This Week in Southern Hockey

Atlanta 7-1-1 1st in the Southeast
Three games, three wins. The Thrash defeated Washington once and Florida twice in the past seven days, giving them a six-point cushion in the Southeast. Yes, it's early, but luckily the ol' "points count the same in October or February" adage comes true, and doubly so when most of those points are against SE opponents. The blazing start has been mostly attributed to Kari Lehtonen and rightly so. The kid's been outstanding and the extremely capable Johan Hedberg has seen exactly two seconds of ice time in 9 games. Look for him to play Thursday against Philadelphia, however, giving Kari a much-deserved rest before Atlanta heads up to Buffalo to take on the league's top team. Oh, yeah, and Kovalchuk's on track. His hat trick to beat the Cats came after saying in an intermission interview: "I'm doing my job. I'm plus-four!" On deck: Four road games should really put the Thrashers' early hype to the test. Carolina's looking better, Philly will still have a pathetically slow defense but might be fired up with their sudden overhaul, Buffalo's 9-0-0 and Toronto is never an easy place to play. 6 out of 8 would be an excellent week.

Carolina 3-4-2 T-3rd in the Southeast
Only two games, and the sole point came in an OT loss to the New York Islanders. However, they're still 3-1-1 in their last five, and the loss was to Buffalo, which isn't anything to be particularly ashamed of. They aren't getting shut out, either -- they put up four against the Sabres. Carolina's still got some significant injuries: Letowski and Stillman aren't ready, Andrew Ladd should be back for the Atlanta game and Wesley and Wallin are maybes. On deck: Atlanta will be a tough game, with the Thrashers looking to avenge the last-second loss back on Friday the 13th. Carolina follows up the Wednesday game with a home-and-home against the Bolts. They need four points.

Florida 4-5-1 2nd in the Southeast
Not such a good week for Florida, though they maintain their second-place spot by a point over the Canes and Bolts. They did defeat the Flyers 3-2 (but really, who hasn't), but fell to SE rivals Washington once and Atlanta twice in the meantime. Captain Jokinen continues to lead the team with four goals and 11 points, with Stephen Weiss just behind at 3-5-8. Mike Van Ryn leads the team with 8 assists. On deck: The schedule doesn't get any lighter. The Cats have another four-game week on tap, including the first three on the road at the Rangers, Devils and Isles, before returning home to host San Jose. And 1-3 isn't going to keep them from falling to double digits behind Atlanta.

Nashville 4-3-1 1st in the Central
A prolific week for the Preds! Wins over the Rangers and Devils and a point gained in an overtime loss to Vancouver vaulted Nashville from fifth to first in the West's Central division. Sure, it's a one-point lead and nobody else is better than .500, but take what you can get, and all. On deck: Hosting the Sharks before it's out west to face Calgary and the Canucks. Four points would be a good way to enter November.

Tampa Bay 4-4-0 T-3rd in the Southeast
Two games and two wins over Philadelphia and Washington bring the Bolts back to .500 and into a tie with the Canes behind Florida at third in the division. On deck: After a five-day break, Tampa plays three games in four days. Home-and-home with Carolina and then San Jose continues their southern tour. I don't see them taking more than two points this week.

I write less and less as I go along. It's because as I type, I'm thinking of how I have to get up at 6 a.m. for a 14.5-hour day, nine of which are spent teaching.

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