Wednesday night the NHL playoffs will open. This year there will be five Canadian teams ready to dance when the puck drops, two California teams, and only one Original Six matchup.

The Montreal Canadiens vs The New York Rangers

Unlike last year the Canadiens have a playoff berth. Also unlike last year they now have Shea Weber, Carey PriceAlex Radulov, Andrew Shaw and a cup winning coach behind the bench in the person of Claude Julien, The edge in this series is going to belong to which ever team can force the other to play their game. The Canadiens allowed fewer goals, the Rangers scored more. The Rangers aren’t far removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but no one is talking about them. The Rangers head into the playoffs remarkably healthy with no major players on the injury report. The Canadiens have the best pairing of top end number one defenseman and top flight goalie, and no one is talking about them either.

For the Canadiens it is really simple: Can Gallagher, Galchenyuk, and Radulov play in the Rangers end and score?

For the Rangers it is equally simple: Can they shore up the aging and infirm Lundqvist?

Biggest Strength

  • Canadiens: Goaltending
  • Rangers: depth of scoring

Biggest Weakness

  • Canadiens: goal scoring
  • Rangers: coaching

 

Minnesota Wild vs Saint Louis Blues

This series will get written off by many as “low key” and “boring”, don’t believe it for a minute. Both teams are happy to have avoided the Blackhawks in the first round, and the two central division rivals have been going at it since the Twin Cities reentered the NHL.. Special teams could be where this series is decided. The Blues and Wild each finished the season at over 21% on the powerplay. Expect a good amount of physicality. Vlad Sobotka has returned to the NHL in time to play for the Blues, Charlie Coyle and Nino Neiderietter will be there to deliver hit for hit.

In pure stats, the Wild have a marked advantage on both sides of the puck. That may well be offset by the invigoration former Wild coach Yeo has brought to the Blues who had a strong run to the end of the season.

Biggest Strength

  • Wild: balance
  • Blues: momentum

Biggest Weakness

  • Wild: Iffy and arguably overplayed Dubnyk in the last six weeks of the season.
  • Blues: Scoring depth

 

Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks

This series can be subtitled A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. The Oilers charged hard and climbed into a home ice advantage in the first round. The Sharks were grabbed by the undertow and yanked from a nine point lead in the division to making people doubt they’d see the second season with their skates on. The Sharks are built around an aging core, the Oilers are a team for whom the oldest members of the core are in their early twenties at the latest. The Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs in a very long time, and the Sharks were within reach of getting their names on the Cup last year.

For the Sharks to move on they have to find scoring. Their bottom six, their defense not named Burns will all need to pitch in.

For the Oilers, they will need to expand their core and learn how to play in the playoffs from the guys who have gone deep.

Biggest Strength

  • Oilers: Offense
  • Sharks: Experience

Biggest Weakness

  • Oilers: Penalty Kill
  • Sharks: Depth

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus BlueJackets

This might just be the best, hardest fought series in the first round series this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be considered the Columbus BlueJackets biggest rivals at this point, and I don’t think the Penguins like the Jackets very much either. It goes beyond Dubinsky versus Crosby. It’s going to be Bobrovski versus Murray, Seth Jones against Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson against Bryan Rust. This series will get personal, and will feature some of the best play in the NHL playoffs.

This is likely the the most evenly matched series in the east. The Penguins are better offensively, the Jackets defensively.

Biggest Strengths

  • Jackets: Defense and goaltending
  • Penguins: Offense

Biggest Weakness

  • Jackets: Inconsistency.
  • Penguins: Dinged up defense

 

Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames

The Ducks and Flames both played strong at the end of the year. The Flames are highlighted by the dynamic Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano on the backend, and Johnny Gaudreau the Boston College alumni. The Flames are a pretty balanced team, they aren’t very good or very bad at anything. The Ducks team needs to find some offense from their best players. The Flames need to be consistent sixty minutes a game. This is likely to be the lowest scoring series in the first round.

