How far will the Rangers get this season?

Eastern Conference Preview
How the East will be won...

Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin


Western Conference Preview


#15 Florida Panthers

Skinny: The Panthers traded away two of the remaining skilled players they had left when they dealt Keith Ballard and Nathan Horton this offseason.  Now they’re left with Tomas Vokoun and very little else.  Vokoun has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence with Florida for the simple reason that he’s finally been able to stay healthy.  He’ll keep the Panthers in a lot of games, but won’t be able to save them from this lost season.  The Panthers have two offensive threats, Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik, and a third, David Booth, who is already having major concussion issues in his young career.  Outside of that, they are woefully short up front.  The Panther D is relatively young, but certainly better than the offense.  Bryan McCabe keeps hanging around and is still productive, and Dmitri Kulikov is really coming into his own.  Dennis Wideman came over in the Horton deal and is certainly a good player, but the Panthers were foolish to trade away one of their only talented forwards, as enigmatic as he may have been.


Fact or Fiction: Chris Higgins will rediscover his offensive touch this season.


Fiction.  Higgins was a huge disappointment for both the Rangers and Flames last season.  He’s still a solid third liner, capable of a checking forward role and great work on the penalty kill.  But Higgins was a promising candidate for a string of 20-goal seasons before his scoring touch vanished.  Injuries played a part, but Higgins seems to have no idea how to put the puck anymore.


#14 New York Islanders

Skinny: Some think the Islanders are a dark horse this season, but they just don’t have enough talent or experience to avoid the cellar.  When P.A. Parenteau has a legitimate chance to be your top line winger, you’re in trouble.  The Islanders chances also took a huge hit when Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit suffered long-term injuries.  Of course, the perennial question for the Islanders is in goal, where Rick DiPietro must stay healthy.  The Islanders have actually done alright in recent years with a hodge-podge of journeymen netminders, but they’d be foolish to expect Dwayne Roloson to be a consistent starter this season.  The Islanders’ D is serviceable, but they’re sorely lacking talent up front.


Fact or Fiction: John Tavares will follow in Steven Stamkos’ footsteps en route to a monster sophomore season.


Fiction.  Tavares tallied 20 points in the season’s final 20 games, so many are drawing the parallel.  But Tavares has two things working against him: he’s simply not on the same level as Stamkos as a natural goal-scorer, and he has no help.  Stamkos had Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier feeding him one-timers on the Lightning power play.  Tavares will have Doug Weight and possibly Trent Hunter.


#13 Carolina Hurricanes

Skinny: The up-year/down-year pattern of the Hurricanes over the last decade is befuddling.  Carolina didn’t necessarily blow up its core, but most of the key veterans of the last few years are now gone, and the Hurricanes have reloaded with young players.  It’s always hard to project how quickly a young team like this will develop chemistry and an identity.  Nevertheless, the Hurricanes have always been tough to play against.  They lack top talent up front, but have enough mid-level scorers to make them difficult to defend.  They are more solid on the blue line and in goal with the good-but-not great Cam Ward.  It will be interesting to see what kind of production Carolina gets from young talents Jamie McBain, Jeff Skinner and Brandon Sutter.


Fact or Fiction: Skinner belongs in the NHL


Fact.  Skinner proved throughout the preseason and at the Traverse City Tournament that the game is not too fast for him.  The big issue surrounding him at the June draft was his skating ability, and if anything, that appears to be a strength.  He’s making people take notice every time he’s on the ice and is a dark horse for the Calder Trophy.


#12 Toronto Maple Leafs

Skinny: Brian Burke’s plan for rebuilding the Leafs is progressing nicely.  He’s built an extremely solid blue line, has two decent goalies, and has accrued a few nice pieces up front.  Burke has always been a believer in building from the net out, and he’s done a very good job in Toronto.  Jonas Gustavsson was up and down in his rookie year, but much of it was out of his control.  If he struggles, the Leafs have an extremely solid alternative in the still-solid J.S. Giguere, although he had problems of his own last year.  Even if the Leafs finally deal Tomas Kaberle, they’ll have six very good NHL defensemen.  Burke has accumulated a surplus on the blue line and can now pick and choose who to keep and who to move for other assets.  The Leafs are certainly lacking firepower up front, but for a team in transition that’s to be expected.  Phil Kessel is one heckuva goal-scorer, and he’ll need to be because he won’t be getting much help.


Fact or Fiction: Dion Phaneuf will make a good captain.


Fact.  Phaneuf went from Norris Trophy candidate to run out of town in Calgary seemingly overnight.  His head didn’t seem to be on straight the last couple seasons, but Phaneuf is still a key veteran for this young team.  He’ll need to return to form to be a successful leader, but Phaneuf still has the natural talent to be a top defender in the NHL.


