With this NHL Season nearing the half-way point, ESPN NHL guru Barry Melrose shares his opinion on the Columbus Blue Jackets (27-6-4) along with the continuing struggles of the Tampa Bay Lightning (19-7-4) and the Florida Panthers (16-15-8).
The Blue Jackets
— ColumbusBlueJackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) January 6, 2017
The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming off an impressive 16-game win streak, tying a franchise record. They find themselves at the top of a very talented Metropolitan division and the best team of the Eastern Conference. According to Melrose, the Blue Jackets are without a doubt a good team despite being blown out by the Washington Capitals 5-0 last night. The Blue Jackets will look to continue their success in the latter half of the season.
Unfortunately, the Lightning and Panthers have not found the same success. Last season, both teams found themselves in the playoffs without relying on the Wildcard. This season, however, both teams are circling around the .500 mark with the Lightning sitting at fifth in the Atlantic Division and the Panthers at sixth.
Cooper: "We only scored one goal, so regardless of how Vasy did, we only got one." #NSHvsTBL
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) January 6, 2017
The Lightning have been forced to cope with some key injuries this season. Starting Goalie Ben Bishop has been out for the past two weeks and won’t look to return until around mid-January. Since then, Andrei Vasilevskiy has taken the role, but has been rather inconsistent. He has a better GAA than Bishop but in the last two games combined has allowed twelve goals. The Lightning are also without star center Steven Stamkos for at least until the playoffs. However, Melrose doesn’t seem impressed by the excuse that they have been injured this season.
The Panthers have only themselves to blame, according to Melrose, as their organizations turmoil has caused their lack of success. They find themselves in the exact same situation they were in last season and despite their moves are heading in the same direction. Even with the off-season moves that the Panthers made acquiring Keith Yandle and Mark Pysyk they have failed to change the team’s style of play. Their inconsistency has been prevalent all season and are currently on the outside looking in the Wildcard Race.
Luckily, there is a whole half of the season yet to be played. The Blue Jackets will be looking to stay hot in a division loaded with talent. Both the Lightning and Panthers are in striking distance of the Wildcard and will look to turn around their season in the latter half. There is a lot of hockey yet to play and a lot of opportunities for these teams to find their way in the post-season.