Tampa Bay Lightning (20-10-5, 2nd in Eastern Conference, 6th in the NHL)
The loss of #12 this past offseason was a shame, but to tell you the truth, Simon Gagne (99-10) is not having a good season. Three goals and 6 points in 17 games (he missed considerable time already due to a neck injury) along with a –14 ± suggest that he has lost his confidence once again, or perhaps his injuries are finally overwhelming him. There’s a distinct possibility that the Lightning do not re-sign him next year.
Gagne is joined by Steve Downie (07-09) and Randy Jones (03-09). Downie had a breakout season last year, tallying 22 goals and 24 assists, but his goal production has dropped off to his usual numbers this season. He is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain as of December 2. Jones, meanwhile, is playing as well as to be expected- as a borderline sixth defenseman.
Washington Capitals (20-12-5, 5th in Eastern Conference, 7th in the NHL)
For those watching HBO’s “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic,” you’re already aware that the Capitals have begun to slide heavily into the “lose” column, having lost nine of their last eleven games. As Flyers fans, we learned last year that sometimes adversity is a good thing, watching a team that was 14th in the conference at this exact time last year eventually make there way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Mike Knuble (05-09) signed with the Capitals when the Flyers refused to meet his contract demands. In his second season with the club, his production has declined from previous years (although he is still on pace for a decent season compared to most players). At 38, Knuble still has gas left in him, but he may be given the Bill Guerin treatment if he doesn’t finish the season well.
Atlanta Thrashers (19-13-5, 6th in Eastern Conference, 9th in the NHL)
Perhaps one of the most surprising teams this year, the Atlanta Thrashers are also fighting for first in the Southeast Division. Having reaped the benefits of the Blackhawks’ salary cap woes, the Thrashers acquired Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel and former Flyer Ben Eager (05-08) in the offseason. Adding that talent to their young prospect pool has created a very fun team to watch (even if no one in Atlanta watches them).
Eager and defenseman Freddy Meyer (03-07) serve as “gap” players that round out the line-up, although neither has been particularly effective. Eager plays on the fourth line when he’s not a healthy scratch and Meyer has only played seven games this season. To Meyer’s credit though, he laid the hammer down on the Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic in their last meeting that led to a 10-man scrum.
Carolina Hurricanes (15-14-4, 9th in Eastern Conference, 22nd in the NHL)
Joni Pitkanen (03-07) is on pace for his usual output, which is low on goals but ridiculous on assists. He has been a solid performer for the Hurricanes over the last several seasons, despite the fact that they have started this season struggling much like they did last year.
There are no former Flyers on the Florida Panthers.