Biggest Strength

  • Ducks: John Gibson
  • Flames: Balance

Biggest Weakness

  • Ducks: Scoring
  • Flames: Netminding

Don’t forget to listen to this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and look for part two around noon eastern on Wednesday for the rest of the previews and some predictions for the first round.

When the Montreal Canadiens punted Brian Gionta and Josh Georges the team not only dumped their most recent captain but two thirds of their most visible leaders. On and off the ice in good seasons, bad stretches of team play, and when coaching came complete with three rings, a master of ceremonies and a big top, these two were a constant part of the equation on the positive side.

When Gionta inked his deal with the Buffalo Sabres, one of the most scrutinized captaincies in the NHL in one of the most intense media markets in the world. The question of who can replace him is a separate one than who should replace him. This isn’t a franchise at the bottom of the well that needs all the publicity it can get. There’s no freshly drafted future of the franchise who has oodles of talent and no bad history to trot out before the media.

Many will point to the flashiest player on the roster in situations like this and say yep that’s the guy!. In which case you’re looking at two or three players, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk lead that race. Probably in that order. An argument can be made for David Desharnais, who likely lands the francophone vote as well.

Taking a look at each of those candidates many list Subban as the front runner, he’s dynamic, he’s fast, strong, he can score almost at will, he’s young, he seemingly adores the media. On the negative side he’s still got holes in his defensive game, is prone to blowing his top on the ice, and is about the living definition of lightening rod.

Max Pacioretty has been the goal scorer in Montreal for the past few seasons, he’s a bigger body, has a blistering shot and elevates his game against rivals, and at 25 he has years and years ahead of him on the ice. On the negative side not only is he not a local franophone he’s yet another American, has failed in every season of his career to play a full slate of games, and a lot of the penalties he takes can be construed as the “selfish” variety.

Brendan Gallagher is young, smooth skating, possesses a quick shot, willingness to go anywhere for the puck and plays much bigger than his size. From the other perspective, he’s developing a reputation much akin to that of Alex Burrows and Steve Ott, and putting the C on that type of player says things about your franchise. There’s also the notable divisions that have been evident on this team in the last three or four years including the one along age lines.

Alex Galchenyuk has oodles of skill, is a solid powerplay contributor, and may turn into an elite forward. On the negative side you’ve got everything that can be said against Pacioretty and much of what can be said against Gallagher in addition to having the ill grace to have a Russian father.

Skill wise, no one could really fault a choice to honor any of these men. But in a market like Montreal, or any of the other original six markets, it isn’t just about skill. That’s why if I were passing the C along to its next guardian, I’d also consider what their on ice temperament is like, how well respected they are by players around the NHL, and of course looking carefully at where I think the teams window is.

For that reason the obvious choice is none of the above. While giving the captaincy to at least two of those named above would not be a mistake, that doesn’t mean a better choice can’t and shouldn’t be made. That better choice is Tom Plekanec.

We’re a week into the new NHL season. Teams have played between two and four games, and several possibly sustainable surprises have come out of the first seven days.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Secondary scoring may actually be a factor this year, the top two in points through three games were added since last year, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silferberg.

Boston Bruins: We know that this should be Jordan Caron’s last opportunity to carve out a roster spot in the top 9 of the team. What we don’t know is if he can.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that with four games played, and just one point in the bank, Ron Rolston and company are going to have to eventually get around to supporting their goaltenders who have done everything they could (Ryan Miller .963Sv% and Jhonas Enroth .912sv%).

Calgary Flames: While being tied for the points lead in your division is great, 18 year old rookie centers statistically don’t maintain a 1.2 ppg pace all season very often, and that’s what Sean Monahan is doing. Monahan is tied with Jiri Hudler for the teams points lead.

Carolina Hurricanes: What do we know about Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Ron Hainsey? Other than taking up 1/4th of the Canes cap space they are exactly 3 points behind Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner who lead the team in points.

Chicago Blackhawks: The champs enter the second week of the season with an odd vulnerability to Alex Steen and one of just two teams with a 1-1-1 record sitting in fourth place in their division.

