Not many people were surprised when the eastern conference representative to the NHL Stanley Cup Finals was from the Atlantic division last year. Many were surprised that it was in fact the Kovalchuk/Broduer led Devils and not the Malkin lead Penguins, the Rangers coached by Mr Personality, or the Flyers with their goaltender and his Humongous Big contract.
Penguins: If Fluery plays at any point like he did in the playoffs last spring, the season could be over right there. Both Vokoun and Zatkoff will be salivating for the #1 spot if he slips up. Worse still, this teams defense is not as good as it was last year. Kunitz, Adams, and Dupuis are all on the shady side of thirty and as we saw last spring, even a healthy Malkin and Crosby can’t carry this team without a lot of help. Brandon Sutter is a very promising young center, how well he fills Jordan Staal’s locker remains to be seen.
Rangers; With the Nash induced overhaul the chemistry of this team will have changed a lot. What won’t have changed is a goaltender who gets too much work for his body, and possibly his mind, who isn’t quite as good in the playoffs as Roberto Luongo. What also hasn’t changed is that a large chunk of the cap space, particularly at forward likes to take nights off, frequently. The good news is that Marc Staal is healthy, Kris Krieder should be good go, and people will continue to ignore the enormous impact of Dan Girardi on this team despite the All Star’s constant excellence.
Islanders: In this short of a season, anything can happen. even Rick Dipietro not being the punchline of injury jokes. Nabokov is more than capable of taking this team of tomorrows stars to the playoffs with just a little help. Brad Boyes may find rejuvenation on Long Island, Thomas Hickey looks like he’ll finally get an NHL shot, and Vishnovsky is after Girardi the next best defensive defenseman in the division. I don’t actually expect to see John Tavares play his first NHL post season game this year, but I don’t expect the Islanders to be in the bottom of the standings.
Flyers: Bryzgalov has to be better and more consistent this season, right? Right? Even if he’s not, this team is a playoff lock without a colossal failure to show up. How well the Schenn’s play will impact the team a lot, Luke is used to playing in front of beer league goaltenders so that won’t be much of an adjustment, but playing with a highly talented offense will be. Where both of their minutes per game are at seasons end might be the most intriguing question about the regular season for this team.
Devils: Kovalchuk who last year led all forwards in ice time, was 5th in scoring, played huge short handed minutes and should have won the MVP will be back, hopefully sans the lower body injury that lamed him for two rounds last spring. Parise is gone, and while MB30 is back in crease, you have to ask how much is left in that tank, and if the lockout helped or hurt him. The two Adams can almost certainly look forward to even better years.
Top Dogs: I’m going to reluctantly pick the Penguins on the strength of having the best backup goaltender.