Now that the 2012-2013 NHL lockout is over, here at Pucking Hockey we can get back to business. First up, we will do our yearly Eastern and Western Conference predictions.
The season will be a short one, yes we may even see unexpected teams make the playoffs where as they probably wouldn’t if this was a full season. So taking that into consideration this is how I expect the Eastern Conference to pan out before the playoffs.
I hate to say it, but the Rangers benefited from the lockout. They were going into the season with an injured Marion Gaborik and was not expected to come back until January some time. Well, he is healthy and ready to go, but does he still have his stamina?
Assuming Gaborik just picks up where he left off last season, EVERY team in the Eastern Conference needs to WATCH OUT for the Rangers.
To me Rick Nash will become a game breaker once again, while he is paired with Brad Richards. Fact is that Rangers were winning without him and were very, very good. Nash gives them another explosive option and that scoring threat to help Gaborik that they desperately lacked.
Chris Kreider is expected by the NY fans to challenge for the Calder trophy and should be fun to watch.
The young defense got a tough lesson in the playoffs and the offensive unit has not looked this good since 94, while if all of that breaks down you still have Henrik Lundqvist.
There is hardly anything that will satisfy this Broadway show other than a Cup final as most fans will agree. The Atlantic is theirs to take, so is the East, and so is the President’s Trophy. I see zero weakness in this team and my Stanley Cup favorite.
Well, it seems like nothing ever changes for the Bruins, right? Oh, yeah, Tim Thomas went into hiding. All should fall apart, but not-so for Boston.
In my opinion, Tim Thomas was the sole reason why the Bruins were knocked out of the playoffs last season. Yes, he did help them get into the playoffs but you can’t let politics get in the way of your job and just quit on your team.
Tuukka Rask will be very good, he has no reason not to be. The team in front of him is almost identical to the one that won the cup.
They do need a bit more from the top six as far as scoring, and I think Rich Peverley is a great candidate to break out if healthy, and will move land himself in the top six.
Look for them to dominate their division and slide in as 2nd in the East.
Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom, that is all. This team will go as much as these guys will. I think Adam Oates is the right man for the job to jump-start the red machine.
Adam Oates did wonders for the Devils powerplay and he will fix this one, too. 18th overall powerplay is not the best this team can do. Mike Green will be moved about on the powerplay to make him as effective as possible, and if you have not noticed the trend yet, I am a strong believer that a strong powerplay equals wins.
Mike Ribeiro finally gives the Capitals a true number two center. This will give more time for Ovie and Backstrom to play with each other (on the ice…). While there are some wild cards on the players’ side.
The goalie situation to me looks VERY good, in Holtby I trusted in the AHL and in Holtby I trust in the NHL. Some may compare him to Crawford and the woes he had last season, but to this I say “nonsense”. Holtby is one of the most focused goaltenders I have seen in a long time, and guys like that tend to be consistent.
The fact is that even if he plays well, this will not be enough to keep the job if Neuvirth plays well, too. We saw what competition between the goalies can do on the Blues. The best goaltending the Capitals had yet, look for a tight squeeze, but winning the Southeast is in the books.
Everyone knows the good, the bad, and the ugly with this team.
The blue line is thinner than OJ’s defense, but just like OJ had a good lawyer, the Flyers have their own Bobby Shapiro in their offense.
Pronger is the big question mark here; it does not look good, and there is NO hope that he will ever play again.
Bryzgalov is another question. If he plays a bit better than he did last year, we are looking at a very scary team. It is crazy how in just one year we are questioning Bryzgalov’s goaltending instead of praising it, but that is how this story goes. He looked solid in the semi finals last year, give or take a few mistakes, but there’s room for him to grow. That’s if he ever comes back from space….
Apparently Luke Schenn delivers pain on the back end, we will see. Flyers do not expect anything less than playoffs, but only with a bit more ruckus in the playoffs would it be considered a winning season here.
5) Pittsburgh Penguins
Malkin and Crosby make everyone around them shine, including dusters and grocery stick players.
The problem here is the back-end.
Fleury is not the all-world goaltender Pittsburgh have been waiting for, and the defense in front him is not all world either for that matter. They can score tons of goals, but last year the team posted a .903 save percentage as a team – not very good. This is not to say that simply outscoring your opponent every game will not do the trick, it can and it will. (just not in the playoffs)
The loss of Jordan Staal hurts those intangibles, such as team depth, that help you win. The penalty kill is very important and Crosby might have to play some PK time. Consider that Staal averaged two minutes per game killing penalties – quality like that is hard to find and replace.
There is not enough here to take down the NY Rangers to win the division.
Remember how I said the shortened season may show unexpected teams to make the playoffs? Well, the Jets are one of them, the key is Evander Kane.
After tweeting a picture of him holding a stack of $100 bills, he got A LOT of criticism from fans and the media. They basically stated that if Kane does not have a stellar season, he will be out of Winnipeg before the offseason.
I’ve watched Kane play and he can play and he can score when he is 110% committed to the game.
Young team with some very good offensive players that is looking to give the hungry fans an even better show then last year. The injury to Enstrom really hurt last season, he should be good for 40 plus points this year.
The important part is that he is very effective on the powerplay, however the back-end is not the issue for this team. The real issue is scoring goals. Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler stepped up last season, but that is not enough.
Kane needs to progress, like I mentioned earlier, into a dominant force and score in the 40-50 goal range. Right now they have a bunch of decent players who can put up 50 points, and with the short season NO ONE should get fatigued before the season ends.
Burmistrov and Antropov definitely need to raise their games, and while some people doubt him, I think you can trust Pavelec to be a good enough goalie.
Alfredsson is back and that is all you really needed to hear, right? Well, not quite.
Spezza resurrected himself last season and rose back to that elite status. If he does not get hurt and stay healthy, he is magic sauce.
With Spezza, Turris, and Zibanejad as the projected top-3 centers, this team has enough steam to lift itself up to 7th place in the east. Another young gun is Silfverberg, who should make a debut as well.
If Anderson can continue to have Ottawa’s faithful fall in love with his consistent play, we can count on this team being more than a playoff bubble team. Anderson’s play between the pipes is key to a successful season for the Senators.
Look, I am not saying Brodeur does not have anything left in the tank, though most others are. The problem here is that most people think that Parise was the glue that kept the ship from sinking, but I don’t think that is the case. Sure he played the forecheck very well which led them to the Stanley Cup Finals but the Devils have a new offensive leader and his name is Kovalchuk.
He led them in scoring in both the regular season and in the playoffs. Do not forget about Patrik “under-the-radar-for-the-last-decade” Elias and Travis Zajac.
With Adam Henrique proving he is the real deal in the playoffs, there is plenty of offense to be found here. Marty and Hedberg don’t give up much and you know the Devils will have an excellent defensive game.
This 8th and final spot was a tough one. The Devils are in a hard division and although I was one of the few rare believers of them last season, I think they will just make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
Honorable mentions for the final 8th spot was up between the Devils, Sabres, and Lightning.
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