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Monday, January 14, 2013

2013 NHL Season Preview: Eastern Conference

Wild on Sports

It's back! The puck drops Friday night officially starting the 2013 NHL season. After missing nearly half the season due to lockout the short season will be about as exciting as it gets with each having playoff implications. Time to take a look at the players and teams to watch and our picks for Each Division and Stanley Cup Finals. Lets take a look at the Eastern Conference and what you can expect from each team for 2013.

Eastern Conference

Northeast Division:
The Boston Bruins return pretty much 100% in tack from 2012 with a terrific blend of youth and experience. Their lone question mark is in goal as Tuukka Rask takes over for the "retired" Tim Thomas. If Rask can prove that he can handle a full season work load, the Bruins are the clear favorites to come out of Northeast Division. On the Bruins heals are the Buffalo Sabers. A nice little rivalry between the two teams has flared up over the past year, fueled largely by the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller incident from last season that cost Miller a chunk of the season. During the off-season they traded offensive stalwart Derick Roy to Dallas for some added toughness in Steve Ott, a guy who can go toe to toe with Boston's bruisers and add another element to the rivalry. Ottawa could be a surprise team this season. They made the playoffs with a quiet 92 points last year and have a good young group led by Erik Karlsson. The goaltending tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner (who is having a phenomenal season in the AHL) could steal them a few games and make a difference in a short season. Toronto and Montreal are both a mess at this point. The Maple Leafs just dismissed GM Brian Burke after appearing to fail in his efforts to land Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo. Montreal made big news this week telling former leading scoring Scott Gomez to stay home as they plan to buy out his contract during the off-season. Both teams are on the outside looking in at this point.

Projected Finish:
1. Boston Bruins
2. Buffalo Sabers
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
5. Montreal Canadiens

Players to Watch:
Tyler Seguin, C BOS
Tuukka Rask, G BOS
Dougie Hamilton, D BOS
Tyler Ennis, F BUF
Marcus Foligno, F BUF
Robin Lehner, G OTT
James Reimer, G TOR

Atlantic Division:
Clearly the division with the most depth in the Eastern Conference is the Atlantic. The New Jersey Devils are the defending Eastern Division Champions and have been under the spotlight since the lockout ended with the uncertain status of superstar Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuck. Despite winning the East last season the Devils finished in 4th place in the division in the regular season. That alone goes to show the tremendous depth. The Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be sexy pick for 2013 among experts. With a healthy Sidney Crosby teaming up with stars in Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang and goalenter Marc-Andre Fleury it is hard to pick against the Penguins. One area of concern that is not gettig lot of play for the Penguins is the loss of hard nose player and penalty killing extraordinaire Jordan Staal to Carolina. With Staal gone, a lesser know player such as Pascal Dupuis or Tyler Kennedy will be looked upon to produce secondary scoring. The New York Rangers made the biggest off-season move acquiring all-star winger Rick Nash from Columbus. The line of Nash-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik could go down as one of the best in a decade. Combine that scoring capability with arguably the best goaltender in the world in Henrik Lundquist and you have a team that should be in the Stanley Cup discussion. The Philadelphia Flyers will once again be very competitive, but they will go as far as their goaltending can take them. If Bryzgalov can get his game together in the playoffs or they land Roberto Luongo they are certainly in the mix. The New York Islanders will be improved, but still are several steps behind the rest of the division at this point.
 Devils center Adam Henrique celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal to beat the Rangers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals. New Jersey will face Los Angeles tonight in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Projected Finish:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New York Rangers
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. New Jersey Devils
5. New York Islanders

Players to Watch:
Adam Larsson, D NJ
John Tavares, F NYI
Rick Nash, F NYR
Chris Kreider, F NYR
Sidney Crosby, F PIT
Marc-Andre Fleury, F PIT

The emergence of the Florida Panthers last season finally gave come credibility to the division that for several years was the Washington Capitals and those other guys. A lot of that credit is due to now 2nd year coach Kevin Dineen who brought a tough yet disciplined approach that made the Panthers very difficult to play against. The biggest question for Florida still remains in goal. There are whispers that the Panthers have kicked the tires on Roberto Luongo, but in the meantime will head to camp with the inconsistent Jose Theodore between the pipes. The afore mentioned Capitals are coming off a pretty good playoff run having knocked off then defending camp Boston before bowing out to the New York Rangers. It will be interesting to see the role of Alexander Ovechkin in new coach Adam Oates' system. His minutes dropped significantly in the playoffs under former coach Dale Hunter; a system that appeared to work. He is one of the most dynamic players in the league but can at times be penalty prone and a defensive liability. Without question the most improved team in the Southeast, possibly in the NHL is the Carolina Hurricanes. The additions of Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal will give the Hurricanes terrific offensive depth and scoring. They have one of the most underrated goaltenders in the league in Cam Ward who has a Stanley Cup ring to his credit and is one of the most durable and reliable players in the NHL. Winnipeg and Tampa Bay both pose threats to be dangerous in short seasons. In the end, depth and defense will doom both teams in their playoff quests.
Projected Finish:
1. Washington Capitals
2. Carolina Hurricanes
3. Florida Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
5. Winnipeg Jets

Players to Watch:
Jordan Staal, F CAR
Alexander Semin, F CAR
Peter Mueller, F FLA
Jason Garrison, D FLA
Anders Lindback, G TB
Branden Holtby, G WAS
Alexander Ovechkin, F WAS
Mark Scheifele, F WPG

Click for Western Conference Preview


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