Colorado Avalanche: 3-0-0? Great start for the Avalanche, but the team is averaging over 30 shots against per game, and Varlamov’s .963 sv% is more than just fighting out of his weight class.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Six goals through their first pair of games and twelve players have been involved in the scoring.

Dallas Stars: We know that with the possible exceptions of an over indulgent aunt of their no one picked Alex Chaisson and Brenden Dillon to lead the team in scoring through two games, certainly not management.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have points from ten different skaters through three games, and are winning 55.6% of their faceoffs.

Edmonton Oilers: The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it into a game, and that David Perron has contributed three points. The bad news is a 1-2-0 record that has them in the Pacific basement.

Florida Panthers: We know distinguishing yourself by playing the worst defense on this team will take a monumental effort of will.

Los Angeles Kings:  We know that Jeff Carter’s 36% of the teams goals is not a good sign for an offense that should be better than this.

Minnesota Wild: At 0-1-2 they are one of just three teams not to have a win yet. On the plus side Zach Parise has three goals.

Montreal Canadiens: Anyone who picked Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk to lead the team in scoring, and be in or tied for a top ten spot in the NHL scoring race, raise your hand.

Nashville Predators: We know this team needs more from fifth year forward Colin Wilson and third year man Craig Smith if they are going to be playing in the third week of April.

New Jersey Devils: While this team is far more balanced than last years both financially and on the ice, they are 0-1-3 through four games.  We also know this team needs to get younger real soon, of the six players with two points or more only soon to be 28 year old Damien Brunner is under 30.

New York Islanders: We know after a decade in the dumpster, the vertigo that goes along with finding themselves in 2nd entering the 2nd week of the season will leave some fans a bit giddy. Michael Grabner and his two point game per pace are a bit noteworthy as well.

New York Rangers: There are three bright spots to this season so far: Brad Richards is scoring, Marc Staal is playing, and Derek Stepan is signed and on the ice. Everything else from Henrik Lundqvist’s .897 sv% to 6th place in the Metropolitan division are ungood.

Ottawa Senators: If the playoffs were to start today, the Pesky Sens would own one of the two wildcard spots in the east, despite only winning one of their three games. At some point they will have to improve in one or both ends.

Philadelphia Flyers: When the Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Lecavalier, they appear to have signed his old teams basement lease as well.  Through four games they have just 2 points and are being outscored two to one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Just about nothing is going right for the team right now, their defense and penalty kill are both well below last years pace.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury has a career sv% of .910, so we’re all sure he can maintain his current .963 through and beyond this year, aren’t we? He should probably buy a $1000 savings bond for a defenseman’s kid every game he allows less than three goals.

San Jose Sharks:  So, Tomas Hertl. Launched 1000 puns, and leads the NHL in goals and points. He might manage to hold a place in the NHL for a bit.

Saint Louis Blues: Not a sad note in town as the David Backes, Vlad Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo, and company open the season 3-0-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning: While its only October, and the first week is just wrapping up, they currently hold the first eastern wild card spot. That fact becomes truly amazing when you realize that through three games Stamkos and St Louis only have one goal between them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This team might have a perfect record through four games if they hadn’t dumped Grabovski who is tied for 3rd in the NHL in scoring.

Vancouver Canucks: What is with Bobby Lou? He looked back to Olympic form in the preseason, and  since then its been mostly fizzle. At least the Sedins are producing again, its pure coincidence that this is their contract year.

Washington Capitals: The defense and goaltending have evaporated on this team since spring. Ovechkin appears to be back to world beating form.

Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien have four assists each through three games, the team is 2-1-0 and on the sunny side of the goal differential for a change. Evander Kane is on a point per game pace, lots to cheer about.