#11 Montreal Canadiens

Skinny: The Canadiens really overachieved in the playoffs last season, but without a little luck at the end of the regular season they wouldn’t have made the playoffs in the first place.  The biggest reason for their shocking success, Jaroslav Halak, was sent packing to St. Louis.  Montreal must now count on Carey Price and an undersized group to match last season’s success.  The Canadiens will really miss Andrei Markov for the first part of the year.  But, it will be fun to watch P.K. Subban develop, and Montreal has several other solid defensemen.  Up front, Mike Cammalleri is the engine that makes the Canadiens go.  He’ll be good for 30 goals, but Montreal could use another scorer.  Tomas Plekanec was a good re-signing, but Scott Gomez is a shell of himself.  In the end, Montreal got a lot of luck last year and it shouldn’t have messed with that by dealing Halak.


Fact or Fiction: Carey Price is prepared to be Montreal’s No. 1


Fiction.  This is the question that will define Montreal’s season.  They made a horrible decision by keeping Price instead of Halak and will pay the…price.  Carey just seems to fall victim to the pressure of Montreal’s expectations way too easily and his confidence is easily shattered.  He may yet succeed in the NHL, but I doubt it will be in the bleu, blanc, et rouge.


#10 Tampa Bay Lightning

Skinny: The Lightning made two big additions in Simon Gagne and Dan Ellis.  Mike Smith has been a very average goalie, so bringing in Ellis to handle the starting job

was a wise move.  Gagne will partner with Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis in a star-laden offense.  The top two lines for Tampa Bay will be very difficult to stop but they do lack depth.  On the blue line, much will depend on Victor Hedman’s development.  He was kind of quiet last year but seems like a likely candidate to break out this season.


Fact or Fiction: Stamkos is on the same level as Alex Ovechkin


Fact.  Stamkos and Ovechkin are now the two unquestioned best goal-scorers in the league.  Stamkos is impossible to defend because he has a wicked release, especially on one-timers, that is made even more potent because opponents can’t cheat over to him as much as they’d like with St. Louis or Lecavalier on the other side.  Stamkos will have another monster season.


#9 Ottawa Senators

Skinny: Ottawa has done a great job over the last decade moving out a couple players here and there when the time is right but still remaining a decent team the whole way through.  They’re not a true contender, but Ottawa will hang around.  The biggest problem for Ottawa is the inconsistency of the goalies.  They get away with it because there are three guys who can rotate in, but Ottawa would be a solid playoff team if it could only get a consistent clear starter.  Sergei Gonchar will be a huge addition for the Senators especially on the power play.  Along with Erik Karlsson, the Senators will have two very good puck-moving defensemen.  Up front the Senators will have nice balance as always.  They can get scoring from a variety of different sources and are a gritty group.


Fact or Fiction: Daniel Alfredsson is ageless


Fact.  Alfredsson has been around forever and still seems to be getting better every year.  He’s still good for 70 points every season and is an invaluable leader.  He’s really Ottawa’s version of Pavel Datsyuk.  Alfredsson is one of the game’s true treasures, and isn’t going anywhere soon.


#8 Atlanta Thrashers

Skinny: Everyone talks about the poaching of the Blackhawks by Atlanta, but it was the Ilya Kovalchuk deal that made it all possible.  Kovalchuk was obviously a goner, and Atlanta did a fantastic job in getting two impact players, Niclas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya, plus a host of picks and prospects.  They were able to turn much of that into the haul from Chicago, Andrew Ladd, Brent Soepel, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager.  Atlanta basically turned its one star into a ton of impact players, and that’s how smaller teams have to do business.  That fantastic job should be enough to get the Thrashers into the playoffs.  They’ll have to be careful with goalie Chris Mason, as he can’t handle a huge workload, so they’ll need to use Ondrej Pavelec early and often.  Look for a big season from Evander Kane.


Fact or Fiction: The Thrashers should deploy Dustin Byfuglien on defense


Fiction. The idea of having an offensive threat on the back end is proving irresistible for Atlanta, but Byfuglien is much better at forward.  He’ll never be as productive as he was during the playoffs, but he’s still a bruising power forward.  The Thrashers don’t have a whole lot of experience up front and Byfuglien would be a calming centerpiece to the offense.


#7 Buffalo Sabres

Skinny: The Sabres have been a pretty good team for quite a while, but can’t seem to get over the proverbial hump.  Obviously, they’re set in goal with USA goalie Ryan Miller.  But they’re lacking quality depth on defense, even with sophomore Tyler Myers on his way to stardom.  Up front, everyone is expecting big things from Tyler Ennis, and his emergence has really given the Sabres three quality scoring lines.  Buffalo has never really had top talent, but the Sabres make their living by playing solid, responsible team hockey.  They’re not quite good enough to beat any of the Eastern Conference’s five giants in a seven game series, but on a given night the Sabres can beat anyone.


