Thursday, October 05, 2006

NHL Preview:Atlantic Division

Three games last night and now everyone else gets into action this evening. The New York Rangers are at home to host the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, in what promises to be another exciting year on 33rd and 7th.

The New York Rangers fell apart toward the end of last season; blame it on injuries, lack of experience, Olympic fatigue, or overdependence on a small sampling of players to score goals, or how about the Devils surprisingly winning 11 in a row after being seen as a team that might not even make the playoffs.

This Rangers' team went out and added some goals and experience in Brendan Shanahan, a dependable blueliner in Aaron Ward, and a speedy centerman who can put the puck in the net, former Carolina Hurricane Matt Cullen. Oh yeah, those guys have also won Stanley Cups. Add Adam Hall from Nashville who brings grit, a lot of potential for goals, and is pretty tough to move from in front of the opponent's net and you have a definite upgrade. Shanahan will be a force on the power play and will help to take the pressure off Jaromir Jagr. Meanwhile, Cullen is younger and more durable than Steve Rucchin was.

Another year for the King in between the pipes...Henrik Lundqvist won a gold medal for his home country, Sweden, last season. He helped to backstop the Rangers' revival and now is poised to carry his team deep into the playoffs. New York is very solid in goal with Kevin Weekes, Al Montoya, and Chris Holt waiting in the wings.

On the blueline the Rangers have a pretty good crop of defenders. Darius Kasparaitis still delivers the hits and humor, while Fedor Tyutin continues to develop and will probably run the point on the power play. Hey, wasn't it Kasper who found that Petr Prucha disco song they play in The Garden? Beats dancing Larry that's for sure.

Meanwhile, 27-year old Karel Rachunek returns from Russia and is a good fit to also run things with the man advantage. Tom Poti is gone and that means the Garden faithful will have to find someone else to pick on. The question I have is when will Brian Leetch sign with the Blueshirts?

The forwards are very solid. Jagr, Shanahan, and natural goal scorer Prucha enters his sophomore season ready to improve on his 30 goal tally last season. These three could put up some very impressive numbers this year. Jagr and Shanahan on the power play together could be something special to watch.

The kids are definitely alright in Hartford. So many players in Hartford ready to make the jump to the NHL and they will be pushing hard. Jarkko Immonen, Ivan Baranka, Nigel Dawes, Bruce Graham, Lauri Korpikoski, and Greg Moore will at some point in the season make their way up the stairs from Penn Station to don a red, white, and blue jersey.

The Rangers are well-coached and have a good mix of veterans, young players, and even more young players ready to make it to the big show. Tom Renney and GM Glen Sather, along with assistant GM Don Maloney will have some tough decisions to make as the season rolls along, as to who comes up from Hartford and who is trade bait. One thing is for sure though, things will be worth watching again on Broadway. This year they'll edge the Devs for the division.

The New Jersey Devils will always be a Stanley Cup contender as long as Martin Brodeur is in goal for them. Marty will go down as the best goalie of all time when all is said and done topping my personal favorite, St. Patrick Roy. Things are different in Jersey with so many of their great defensemen retired or playing elsewhere. But the Devils have been managed so well over the last decade by GM Lou Lamoriello that there is little to worry about.

The forwards are impressive, some small and fast, some extremely nasty, but all are defensively responsible. Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Sergei Brylin, Jay Pandolfo, and John Madden headline the guys up front. Of course, who can forget Patrik Elias who turned down big, big money to remain in NJ. He played 45 games last year and was the spark the Devs needed to turn around an at-that-point otherwise lackluster season. A full season of Elias means the Devils will be more formidable offensively.

I do question the Devils' hiring of Claude Julien as Head Coach. I never thought much of him when he coached Montreal, but we will soon find out. It is amazing that the Devils have had so much success and so many different coaches.

The Devils only area that could use upgrading is on the blueline. They are in need of a puck moving defenseman for one and maybe another bruiser. Hmmm, if Leetch doesn't go to the Rangers maybe he moves across the Hudson?

Is this 1994 all over again? You don't want to miss any games between the Rangers and the Devils this season.

The Philadelphia Flyers are like a broken record; good forwards, slow hulking defenseman, and of course questionable in goal. GM Bob Clarke, is still Philly's favorite son, well at least owner Ed Snider's favorite. But he built a team for 1996 not 2006. More speed is needed, especially from their d-men.

