by David Pavlak on 01/08/13 at 08:15 PM ET
The Atlantic Division is my favorite in the entire NHL. The level of skill, the teams, the rivalries and passion played in these games is as good as it gets. Whether it's Rangers v. Flyers, Flyers v. Devils, Devils v. Rangers, Flyers v. Penguins, nearly every contest is one worth watching. (unless of course it's against the Islanders! )
With that being said, here is my look at the Atlantic Division with the season quickly approaching.
New York Rangers (51-24-7 = 109 pts. First in Atlantic)
The Rangers were one of the strongest teams not only in the Atlantic Divison, but in the Eastern Conference, clinching the conference with 109 points. Inside the Atlantic, the Rangers were nearly impossible to beat. The Blueshirts went 3-2-1 against the Devils, 4-1-1 against the Islanders, 2-4 against the Penguins and a solid 6-0 sweep of the Flyers throughout the regular season.
Marian Gaborik led the Rangers in points last season, scoring 41 goals and 35 assists for 76 points. Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan were second and third on the Rangers scoring list with 66 and 54 points.
The Rangers biggest addition came in the form of Rick Nash, who had 30 goals last season for the Blue Jackets. To acquire Nash, the Rangers traded Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a 2013 first round pick. The price tag may seem a little steep, but if Nash is able to be the final push needed for the Blueshirts, it will all be worth it for the organization.
The Rangers will once again have the always-solid Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes when the season opens up on Jan. 19. Last season, Lundqvist went 39-18 and posted a 1.97 GAA. Through 20 games in the playoffs, Lundqvist's numbers improved as he posted a 1.82 GAA, but the Rangers were unable to get by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Championship.
I expect the Rangers to continue the same dominance shown from last season, ultimately finishing first in the Atlantic Division and an EXTREMELY big frontrunner for the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: First in the Atlantic Division
Pittsburgh Penguins (51-25-6 = 108 points. Second in Atlantic)
Last season, in the absence of Sidney Crosby who was recovering from post-concussion syndrome, Evgeni Malkin proved his worth in Pittsburgh. He finished the regular season as the points leader with 109 points. He finished with 50 goals, second only to Steven Stamkos' 60 and 59 assists, third to Claude Giroux's 65 and Henrik Sedin's 67. James Neal also stepped up tremendously, posting 81 points in 80 games.
The Penguins will be without Jordan Staal, who was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a 2012 first round pick. Last season, Sutter had 17 goals and 15 assists on defense for the Hurricanes.
Where the Penguins struggled, particularly in the playoffs, was goaltending. The Penguins were eliminated in the first round after six high scoring games with the Flyers. 56 total goals were scored in that series. The most was by Pittsburgh in a 10-3 rout, but the Penguins allowed two back-to-back eight goal games which doomed Pittsburgh.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury went 42-17 in the regular season, posting a 2.36 GAA. His GAA doubled in the playoffs to 4.63.
If the Penguins can fix their goaltending woes from last season early enough in the shortened season and everyone returns healthy, the Penguins will once again contend for the Atlantic Division. Crosby only played 22 games last season after he came back from post-concussion syndrome. His presence will need to be felt early and often in order to keep up with the Rangers. Ultimately, I think they will fall just short again of the Atlantic Division title.
Prediction: Second in the Atlantic.
Philadelphia Flyers (47-26-9 = 103 points. Third in Atlantic)
As expected, Claude Giroux did everything he could to push the Flyers into a deep playoff run. Unfortunately though, the Flyers ran into some of the biggest goalie problems in the whole NHL as Ilya Bryzgalov fell way below expectations in his first season for the Orange and Black. In 59 games, Bryzgalov went 33-16-7 with a 2.48 GAA. His numbers weren't terrible, but his inconsistency between the pipes was. Bryzgalov also tended to go off on rants that had nothing to do with hockey, which made him a sideshow more then a goaltender. People were more concerned what he was going to say next rather then watching him play the game. His love-hate relationship with the media was pushed so far that Bryzgalov stopped talking to the media for awhile. In a recent article, Bryzgalov says he has Philadelphia figured out now and he is ready to go. Only time will tell. The 2011-12 season also saw the resurrection of Jaromir Jagr, who finished the year with 19 goals and 35 assists before going to the Dallas Stars in the offseason.
