Arguably, the Atlantic Division could be the strongest division in all of the NHL, save for a couple of blemishes. Just to rattle off some names, the Atlantic Division includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Rick Nash, John Tavares, Ilya Kovalchuk, among others in the stratosphere of the NHL elite. Here’s a look at each of the teams in this division of heavy hitters, the order in which they will finish, and what could become each team’s Achilles heel.
5. New York Islanders (2011-2012 – 79 points, 27th Overall, 14th in Conference, 5th in Division): Despite losing out on the new arena in Nassau, Charles Wang opened up the purse strings a bit, and allowed GM Garth Snow to sign a couple of players that could improve the beleaguered Isles chances at escaping total suffocation at the bottom of the Eastern Conference ocean, starting with Brad Boyes. Unfortunately, it won’t get them a playoff berth. It seems that the only thing Islanders fans have to look forward to is counting the days until their mature-beyond-his-years leader John Tavares and his mates move to Brooklyn. Furthermore, will Lubomir Visnovski actually show up to play in an Islanders’ jersey? Time will tell. (Prediction: 12th place in Conference)
4. New Jersey Devils (2011-2012 – 102 pts, 9th Overall, 6th in Conference, 4th in Division, Lost in Stanley Cup Finals to the LA Kings): The New Jersey Devils are a conundrum. Largely on paper, they seem like they have a week roster, especially with the departure of their emotional leader Zach Parise. Parise’s exit has left the Devils with a big question mark. Who will lead them? Will it be drama queen and elite forward Ilya Kovalchuk? Will the ageless Patrick Elias pick up the mantle? And then there’s the issue of goaltending. All due respect to Martin Brodeur, there’s no guarantee that his 40+ year old body will be able to handle a short, compressed schedule, and his back up Johan Hedberg isn’t much younger. Overall, the Devils just don’t seem like they’re going to get much further than they did last year, and may miss the playoffs, buried by a field of teams in the Eastern Conference that seem improved from last year. (Prediction: 10th place in Conference)
3. Philadelphia Flyers (2011-2012 – 103 pts, 6th Overall, 5th in Conference, 3rd in Division, lost in Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to the New Jersey Devils): When last we saw the Flyers, they were getting buried underneath the huuuumunnnngous beeeeg failure of their goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Incidentally, the colorful netminder was the reason newly crowned Cup champs Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were dealt away in the 2011 off season. Wonder how Paul Holmgren is feeling about those moves now. With Chris Pronger sitting out the season with post-concussion symptoms, Holmgren got to dealing again, this time swapping New Jersey native James Van Reimsdyk for enigmatic blueliner Luke Schenn. There is still hope for the Flyers, however, in the form of a fairly healthy Claude Giroux. Will Bryzgalov recover from a sub par season, or will he explode like a Spinal Tap drummer? Look for the Flyers to sneak into the playoffs in a 7th or 8th seed, and exit early, unless their goaltending gets significantly more stable. (Prediction: 7th in Conference)
2. New York Rangers (2011-2012 – 109 pts, 2nd Overall, 1st in Conference, 1st in Division, lost in Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Devils): Here’s the reality of things. The New York Rangers ran out of gas last year, losing to their arch enemies from Newark, NJ. There just wasn’t enough: not enough scoring, even though Gaborik scored 41 goals during the regular season campaign, and he found late season chemistry with their prized center, and coach Tortorella’s favorite, Brad Richards. There wasn’t enough defense in front of Vezina winning goaltender Henrik Lundvist, since both Michael Sauer and Marc Staal went down with concussion related injury. In fact, Sauer is expected to miss the entire 48 game schedule. But, what the Rangers did show was heart. They had the heart of a champion, nearly winning the Presidents Trophy, and battling through a host of nagging injuries. With the additions of fourth liners Tyler Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, and Aaron Asham, along with some guy named Rick Nash, they have improved both depth and scoring. Add in a pinch of rookie exuberance with Chris Kreider, it seems like the biggest question is when the parade down the canyon of heroes will be. Hold the phone, however. On the surface, the Rangers have the makings of a dominating team, however much will be riding on the health of their top players. The Rangers struggled as the regular season transitioned into the playoffs, with a sub par Ottawa Senators side and a fish-out-of-water Washington Captials squad both took them to seven games. One injury on this squad could be the difference between contender and pretender in this sprint to Lord Stanley’s Silver Chalice. (Prediction: 4th in Conference)
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (108 pts, 4th Overall, 4th in Conference, 2nd in Division lost in Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Philadelphia Flyers) Last season, superstar Sidney Crosby spent most of his time struggling with post concussion symptoms. The Penguins, played on, led by Evgeni Malkin, to within one point of leading the Eastern Conference, and three measly points away from the top of the NHL. And then the playoffs hit. Where did the great Marc-Andre Fleury run off to, and who was that in net against the Flyers, wearing his gear? The biggest question for the Penguins is not whether Crosby will stay healthy for the season, but one has to wonder which Fleury will show up in Pittsburgh this season. Regardless of their goaltending, the Penguins have one of the most potent attacks in the entire league. And that’s without Crosby lacing up his skates every night. If Crosby can remain healthy, and the real Marc-Andre Fleury shows up to Pittsburgh, the Penguins have to be favored to win the division, conference, and could be the front runner to sip June champagne out of that fabled 35lb goblet. (Prediciton: 1st in Conference, 1st Overall)
To Read my other previews
Click Here for the Northeast Division. or
Here for the Southeast Division, or
Here for the Central Division or
Here for the Pacific Division or
Here for the Northwest Division
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