Articles

The Season – Atlantic Division

In Hockey Hits on September 29, 2010 by geespotting

THE SEASON

ATLANTIC DIVISION

…Now a look at what to expect this season in the Atlantic. It should be a good battle for top spot in the division between the Flyers, Devils and Pens. All three have had some big moves, good and bad, take place this off-season, but, they should all be playoff bound. Nothing new for the New York teams, as both the Rangers and Isles will struggle.

1.  NEW JERSEY DEVILS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Martin Brodeur

…This past Spring was another disappointing one in the swamp, as the Devils fell victim once again to an early post-season exit. It may happen again in 2011, but, they should be the best of the bunch in the Atlantic and finish first in the division. The key, even as he nears 40, is the play of Martin Brodeur. His game has dropped in the past few years, as injuries, and inconsistencies have taken their toll on the future Hall of Famer. That being said, he is still one of the top goalies in the world, and can still perform under pressure. Providing he is healthy, he should once again lead the way for the Devils, and get 60-65 games under his belt again. Marty will have some help on the blueline after Summer deals brought in Henrik Tallinder from the Sabres, and Anton Volchenkov from the Sens. I mentioned yesterday that it is so hard to replace a great shut-down d-man, and now the defence first Devils have one of the best in front of Marty. They did lose Paul Martin, which means that the point on the PP will suffer, but, Ilya Kovalchuk has proven to be a great point player. That Kovalchuk blast from the point could be the best in hockey. Retaining Kovalchuk was obviously the big move of the Summer, even with the headache between the NHL and NHLPA. Ilya and Zach Parise will form one of the top duos in the league, and having Travis Zajac in the middle setting them up will make a great line, providing that Travis can keep up! Beyond that, the forward position is littered with veteran performers in Elias, Langenbrunner, Rolston and Arnott. The moves on defence and the power of Kovalchuk will ensure a first place finish in Jersey.

PRIME POOL PIX: Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner.

BUYER BEWARE: Brian Rolston, Danius Zubrus.

2. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Chris Pronger

…It was a bizarre 2009/2010 season for Philly. They under-achieved all season long, and made it into the playoffs on the final afternoon of the season after a shootout win over the Rangers. They went into their first round series with the Devils with their 3rd string goalie (Brian Boucher) and ended up routing Jersey in 5. Round two brought the unlikely 3-0 comeback, done for only the 3rd time in hockey history. The Flyers went all the way to the Final, before falling in 6 to the Hawks. They saw, the good, bad and ugly. Heading into this season, there will be question marks in net with Michael Leighton and Boucher. Can they both play well enough to carry the team, or even stay healthy? Leighton is already on the shelf for the first month of the season. Chris Pronger will be back again, and has proven to be a winner wherever he plays, whether you like him or not. The supporting cast is pretty good too with Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. Up front, if the Flyer gunners can all stay healthy, they will once again have a pretty lethal attack. With the departure of Simon Gagne, that means more ice and expectations for the likes of Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk. The Flyers will be a strong contender to hit the Final again, but, this time, they won’t sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the season!

PRIME POOL PIX: Chris Pronger, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Nikolai Zherdev, Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino.

BUYER BEWARE: Michael Leighton, Kimmo Timonen, James Van Riemsdyk.

3. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Sidney Crosby

…The Pens are just one year removed from being Cup champs, but, they have now dipped to 3rd spot in the division. Marc-Andre Fleury will be solid in goal, but, it is the lack of offence that could be the achilles heel of this club. Funny saying that with Crosby and Malkin leading the way year after year. Beyond those two snipers, a lot of the firepower may have to come from the defence. Even with the loss of Sergei Gonchar, the Pens still have adequate puck movers in Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, and the newly acquired Paul Martin. Each of those three will get a ton of pp time, and will be contributors. Pittsburgh will also have to be a better team defensively, and will certainly get that help by the addition of Zbynek Michalek from the Coyotes. Like Anton Volchenkov, he is a premier shutdown player in the NHL, and will be missed dearly on the desert. My problem with this team is the lack of help up front beyond Crosby and Malkin. They will rack up their points, and be among the top scorers in the league, but, after that, the lineup is weak. It doesn’t help that Jordan Staal will miss the early part of the season. The loss of Ponikarovsky (even if he was a deadline deal) and Bill Guerin will hurt the Pens, and I am sorry, but, Mike Comrie isn’t going to be rediscovering his game. That won’t happen unless a certain someone becomes Lizzy Maguire again. Pittsburgh still has a strong core, and that core will lead them into the playoffs once again. Think of all the players that the Hawks lost this past Summer. Then think of their core…and you still have a pretty solid hockey club. Same thing in Steeltown.

PRIME POOL PIX: Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Goligoski, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin.

BUYER BEWARE: Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal.

4. NEW YORK RANGERS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Henrik Lundqvist

…It was heartbreak in the Big Apple last Spring when the Rangers lost a shootout to the Flyers on the final game of the season. Philly to the Finals…the Rangers to the golf course. This time around, golf season will come early again for New York. King Henrik has been the face of the team since his rookie season, but, even a Vezina calibre type of a season (which he is capable of) won’t be able to save this team. They do have a young and talented blueline, but, more experience and depth will be needed to help get this team into the playoffs. More will be expected of a corp group that includes Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi. Up front, Marian Gaborik has adjusted well to being the big guy on Madison, and had a career year, finishing among the top 10 scorers for the first time. Beyond that, the rest of the forward lineup includes a ton of toughness, but, also a ton of under-achievers. The wait continues for the likes of Brandon Dubinksy and Ryan Callahan. An injury to Chris Drury will take away some more offence, and the up and down play of newcomer Alex Frolov might be the ultimate Manhattan project. Light ’em up Slats…could be a long one!

PRIME POOL PIX: Henrik Lundqvist, Michael Del Zotto, Marian Gaborik, Alex Frolov.

BUYER BEWARE: Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinksy, Vinnie Prospal, Chris Drury.

5. NEW YORK ISLANDERS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: John Tavares

…It may take some time on the Island for this team to be competitive again, but, no team has suffered more in the pre-season than the Islanders. Two key players may be on the shelf for a long time, as Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo are both out for extended times. There are still some issues in goal as Dwayne Roloson stumbles to his retirement, and Rick Dipietro stumbles to the ice. On defence, there are a ton of holes, and not a ton of real talents on the horizon. Streit has proven to be one of the premier power play point producers in the game, and this injury will hurt the Islanders in a big way. Up front, New York does have a ton of young potential, but, one of those youngsters who was set to breakthrough was Okposo, who is having shoulder surgery, and essentially may have shot his season. Players like Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau and Matt Moulson will have to continue to grow and contribute, but, c’mon, if that is who you are depending on for goals…then you are already doomed! The gem is John Tavares. He had a so-so rookie campaign, but, a year in the league, and a fantastic world hockey championship, should be wonders for Tavares. As the Isles will falter, his game will thrive, ala Joe Sakic with the Nordiques in those dismal late 80’s, early 90’s years. It might be another early round draft pick for the Islanders this July, as they will finish in the bottom range of the league…once again.

PRIME POOL PICK: John Tavares.

BUYER BEWARE: Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson.

…So, there you go with the Atlantic. Tomorrow, a preview of the Southeast, where there will be more capital gains, some wild weather in Florida, and some more bottom dwelling. Details tomorrow!

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