NHL Metropolitan Preview: Is This the When for the Pens?
The 8½-month grind to wrest the Stanley Cup out of Los Angeles is almost upon us.
The official puck drop is Wed 8 Oct with four games on tap.
Yes, by virtue of their very existence, the Leafs are gonna give winning the Cup another go. They're a plucky bunch.
The New York Rangers are the defending Eastern Conference champions, and they're about to see a stiffer challenge in the Metropolitan Division this season. The Rangers still have the best goalie in the conference in Henrik Lundqvist but lost top players in Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, and Brad Richards. The Blueshirts are hoping that newcomers Dan Boyle, Jasper Fasth, and Ryan Malone can get them back to the Cup finals.
Improbable to dream of the Cup next spring? Of course, but all King Henrik needs is the offense to give him a margin of error every now and then. That's possible.
Frankly, the Pittsburgh Penguins' season doesn't start until the playoffs. With their talent, the Pens need to win a Stanley Cup and soon. New coach in Mike Johnston has two of the best players in the game -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- and as usual, Pittsburgh is a heavy favorite in the division. However, after failing short in the playoffs in earch of the last five years, the Pens must at least make an appearance in the finals in 2015 or a more radical shuffling will be in their cards.
Believe it or not, Columbus has become a fashionable choice to contend. The Blue Jackets are hoping that goalie Sergei Bobrovski can get them over the proverbial first-round hump and make their first deep run into spring. Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson, and newcomer Scott Hartnell must play at a high level for Columbus to have another good season. The supporting cast is adequate.
Philadelphia and New Jersey are always in the playoff mix, although the Devils have uncharacteristally fallen short the past two years. The Flyers lost to the Rangers in seven games lastspring and will again struggle in goal unless Steve Mason steps up. Tall order. Claude Giroux will be the key for Philadelphia again this year if he can stay healthy for a full season. New Jersey now has Corey Schnider in goal without Marty Brodeur looking over his shoulder. Dude's gotta finally live up to his hype and produce over an entire schedule. If not, Lou Lamoriello will consider coach Peter DeBoer the fall guy.
Washington has a new coach in Barry Trotz and a great player in Alex Ovechkin. His intention is to limit Ovie's shift lengths in order for him to be more productive late in the games. How he arrived at this conclusion after the flamboyant Russian has led the NHL in shots since forever is the question. Maybe he's just too used to squeezing effort out of average players all those years in Nashville. This will be a sidebar to follow, for sure.
Carolina and the New York Islanders will be challenged just to be mentioned in the same sentence as playoffs. Fortunately, there are many fine golf courses within an easy drive of Raleigh, while John Tavares and the other young Isles talent will be closer to the hotspots of Brooklyn to recover from what looks to be a steady diet of frustrating results.