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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eastern Conference Preview:

Last Year's Final Standings:

1 z - Montréal Canadiens


2 y - Pittsburgh Penguins


3 y - Washington Capitals


4 x - New Jersey Devils


5 x - New York Rangers


6 x - Philadelphia Flyers


7 x - Ottawa Senators


8 x - Boston Bruins


Last year, the Flyers got back in to the playoffs with a large overhaul, revamping their entire line-up; the Canadiens rode their superb powerplay to the top. The Penguins, young though skilled, failed to usurp the Habs in their quest for the East title. Also interesting was Washington exherting their influence on the weak Southeast division, though they would have made the playoffs regardless. Also, by fending off last minute surges by Carolina and Buffalo, the Bruins squeaked into the playoffs.

Pre-All-Star Game Predictions (Approximated)

1 z - Pittsburgh Penguins


2 y - Montréal Canadiens


3 y - Washington Capitals


4 x - Ottawa Senators


5 x - New York Rangers


6 x - New Jersey Devils


7 x - Philadelphia Flyers


8 x - Tampa Bay Lightning


This year, I see the Penguins establishing the start of their young dynasty: contrary to some cynics, the loss of Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, and Colby Armstrong will not affect the team. Last year's playoff push, though it will leave them a bit sluggish in October for a few games, will see them take the reigns and grow stronger as a team. Crosby, Malkin, and Staal will again show us why they were so dominant last year.

The Canadiens will still be as strong as always, though with Carey Price struggling at times to establish himself as more of a legitimate starting goaltender rather than a leading netminding prospect, they will have a hard time recapturing top spot. He will succeed, and the Canadiens, packed with young and exciting talent, will be near the top of the East. However, they will not be strong enough to fend off the Penguin attack.

Expect Washington to repeat the same circumstances that they were under last year. Strong within their division, they will be complacent against tougher competition in the East and in the West. However, they will have learned a lot from last year's playoff run as well as a growing stock of young but surprisingly resilient young talent. They could challenge for the semi-finals this year, IMO. Would they succeed? It would depend on the performance of Pittsburgh and Montreal. Simply, Washington's success will hinge on one word: Ovechkin.

The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, will run in circles this year. They will not advance forward nor drop back from where they were last season.

The additions to the Rangers are either aging stars or injury prone young-guns with questionable attitudes. Can they make a leader out of Zherdev? Will Naslund regain his form? Will Wade Redden be a leading PP point-man? These are some questions the Rangers need to answer. Because if they are not answered, their large payroll will look disgustingly dehabilitating once injuries kick in...

The New Jersey Devils, though not advancing forward in their quest for Lord Stanley, will have learned a lot about what works and what doesn't, from last year. Zach Parise and Travis Zajac will have good year, but whether Patrick Elias will deliver may be questionable this year.

As for changes in tune, watch for the Senators young talent, shielded by the uniting of the Alfredsson-Heatley-Spezza line, to have ample ice-time against lesser competition and they will shine. As shown in the photo above, the Nick Folignos, Antoine Vermettes, and Mike Fishers will definitely benefit from this.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, the biggest mover and shaker in this past off-season, will surprise everyone despite the "long layoff" of their head coach Barry Melrose. His fresh views and unorthodox coaching style will be take some getting used to in the short run. But as time goes on, the Lightning will be the only other team from the Southeast to make the playoffs this year. Though they might have overpaid a bit, the additions of Recchi, Malone, among other grittier folk, will guarantee a hard-nosed brand of hockey mended experience and skill. This will take some of the work off of the shoulders of the Lecavalier-St.Louis-??? (insert whatever player you prefer) line and allow the Stamkos line to flourish.

Agree? Disagree? Neutral? Post your comments below.

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