Fact or Fiction: Ennis is bucking the trend and final proof that small players can succeed in the NHL


Fact. In the new NHL, it’s quite obvious that skill is more important than size.  But no one knew right away quite how little size was going to matter.  Small players have to bring a high intensity level and have no fear, but they can absolutely thrive in the NHL today.  Ennis has a great motor, is very fast, and has plenty of skill.  He’s basically the prototype for what little guys must aspire to be.


#6 New York Rangers

Skinny: See Rangers preview coming in a bit!


#5 Pittsburgh Penguins

Skinny: Everyone knows what the Penguins are capable of come playoff time, but Pittsburgh will struggle with its lack of depth up front over the course of an 82-game season.  With Jordan Staal out the Pittsburgh offense really consists of two players.  All-world players, but still, that’s just not enough scoring on most nights.  The good news for Pittsburgh is that the defense has undergone a tremendous upgrade.  Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were fantastic signings, and give the Penguins a great backbone for years to come.  Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be overrated, but the Penguins have proven they don’t really need a superstar in net


Fact or Fiction: Evgeni Malkin will have a bounce back season


Fact.  After two 100+ point seasons, Malkin fell to just 77 points least year.  But he missed time due to injury and was never quite right.  Malkin is often overshadowed by Sidney Crosby, but on his own Malkin is one of the best players in the world.  He’ll remind everyone of that this season.


#4 Philadelphia Flyers

Skinny: Last year’s Eastern Conference Champions have talent across the board, but as always, uncertainty in goal could derail them.  Michael Leighton’s injury could keep him out for some time and the Flyers will be forced to rely on the untested Sergei Bobrovsky.  Philadelphia dealt one of its integral pieces in Simon Gagne but was able to replace him with Nik Zherdev and some younger players.  The Flyers could easily have seven 20-goal scorers this season.  Led by Chris Pronger, the Flyers have a nice mix of skill, tenacity and leadership on defense.  This team is once again made for a playoff run.


Fact or Fiction: Claude Giroux will score 25 goals.


Fact.  Giroux has just scratched the surface of his talents; he could score 30 this year.  His 10 playoff goals were no fluke, Giroux has a nose for the net and the puck seems to find him in the offensive zone.


#3 Boston Bruins

Skinny: The big problem with the Bruins last season was their inability to put the puck in the net.  Add in Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton, and you’ve done a nice job addressing your problems.  The Bruins are now extremely deep up front and should have no problem outscoring opponents.  The Zdeno Chara led defense is very strong and goalie Tukka Rask could be a Vezina candidate this season.  The Bruins have done a very nice job building a deep lineup top to bottom, not unlike the Blackhawks of last year, and could be poised for a deep playoff run.


Fact or Fiction: Seguin will make a bigger impact than Taylor Hall this season


Fact.  The Bruins won’t really need Seguin to lead them, which will make it very easy for him to slowly grasp the NHL.  Of course, by all accounts Seguin’s maturity is phenomenal and he’s ready to star in the NHL right away.  He could be on the Bruins’ top line by the playoffs. 


#2 New Jersey Devils

Skinny: The Devils are absolutely loaded at every position and have clearly positioned themselves for one or two more runs while Martin Brodeur is still effective.  New Jersey’s old trap system has given way to a much more exciting style of play.  They’re still as good at protecting a lead as anyone, but the Devils can score plenty now as well.  The addition of Anton Volchenkov will pay huge dividends for New Jersey, and a full season from Ilya Kovalchuk will be a boon to New Jersey’s offense.  He’s been on a line with Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, a trio that looks poised to put up video game numbers.


Fact or Fiction: The Devils will move Jamie Langenbrunner to create cap room


Fiction.  There have been plenty of whispers about Langenbrunner being moved to the Avalanche in the last few weeks, but I can’t imagine that happening.  Langenbrunner is the team’s captain for a reason; he is the heart and soul of the team.  Langenbrunner is a force on both ends of the ice and is one of the team’s most important players.


#1 Washington Capitals

Skinny: The whole cast returns and is as good as ever.  Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green will put up huge numbers up front.  The pressing question for Washington is how youngsters John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth respond to bigger roles.  Each will be counted on heavily and must be ready to go in time for the playoffs.  Washington will have time to decide whether Varlamov or Neuvirth is a better choice to be the starter because neither will hold the Capitals back from winning the conference. 


Fact or Fiction: The Capitals are the Eastern Conference’s version of the San Jose Sharks


Fiction.  It’s too early to make this comparison just yet.  The Capitals will cruise through the regular season with ease again, and maybe after one more playoff failure we can start drawing legitimate parallels.  Washington is an ultra-skilled group but has been missing some unidentifiable aspect that has stopped them from winning it all.  It’s becoming a pretty big monkey on Washington’s back, but they deserve one more chance.  





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New York Rangers VS Chicago Blackhawks
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

  1 2 3 OT F
Rangers 3 0 0 - 3
Blackhawks 1 1 0 - 2

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