Friday, October 2, 2009

Eastern Conference breakdown, Part 2


The last remaining teams. I'll try to keep this short (I know, that's impossible for me.) I think next year I should break it down by division so the posts aren't as immensely long. Anyway.

Montreal Canadiens

Key forwards: Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez

Key defensemen: Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek

Goaltending: Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak

Outlook: Somehow ended up in the playoffs despite a woeful second half. Swept out of the playoffs. The result: A near entirely brand new team, at least among forwards and half the defense. No telling how the new forwards will gel, though the Cammalleri-Gomez-Gionta (the Seafood line, as told by someone on Puck Daddy's recent chat, because it's got Cammalleri together with two shrimps) seemed to do OK in the opener.

But a huge blow was delivered in Thursday's opener when Markov, a very good offensive defenseman and PP specialist sliced his tendon in his ankle and is out for up to four months. Hamrlik and Spacek must step up in his place. Price had a woeful season and at times lost his job to Halak but played very well Thursday and looks for a rebound season.

New York Rangers

Key forwards: Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Chris Higgins, Ales Kotalik

Key defensemen: Marc Staal, Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival

Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist, Stephen Valiquette

Outlook: Any offense at all last season would've gotten the Rangers past the Capitals in the playoffs. So they went out and got Gaborik, who I don't need to say anything about on a Wild blog. Will score boatloads if healthy. If not, Kotalik, Higgins, Vinny Prospal and emerging talents Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan will be looked to for offense.

The defense is led by massively overpaid and massively disappointing Wade Redden. Rozsival has a bit of offense. Lundqvist is one of the top goalies in the game, and has to be to carry the popgun offense of the Rangers, but had a bit of a down year last year.

Carolina Hurricanes

Key forwards: Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, Sergei Samsonov, Tuomo Ruutu, Erik Cole

Key defensemen: Joe Corvo, Joni Pitkanen

Goaltending: Cam Ward, Michael Leighton

Outlook: The late-season acquisition of Cole spurred this team to a red-hot finish and made them a team no one wanted to play in the playoffs, which No. 3 New Jersey and No. 1 Boston learned, both losing in Game 7s at home to the Hurricanes. Staal is one of the more gifted goal scorers in the game, and Cole and Ruutu provide support. Rod Brind'Amour could be in store for a comeback season now that he's fully healthy.

Ward is one of the top goalies in the game. At just 25 years old, he already has won a Cup and Conn Smythe trophy. Word out of Carolina is he dealt with back issues in the conference final. If those become a problem, this team will fall quickly.

Philadelphia Flyers

Key forwards: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell

Key defensemen: Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen

Goaltending: Ray Emery, Brian Boucher

Outlook: The Flyers seem to be the darling of a lot of experts to come out of the East. There's some good reason. Their top two lines are loaded with scoring talent, possibly the best in the game, and that's even with losing Mike Knuble to Washington. Briere had a tough year with injuries but appears healthy, and that will make them more dangerous. Richards should soon enter the discussion of best two-way players in the league, if he's not there already. Defensively he's tremendous and offensively he's peaking. Look for Claude Giroux to become one of the next top youngsters in the game.

Pronger was brought in mainly to stymie the Penguins. (Never mind he didn't do enough against the older, slower Red Wings. Sorry, can't help but editorialize a little.) With Timonen and Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia has a solid defense. But goaltending is the big question mark. Emery was such a hot commodity last year that he played in the KHL. Boucher played well in relief of Evgeni Nabokov at times and will probably be called on if Emery falters.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Key forwards: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal

Key defensemen: Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski

Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury, Brent Johnson

Outlook: Your defending Stanley Cup champions. Most of that team returns. Gone are defensive defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi. In their place, Jay McKee will step into the Scuderi role and Goligoski, much more offensive-minded than defensive, will take Gill's spot. The Penguins have two of the top three offensive players in the game, and Crosby actually has legitimate wingers to play with for the first time in his career, albeit one who is aging somewhat.

There's also Staal, who could be the best third-line center in the game. Gonchar is one of the top defensemen in the game, but rarely gets any publicity for it, and Letang and Goligoski both have a lot of offensive talent.

Fleury was the best Penguin on the ice in the four wins in the Final, but I've still seen people say he's not Pittsburgh's answer. Whatever. His next step is staying healthy and playing 60-65 games consistently. The biggest question is can this team hold up to the grind of two straight Finals appearances plus the inevitable Olympic break when a lot of players will play in the Games.

New Jersey Devils

Key forwards: Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, a currently injured Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner

Key defensemen: Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya

Goaltending: Martin Brodeur, Yann Danis

Outlook: Had their season saved by Scott Clemmensen, now in Florida. Brodeur is arguably the best goalie in the game and should return to form. The injury he suffered was more fluke than anything. Jacques Lemaire's arrival cast many a fear into fantasy owners as to what he would do with Parise, who exploded with 45 goals and 94 points. He'll carry the offense along with Langenbrunner, Zajac and Elias. The defense corps is underwhelming offensively but provides solid defensive work.

Washington Capitals

Key forwards: Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble

Key defensemen: Mike Green

Goaltending: Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov

Outlook: Arguably the best line in hockey in Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin. Knuble was a big boost to the second line and provides an additional scoring threat the Caps lacked before. Brooks Laich has potted 20 goals each of the last two seasons and provides a presence on the power play. Green needs to prove last year's 31-goal, 72-point season wasn't a fluke, and I don't think it was. No one has liked the coaching change from two seasons ago to Bruce Boudreau more than Green.

Who's the goalie? Theodore earned the first start of the season, but lost his job in the playoffs to Varlamov, who dazzled until Game 7 of the second round. The starting spot could change hands several times during the season. Varlamov will get a chance to show he's the real deal but Theodore isn't automatically consigned to the pine.

Boston Bruins

Key forwards: Marc Savard, Phil Kessel, Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler, David Krejci

Key defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, Derek Morris

Goaltending: Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask

Outlook: Based on the first game of the season, the Bruins probably wish they had paid Kessel. Their offense was negligible against a team that doesn't exactly stress defense. Ryder and Wheeler are wingers who will have to step up in Kessel's absence, and with one of the more gifted playmakers in Savard, performances like Thursday night should be more the exception than the rule. Krejci is a good No. 2 center and Milan Lucic has Bostonians (Bostoners? What's the word here?) remembering the days of Cam Neely.

Wideman stepped up his game in his second full season as a Bruin and provided solid offensive support for Chara, one of the best all-around defensemen in the game. Thomas won the Vezina Trophy but plays such an unorthodox style in goal, people ask, "He can't actually be any good, right?" He's 35 years old but doesn't have much NHL mileage on him, just four seasons of significant action. He probably won't have as good a year but should still rank as one of the top goalies.

And that concludes the team-by-team breakdown. Back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

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