The Montreal Canadiens had an impressive regular season edging the Boston Bruins for the division title. Second place in the east was their reward for a job well done. By April the injury bug was already on first name basis with the whole organization. A decimated team went up against the Senators in the first round and bowed out in five games. The playoffs certainly didn’t end the way they wanted, but the regular season has to be counted a ringing success. P.K. Subban went from a contract dispute to a Norris Trophy winner in less than 50 games, Andrei Markov did the seemingly impossible and remained healthy for 48 straight games as well. Max Pacioretty led the team in scoring. Rookies Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchnyuk brought intensity, skill, and much needed scoring to the team.

When you enter a season looking to bounce off the eastern conference floor, you can’t ask for much more. This off season they added Danny Briere with a two year deal, and former San Jose Shark and Pittsburgh Penguin Douglas Murray on the defensive end. Looming over the team is an impending cap crunch. If the salary cap stays roughly the same, they are going to need to shed salary to be cap compliant in 2014-5. We saw that work to the advantage of the Blackhawks in the first of their most recent championships, can the Canadiens do that?

This season opens with a divisional rival visiting. The Maple Leafs pay a visit on October 1st, and the bleu, blanc, and rouge next host the Philadelphia Flyers before a three game tour of Western Canada. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will all play host to the Habs. The only back to back set is in Alberta, and that’s after four days off and then there’s a two day break before meeting the other team named for residents of Canada.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Canucks

Weakest opponent: Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

October promises to be a character test month for the Canadiens. There aren’t many top tier teams on their schedule. Only five of the teams they square off with were in the playoffs last year. Eight of their games are at home, with just five away in the seasons opening 15%. In the opening month, of those non playoff teams the Flyers and Oilers can be said to have improved, while the Flames and Stars are arguably only different than last year.

The biggest obstacle to this teams success lies within their own organization. The conflicts at ice level that received so much attention two seasons ago, did not appear to have been resolved at the end of the playoffs. The rumor mill insists those are not the only conflicts in the organization either. If the majority of the gentlemen working in the CH can pull together, there really isn’t a ceiling on what this team can do.

There are four teams who have set themselves apart  from this season. They play different styles, are split in two different conferences and have accomplished their dominance in different ways. The real question is, can they keep it up, and are they legitimate contenders?

The Chicago BlackHawks:

The Chicago Blackhawks have had the most spectacular season to date, they’ve attacked the league and gotten even non-hockey fans and media to take notice.

Facts:

  • Fifth in goals for.
  • Second in goals against.
  • Sixth in penalty kill.
  • Fourteenth in powerplay.

How they can get better:

  • Powerplay is only mediocre.
  • Patrick Sharp is injured, when he returns at anything like his normal self the team is instantly deeper and instantly more dangerous.

How they can get worse:

  • Emery and Crawford are playing way outside the zone of their normal skill set. Emery’s career save percentages is .908%, and his only season over 910 with more than 30 games played was back in 2005-06. Currently He’s at .917% Crawford in his previous two seasons has had sv%’s of .917% and .903%, for a career number of .912%, this season, with most of his numbers coming prior to the injury he’s at a.925%.
  • No injuries to date on their defense.
  • They can regress to something like last years road record where they were a .500 team.

Are they contenders:

  • Yes, they’ve won with worse goaltending, the west is weaker now than it was then, and the short season means if they stay healthy they’ve got a better than 50% chance of being in the Western Conference Finals.

The Montreal Canadiens:

Many people are surprised the Canadiens are this good and that the Northeast Division is very good this season. On the first one they shouldn’t be, last season was the perfect storm of disasters for Montreal.

Facts:

  • Fourth in goals for.
  • Tenth in goals against.
  • Ninth in powerplay.
  • Fifteenth in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Special teams are only average.
  • They are quite bad at faceoffs at 23rd.
  • Prust, Bourque, Diaz, can come back and contribute.

How they can get worse:

  • Essentially a one goalie team with no real depth in the system, as goes Price goes the Habs.
  • They are getting solid contributions from rookies, if Galchenyuk and Gallagher hit the wall, particularly i it is at the same time the team could suffer more than some expect.
  • The NHL or officials could get serious about diving/embellishment and take a long hard look a the team that has had more than twice as many powerplay opportunities as their nearest rival in the division.