The forwards look like this: Peter Forsberg is healthy, Simon Gagne is wealthy, and Mike Knuble is definitely wise. Petr Nedved plays more like a deadhead most of the time, although he is not as "soft" as he was portrayed in New York. Their penalty killers are awesome with Sami Kapanen and Mike Handzus. 'Zus shadows the other teams best forwards like no one else in the game.

The blueline is filled with immobile d-men. Mike Rathje, Denis Gauthier, and Derian Hatcher can all hit, but lack the quickness necessary for the new NHL.

Robert Esche and Antero Nittymaki are the goalies for the Flyers, which means that Clarke will be looking for a netminder at the trade deadline.

Keith Primeau and Eric Desjardins were both forced to retire due to injuries and will both be missed. I can't picture the Flyers without the always dependable Desjardins on the blueline.

The Flyers will be well-coached by Ken Hitchcock. Last year the injury bug ravaged the team from start to finish. They'll be tough most nights, but will gracefully bow out in the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a tough team to figure. The cornerstones for a dynasty seem to have been laid: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal all figure to have stellar careers in the NHL. Crosby we know is here now after scoring 39 goals last season. Malkin and Staal may be a couple of years away, but let's see what happens. There is plenty of veteran leadership on this team with John LeClair and Mark Recchi. But for right now the Penguins are still a one man show, also known as, The Crosby Show.

The defense features the gigantic Eric Cairns and Sergei Gonchar, which means whoever is in goal will face a barrage of shots every night.

Jocelyn Thibault will be somewhat of a tutor for Marc-Andre Fleury who promises to be an all-star, some day.

That's really what it comes down to for the Penguins; some day. Some day they will be great, some day Crosby will break records, some day Malkin will dazzle the fans. Some day they won't be playing in Pittsburgh. Some day it may be Hartford, more likely, Winnipeg or Quebec.

Many moons ago Wayne Gretzky referred to the New Jersey Devils as a "Mickey Mouse organization." Well, now Charles Wang and the New York Islanders get to act goofy and wear Mickey Mouse ears. Their offseason started out well by hiring Neil Smith to be the GM and Ted Nolan to be the Head Coach. But then Wang started meddling too much and he ended up alienating Smith. Now Garth Snow is the GM and he'll have his work cut out for him. Not only is it tough enough to build a good team but apparently Wang believes he knows more than everyone else. Wang is apparently taking a page out of George Steinbrenner's playbook, which was published in the 1980s and then thrown in the recycling bin in the 1990s. Islanders' fans will really have to worry if Wang shows up wearing a turtleneck and a blazer!

Neil Smith signed Chris Simon, Tom Poti, Brendan Witt, and Mike Sillinger. Pretty good moves. Simon brings toughness to a soft forwards corps, while Sillinger brings a dependable defensive-minded game but can also chip in some goals; Poti is good offensively from the blueline and Witt is a mean bodychecker, who may be a bit past his prime, but is still nasty. Miroslav Satan and Jason Blake will score goals and Alexei Yashin will leave everyone scratching their heads.

Hey, just wondering but wouldn't the Devils make a lot of money if they had Satan on their team. Or would some politically correct pinhead stage a protest? Just asking.

Rick DiPietro signed a 15-year, $67 million dollar deal to remain on Long Island. Fifteen years! Haven't the Isles learned from the whole 10-year, $87.5 million dollar fiasco also known as the Yashin contract. DiPietro hasn't had any help defensively, but he has not performed up to expectations. He was drafted first overall in 2000! You think the Islanders miss Roberto Luongo? I know one player they definitely don't miss, Eric Fichaud. What is it about the Islanders and goaltenders. Maybe they should just try to clone Billy Smith!

DiPietro's career to this point does not, in my eyes, garner that type of money. The whole thing seemed to be a publicity stunt from Mr. Wang and I'm not exactly sure why.

In summary the Isles will lose many games. They have some exciting players and Nolan will have them ready to play every night, but it will be another year sitting at home for this once proud franchise.

One other thing to wonder about...who blows a gasket first, DiPietro or Nolan?

So here is how the Atlantic shapes up:
1-Rangers
2-Devils
3-Flyers
4-Penguins
5-Islanders

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let's Go Rangers!

Anonymous said...

You really think the Islanders are gonna suck that bad?
-TL

ricky fritsch said...

Wow, DiPietro allows 6 goals in his first game since signing the big contract, 15 years of that and the Islanders will never get back to their glory days.

Anonymous said...

RANGERS...IN SEVEN!