The Flyers have a lot of young, talented players: Sean Couturier, Giroux, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Eric Wellwood, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson and Luke Schenn. With all the young talent, the Flyers may face a difficult time with the veteran teams during the 48-game season grind. With youth can come inexperience, and that's where I feel the Flyers may be lacking.
After getting by the Penguins in six games in the playoffs, the Flyers fell to the Devils in a four game sweep. The defense was questionable all year ever since Chris Pronger went down with a concussion. With new-comer Luke Schenn on board, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Meszaros will look to try to bring Philadelphia back to its expected winning ways.
Even with the Flyers predicted to finish fourth, the Rangers, Devils, Penguins and Flyers will all make the playoffs yet again.
Prediction: Fourth in the Atlantic.
New Jersey Devils (48-28-6 = 102 points. Fourth in Atlantic)
Easily the most surprising playoff run came from the New Jersey Devils, who nearly ran the table and won the Stanley Cup. Although they finished runner-ups to the LA Kings, the Devils proved that they are still a team to be reckoned with. The Devils will be without their captain though, as Zach Parise left the organization to become a member of the Minnesota Wild.
Together, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Parise, Adam Henrique and David Clarkson kept this team at a very competitive level. Kovalchuk finished the year with 37 goals and 46 assists. The biggest question mark coming into the season is how much of an impact will not having Parise affect this team? Not only will the team be affected by missing the points he regularly contributes, but he was also the heart and soul of the team.
The 40-year-old Martin Brodeur will once against backstop the Devils this season. Brodeur went 31-21-4 in the regular season with a 2.41 GAA but lowered those numbers a bit during the Stanley Cup run. Brodeur went 14-9-3 in the playoffs with a 2.12 GAA and seems as rejuvenated as ever to begin the shortened season.
Even without Parise leading the Devils this year, I think Kovalchuk, Elias, Henrique and a healthy Travis Zajac will be enough to make the Devils another pesky opponent for any team.
Adam Larsson, Andy Greene and the rest of the Devils defense will continue to improve upon themselves. The trip to the Stanley Cup last year will only boost the Devils confidence heading into the short season, ultimately leading to another good playoff run.
Prediction: Third in the Atlantic.
New York Islanders (34-37-11 = 79 points. Fifth in Atlantic)
What can you say about the Islanders that hasn't already been said?
John Tavares was once again the workhorse for the Islanders, posting 31 goals and 50 assists. Matt Moulson, PA Parentau, Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo added some much needed scoring, but overall the team is largely unthreatening. You can subtract Parentau's production from the team this coming season though as he has since moved on to the Colorado Avalanche.
Evegeni Nabakov went 19-18-3 with a 2.55 GAA. The biggest concern facing the Islanders right now is trying to get Lubomir Visnovsky to return to the team. After going overseas during the lockout, Visnovsky has informed the Islanders that he is not going to return to the team, citing that it is better for his family if he stays where he is now. This is the second time Visnovsky has tried to part ways with the Islanders.
The NHL and KHL had an agreement, and have confirmed that agreement, that the KHL would not hold any NHL players under contract after the new CBA was signed. However, Visnovsky is the one refusing to leave. This saga isn't over, but the message is clear: he doesn't want to be a member of the Islanders organization at all.
If there is one good thing going for the Islanders, it is that they know how to score the puck. As long as they can continue to score, they have a chance at staying relevant in the conference. However, with the high level of play being shown by other members of the division, the Islanders will continue to remain incredibly distant.
Prediction: Fifth in the Atlantic.
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I am an all around NHL fan. I love to watch Atlantic Division, and root for the Philadelphia Flyers. Just because I cheer for the Flyers, doesn’t mean I don’t keep up with the other teams in the division, specifically the New Jersey Devils. Devils Advocate will provide you with the most important Devils news, filled with my opinion about the selected topic.
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