Are they Contenders?

  • Maybe, not many of these players have been deep into the playoffs. More importantly, the goalie who last took them deep is no longer on the roster.

The Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim has been mighty this season. They added defense, they pulled a goalie surprise out of their back pocket, and they’ve not been shy about playing hard and fast.

Facts:

  • Third in goals for.
  • Ninth in goals against.
  • First on the powerplay.
  • Twenty-Eighth on the penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Penalty kill, penalty kill, penalty kill.
  • Hiller needs to play better, a sub .900s% isn’t gonna cut it.
  • At 25th in faceoffs, they absolutely need to get closer to 50%.

How they can get worse:

  • Their scoring depth could vanish, they only have 1 player with 10 goals or more, but have eleven with more than five.
  • The league could finally put together a book on Victor Fasth.
  • Management/Ownership could panic on the Corey Perry front and drop him for little, no, or the wrong return.

Are they Contenders:

Probably, Selanne is awesome, Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan together are more to handle than most teams have the blueline talent for. On the other hand, a lot of their team are either rookies or have no NHL playoff experience.

The Boston Bruins

New year but not much has changed in Boston, same coach, same top forward in Patrice Bergeron, same legitimate Norris contender in Zdeno Chara, and same physical, puck control style.

Facts:

  • Tenth in goals for.
  • Third in goals against.
  • Twenty-third in powerplay.
  • First in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Milan Lucic and their third line could show up and start scoring.
  • Their powerplay could get better.
  • They need to get better when trailing.

How they can get worse:

  • They’ve been phenomenally lucky on the injury front.
  • Rask has not been the healthiest goaltender in team history.
  • Scoring could decay.

Are they Contenders:

Yes, the goaltending remains a question but there is very little difference between this team and the one that won the Cup not so long ago.

 

Filling out the Team USA roster will require a mix of youth, international experience, and attitude. The Russians, the Canadians, and the upper echelon of European teams will not be intimidated by half the roster returning, or even two thirds. Part of what will be needed is a bit of familiarity, so anyone who has played with likely players wins the tie breaker over complete outsiders.

Top Priority:

  • Craig Anderson, he’s played with Erik Johnson, he’s the best goaltender in the NHL this season, and he’s got enough of a different style from both Miller and Quick that if the coach has to make a change, the opposition will have to make adjustments.
  • Dustin Byfuglien, big body, can play defense and forward, has won the Stanley Cup has played with Patrick Kane.
  • Jason Pominville, an infusion of skill is needed and this guy has it.
  • John Carlson, is highly talented, knows the tendencies of several of the big names from some of the other national teams.
  • Max Pacioretty has turned into one of the most interesting players in the NHL. Almost a point per game player on a team that has been injury prone over the last two seasons.

Priority:

  • Kevin Shattenkirk, has played well in the very defensive system in St Louis, has also played in the more free wheeling Colorado system in the past.
  • Seth Jones, has won World Junior gold, will likely be part of team USA for years to come, even if he only plays seven or eight minutes a game, good experience for the future.
  • Alex Galchenyuk, has played with Jones internationally, and plays with Pacioretty on the Habs.
  • Rob Scuderi, no international experience, but has won Stanley Cup’s in two radically different systems, the Los Angeles Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, among the leaders for US born defenseman in shorthanded ice time.
  • James van Riemsdyk has had solid international experience, currently playing with 2010 Silver Medalist Phil Kessel.

Possible:

  • Alex Goligoski, the Dallas Defenseman gets overlooked a lot, but it should be noted he’s putting up almost identical offensive numbers on the far less talented Dallas team as he did with the Penguins. Has a small amount of international experience.
  • Justin Faulk, great young defenseman burdened by a poor defensive team. Has played under the flag, plays in all situations, like Jones will likely be around for the next three Olympic cycles, has played with Gleason.
  • Drew Stafford, scored 52 points in 62 games including 31 goals two seasons ago, plays with Pominville, some international experience.
  • Erik Cole, former Olympian, World Championship experience, two time thirty goal scorer, played briefly with Galchenyuk, and a season with Pacioretty.
  • John Gaudreau, speedy little pure goal scorer,
  • John Gibson, WJC tournament MVP, stud goaltender.
  • Rocco Grimaldi, speedy, agile, had two goals in the WJC win over Sweden.
  • Blake Wheeler, great reach, good speed, plays in all situations.
  • J.T. Miller, played in on the WJC gold team with Gibson, Gaudreau, Grimaldi, Jones, playing for the Rangers and getting compliments from John Tortorello.

