17: 4-1 win against Ducks
Feb. 18: 3-2 win vs. Kings
Tonight: 2-1 win over St. Louis

The Panthers now face a four-game homestand to close out February and also play seven of eight in Florida. (Actually, eight of nine, as they close out that run by visiting the Lightning on March 11).

Anyway, the Cats are in the catbird seat, and they finish the night back in front of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division:

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 GP
2. Senators: 68 in 57
3. Panthers – 66 in 58

Bruins – 66 in 59
Maple Leafs – 65 in 58
Sabres – 62 in 60
Lightning – 60 in 58
Red Wings – 58 in 59

As you can see, games in hand stand as Florida’s advantage over Boston, but with the Bruins holding the second wild card spot, the Panthers’ position in the playoff picture is clear (if vulnerable).

Again, it wasn’t like the Panthers outright dominated the Blues.

St. Louis and Florida both looked sharp in this one, but the Blues have lost two straight games in regulation after reeling off a six-game winning streak. With a ton of road games on the docket through the next month, the Blues will just need to keep fighting.

At least Mike Yeo has an easy team to point to in explaining how the Blues can overcome such challenges.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.