Our NHL fanatic friend, Joe Pasquali, has written an Atlantic Division preview for the 2009-10 season. He is a Red Wings fan, so you would think that he has some stinging hatred for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Where does he think the Penguins will finish this season? Who makes the playoffs out of the Atlantic? Can the Rangers contend for the division crown? Pasquali discusses these questions and much more.
The Penguins have owned the Eastern Conference the last two seasons with the production of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If those players can stay healthy, you have to think that they will go deep into the playoffs once again.
New Jersey Devils*
New York Rangers*
New York Islanders
(* denotes playoff birth)
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – The defending champs return a team that is in their prime at all the right positions. Your captain, your leading scorer, and your goalie have all made strides through their early seasons and are now seasoned all-stars. The only question for Pittsburgh is how big of a Cup hangover will they have? This has not been a “great” regular season team, still with the talent they have they should win the Atlantic. Barely.
2. New Jersey Devils – They don’t have the star power as the rest of the big boys in the Atlantic, but the Devils play great defense and still have one of the best goalies around in Brodeur. Rob Niedermayer will bring a grit to a team that desperately needed it late in the season. Also, coach Jacques Lemair is back in New Jersey after being away for 11 years. When he was in town New Jersey played the best defense in the league.
3. New York Rangers – Every year, this is the toughest team to predict in the NHL. On paper, the Rangers can hang with everyone. But, inconsistency from their 2nd and 3rd lines, injuries, and spotty goaltending has kept them from breaking into real Cup contention. The addition of Marian Gaborik should have hockey fans in the Big Apple excited this year. If he is healthy, he is still one of the best goal scorers in the league.
4. Philadelphia Flyers – Chris Pronger will make an immediate impact in the Eastern Conference. Besides Zdeno Chara, Pronger now becomes the best defenseman in the East and the best in the Atlantic Division. He brings grit and a mean streak that has really embraced that style of hockey the last few seasons. With less physical teams like the Penguins and the Rangers in the division, Philly could really make some noise by being the perennial bad boys of the Atlantic.
5. New York Islanders – One of the worst run franchise in the NHL, the New York Islanders have few bright spots heading into the 2009/10 season. If Rick DiPietro can return for the Islanders, he’ll make a big impact. Dwayne Roloson is a decent back up, but can’t be an everyday goalie if the Islanders want to get out of the cellar. John Taveres and Kyle Okposo should put up good numbers playing on the first line. These two youngsters should give Isles fans some hope for the future.
On a side note, for news on the Columbus Blue Jackets, go to Fanball’s Stingers On Ice, where America’s White Boy’s sweetbob updates regularly.