Long Shots:

  • Emerson Etem has proved himself at the junior level in the WHL, he’s yet to make a big mark in the NHL, but he’s got speed to burn and plays on the same team as Bobby Ryan, some games for the NAHL national team.
  • Tyler Myers if he can somehow get his grove back he’s undeniably talented, has developed some aggression, and is both a good skater and puck handler.
  • Brandon Dubinsky, has had a downturn in production lately, but had a good World Championship and is a great two way player.
  • Jack McCabe, captain of the gold team, solid defender, but the defense is the area where the team is likely to have the least turnover.
  • Jimmy Howard no slight on his talent, but he’s about the fourth best American goaltender in the NHL right now. National development team veteran.
  • T.J. Oshie, depending on how the top lines shake down he might find himself tapped to captain the penalty kill effort, also plays with Backes, some national experience, plays physical.
  • Kyle Palmeri has a hat trick this season, and half of his goals have been game winners, national experience, and plays with Bobby Ryan.
  • Paul Gaustad, incredible faceoff man, great penalty killer, like Oshie could end up as a “role player”, team guy.

Given the eventual composition of Teams Canada and Russia, ensuring there is a viable penalty kill, players at all positions who can skate, and guys who won’t wilt under physical play or the bright lights of Olympic play take priority over pure skill with questionable fortitude. With a deep enough team, playing against the weaker teams gets easier because you can use your whole bench and stay reasonably fresh for the games where one bad five minute stretch can bounce you from the metal round.

 

 

The perennial powers in the Eastern Conference are mostly living up to their potential. It is the bubble teams, and the wild cards that are making life so interesting.  I doubt anyone outside the Francosphere predicted the Canadiens would lead the Eastern Conference at any time, and yet they do. Predicting the Capitals as a basement dweller might have been a little easier, but it still counts as a surprise.

Washington Capitals: We know Adam Oates is a first year head coach. We know he didn’t get a real training camp to break everyone in. We know if McPhee fires him the general manager is probably writing his own pink slip at the same time. We know Mike Green still can’t stay healthy to save his life.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that after hundreds of reminders as to how long he’d been in place Lindy Ruff who still has five years left on his contract is no longer the Sabres head coach. We know the team’s identity is still unknown even to the men on the roster. We know they desperately need to improve at faceoffs. We also know we’re not going to see major changes to way the team plays until the general manager departs and someone else brings in the right mix of talent and attitude.

Florida Panthers: We know that part of last years division championship was a perfect storm of divisional woes. We know that no team in the east has scored less. We know that some of their youngsters are starting to come along. We know the teams goaltending woes are a real big part of why they aren’t performing better despite the emergence of Huberdeau.

New York Islanders: We know that John Tavares is really god damned good. We know that Brad Boyes appears to have a pulse again. We know those two and Matt Moulson aren’t enough to save the team from god awful goaltending and substandard defense. We know Vishnovsky is very unlikely to stick around past the end of the season and tutor the teams young defenders.

Winnipeg Jets: We know the Southeast divisions least south or east team is not great offensively, but that their defense is worse. We know the Jets are somehow worse at home than on the road. We know that if only two of your top five goal scorers have a positive +/- 200 foot hockey probably isn’t happening.  We know that the last time a goaltending tandem let a team to the Cup without either of them having a save percentage north of .900 was probably before most of the roster were allowed to cross the street by themselves.

Philadelphia Flyers: We know that this team is unbareably burdened by eight no trade and no movement clauses. We know this team has more ability that it is showing.  We know the goaltending has again, been reminiscent of the 1980s. We know the tether for the front office and coach have got to be pretty short.

Tampa Bay Lightning: We know if the team could transfer 10% of the talent from their top forwards to their defense they’d be a juggernaut. We know if the team had a third and fourth line who anyone outside the city could name their defense might not matter.  We know that Vincent Lecavalier is playing point per game hockey for the first time since George W. Bush was president. We know that Matheiu Garon is one of the best goaltenders in the southeast division this year.

New York Rangers: We know that not many people picked this team as a bubble team. We know that their powerplay can’t be properly described without using what some would call “unprintable words”. We know the offense as a whole can be called mediocre at best. We know Rick Nash somehow managed to play two games over a couple of days before he felt the hit from Milan Lucic that is blamed for his getting taken out of the lineup.

Ottawa Senators:  We know this a very resilient team.  We know Craig Anderson’s name should be etched onto the Hart and Vezina by early April if he stays anywhere near his current 1.49 gaa and .952 sv%. We know that despite the resilience and the absurd goaltending the team needs to either make a trade or find someone in the system to contribute outside the crease.

Toronto Maple Leafs: We know the Leafs have a coach who can get the individuals on the roster to play like a team. We know James Riemer is still built out of balsa wood and bubble gum. We know Phil Kessel is probably due a goal scoring explosion sometime real soon. We know a 4.4 shooting percentage is not something anyone associates with Kessel, even when he has one. We know that Grabovski is either being unforgivably misused or just having an off year after having been in the top three in scoring for the team the last two years.

Pittsburgh Penguins: We know this team can’t hold onto a shred of discipline when playing their cross state rivals. We know they can score. We know balance isn’t how this team is build. We know they are going to have to do something really creative to get under the cap next year and have a contender.

Boston Bruins: We know Brad Marchand is contributing big time. We know Nathan Horton is a UFA at the end of the season. We know the powerplay is still “a work in progress” despite success in recent games. We know they’ve played the least games so far of any team in the NHL.

Carolina Hurricanes: We know the team has their fair share of offensive talent.  We know Justin Faulk is the future of the teams blueline. We know they lead their division by being more evenly mediocre than the other teams in their division.

Montreal Canadiens: We know believers in karma will point to the last two season and say this is just an evening of the scales. We know those folks would be better served to point to the vastly underrated Tomas Plekanec and the rookie Alex Galchenyuk who have pushed the Habs offense from 20th last season to 9th th

This feature will run approximately every two weeks each season comparing a well known player to leagues newest crop of rising stars.

Dustin Brown the captain of last years Stanley Cup Champion finds himself on a team that’s mired in 12th place in the Western Conference. The Stanley Cup hangover is in affect. Well off his career points per game pace, “Fall Down Brown” has failed to slip points onto the score sheet in five of his last six games, and only has one multipoint game on the season. 3-3-6 in 14 games and -7.

Goaltenders:

  • Jake Allen of the St Louis Blues jumped into the fire when Halak went down and Elliot went off the rails. His sv% isn’t spectacular at .895, but the fact that he has 3 wins and 1 loss in four starts is. Allen is a QMHJL alumni who has two seasons in the AHL with 915% and 917% across 38 and 47 games.

Forwards:

  • 2012 3rd pick overall Alex Galchenyuk is leading all rookie forwards in +/- at +9, 10 points in his 16 games to date and third in points only gets more impressive when you realize he’s doing it all on just 12:03 of ice time a night.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau is tied for the rookie lead in goals scored with six, his 19.4% is kinda scary.  At 15:40 a night of ice time, there’s still room to get him more involved. While the Florida powerplay is rolling along at 17%, but “Hooby dooby doo” has just two powerplay assists in his 44:07 of PPTOI this season, you just have to wonder what he’ll be doing if he starts clicking on the man advantage.
  • Cory Conacher is the apex predator among rookie forwards right now, 5-9-14 +1, 1ppg, 2 GWG’s and all on a slim 15:15 per night. No one has as many points, and keeping just under a point per game rate this far into the season means the draft leftovers are likely to be the highest priced item on the menu when in a year or two.
  • With six goals and half dozen assists, Valdimir Taresenko has been steadily filling both columns, leaving for him tied for the goalscoring lead and 2nd in scoring overall.
  • Nail Yakupov whose twitter feed and post goal celebrations are reaching legendary status leads all rookies in powerplay goals, he’s fifth overall in scoring, and with so much talent higher up the depth chart any injuries there could see a huge explosion in his ice time and production.

Defense:

  • Third and scoring, first in +/- at +9 is the Penguins Simon Despres. 13:50 of TOI says the energies of the former Saint Johns Sea Dogs blueliner is being carefully deployed. No shorthanded ice time also shows he’s probably not as well rounded as some other young rearguards.
  • The Boston Bruins Dougie Hamilton is the youngest of the top four scoring defenseman, and in is second place with one goal and and five assists. On a TOI per point basis he’s more efficient than the defender in first place, but less so than Despres.
  • Paul Postma of the Winnipeg Jets has blocked more shots than the other gents in the top four scorers, and is playing pretty disciplined hockey with just one penalty in his first 14 games.
  • Justin Schultz leads rookie blueliners in scoring, but of the top three is least productive on a points per minute rate. That said, his forward corp might be the most talented 1-9 in the whole NHL, as he gets used to playing with them, it is unlikely any of the other rookies will keep pace with him.

Oh what an off season. The surprise firing of Brian Burke, the lack of contract for P.K. Subban which will no doubt fuel the “Subban to Boston” rumor mill, and Chris Bourque son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque coming home to Boston.

Buffalo: This is Ryan Millers last change to prove his Vezina winning season wasn’t an aberration. Twenty five or twenty six wins out of thirty to thirty games would shut up all his critics. The rest of the team still has to help by doing little things like scoring goals and defending each other on a consistent basis, which will be harder without pivot Derek Roy, but Hodgson and Grigorenko are very capable of filling that hole.

Toronto: With Burke out, and Nonis in, every player and member of the coaching staff should consider this an extended audition. Goaltending is still a big question. Playing coherently as a team and not as a collection of individuals is still a complete unknown to this team. Getting it together will be a monumental, but hardly impossible task. They remain, as they have for over a decade, a work in progress.

Montreal: Last season was pretty much the perfect storm of a season. Everything that could go wrong did, sometimes twice. Injuries, coaching chaos, front office shenanigans, a divided locker room, and all under the benevolent eye of the Montreal hockey media. The good news for Habs fans is it would be nearly impossible to be that bad, that injured, that messed up and that chaotic two seasons in a row. American Galchenyuk and Armstrong of Saskatchewan bring new blood and loads of potential help to the team.

Ottawa: The Senators voted themselves into the playoffs last year and someone rewrote the definition of best defenseman so Karlsson could win, but last year they got in with a lot of help from Buffalo and Montreal who both filled their pants more often than they filled the net. The team itself likely isn’t worse than last year, but they will be playing against better competition.

Boston: While some area scribes think the whole season comes down to Rask for the Bruins, its not that simple. The Bruins have three defensemen they can rely on: Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference, and then bunches and bunches of questions. McQuaid has been steady when healthy, Boychuk is up and down, and the rest of the platoon aiming for the 4-7 slots all have big, big question marks. Warsovsky is not a gifted skater and by comparison even David Krejci is a hulking behemoth. Hamilton hasn’t played a single professional game, and was just a part of the Canadian meltdown at World Juniors. Aaron Johnson is now his sixth NHL stop (assuming he plays in the NHL here) at age 29, and has only crossed 50 games twice. Those are the best bets for those slots but anything can happen.

Top Dogs: Boston and Buffalo duke it out until the end, both Khudobin and Rask are capable of playing red hot for weeks, and the guys behind them are itching for them to fail.