A Look At The Eastern Conference

Sorry for the delay in getting my review of the Eastern Conference out but I had a final exam that took priority. I still have one more on Thursday but I'm almost ready

Without further ado here you go

Southeast Division

Washington Capitals (15-12-1; 31pts 8th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. PHI @WPG @COL vs. NAS @NJ

Washington is a team that basically lives and dies by the play of superstar Alex Ovechkin. When Ovie's on this team dominates when he's off well, lets just say it can get pretty ugly. Interestingly Washington has yet to go far in the playoffs. Special teams has been their Achilles heel. Coach Bruce Boudreau was recently fired and replaced by Kirk Muller Dale Hunter. It remains to be seen whether he can light a fire under this team. Goaltending is suspect. Currently they are missing stellar defenseman Mike Green which has hurt on the power play in particular.

Winnipeg Jets (13-12-4; 30pts 10th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. MIN vs. WAS vs. ANA vs. NYI vs. MTL

Regardless of whether the Jets make the playoffs this season will be regarded as a success because the team left Atlanta where it was leaking money due to playing in an empty arena night after night and returned to Winnipeg where they were welcomed with open arms. Back in May, rumors began to surface on Twitter that Mark Chipman and co., who had been trying to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes were on the verge of completing the deal to buy Atlanta. Those same sources said the deal was make or break with the NHL having to release the upcoming season's schedule. Just a couple of weeks later commissioner Gary Bettman touched down in Winnipeg and announced the deal and as they say the rest is history. Opening night was near perfect as enthusiastic fans cheered their heroes right until the final buzzer despite seeing their team go down in defeat to rival Montreal Canadiens. Nik Antropov netted the Jets first goal of their second coming. The first Jets win came 3 games later against the Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins with ex-Moose Tanner Glass potting the winner. Against Phoenix, the team replacing Winnipeg when they relocated after the 1995 season, they have won 1 and lost 1. As far as player personnel is concerned, the Jets are virtually icing the same team as last year. They are led by ex-Giant Evander Kane and several players who plated for the Manitoba Moose including Glass and Rick Rypien, but of course he took his life before stepping on the ice for Winnipeg. The Jets have a real shot at the playoffs which in itself would be a true Cindrella ending to this whale of a season.

Florida Panthers (16-9-5; 37pts 3rd in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. NJ vs. CGY vs. CAR vs. PHX @OTT

This is a case of what's in the water in Florida? In the off-season the Panthers were forced to sign several players to big contracts just to get to the salary floor. Usually when this happens the season doesn't turn out so well. In this case it worked and the Panthers are in first place in the Southeast. Tomas Fleischmann, coming off a blood clot in his lung, has been lighting it up on the scoreboard. So too have Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss. On the back end Brian Campbell has provided leadership and stability. Goalie Jose Theodore has been solid. Look out because Florida is primed to do damage in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning (12-15-2; 26 pts 13th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. NJ vs. CGY @CBJ @SJ @COL

The Lightning are the polar opposite of their neighbors from the same state. Just off a long run in the playoffs, the Lightning stayed pat in the offseason which has proven to be a mistake. Earlier there was a big controversy over the style of play employed by Tampa Bay. The lightning use a 1-3-1 format where a single player attacks and the other 4 on the ice hang back in the neutral zone. Philadelphia refused to advance the puck for over a minute before the referee blew play dead. One has to wonder what the Flyers were complaining about because based on the Lightning's current record this strategy isn't working. In fact they have allowed 19 more goals then they have scored. Steven Stamakos has continued his solid play and is in line to challenge again for the scoring title. A big reason for the Lightning's misfortunes has been the atrocious goaltending of Dwayne Roloson and back-up Mathieu Garon. Look for personnel changes soon.

Carolina Hurricanes (9-17-4; 22pts; 15th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: @TOR vs. VAN @FLA vs. PHX vs. OTT

It's incredible how low former MVP Cam Ward has sunk since backstopping his team to the Stanley Cup back in 2006. His numbers (.897 save% 3.28GAA) are brutal. Mind you he hasn't had a lot of support defensively or goal support. Back-up Brian Boucher has been worse in his games, allowing 20 goals in seven games played. The Hurricanes are a young team with not a lot of veteran help. Eric Staal has 18 points but he's a team-worst -17 meaning he's been on the ice 17 more times when the opposition has scored than when his team has scored. The only future bright spot is next years draft pick, which is likely to be the top pick or at least in the top 3.

Atlantic Division

Pittsburgh Penguins (17-9-4; 38pts 5th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. DET @OTT vs. BUF vs. CHI @WPG

Pittsburgh's biggest worry has to be the health of its 2 superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Especially Crosby. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year you know Crosby has been recovering from a severe concussion. He recently came back and just 8 games later he was injured again on a body check that looked rather benign. Malkin is coming off major knee surgery and he has required games off but he should be fine. Pittsburgh is a team who, once everyone's healthy, is going to be one to avoid come playoff time. They have so many weapons on offense. Defensively their young on the back end but Marc-Andre Fleury is a solid goalie who's put up good numbers thus far. Can you say Stanley Cup contender?

NY Rangers (17-6-4; 38pts 4th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. DAL @STL @PHX @NJ vs. NYI

For the month of October the Rangers were road warriors with Madison Square Gardens undergoing major renovations. They came out of that trip with a record of 3-4. Free agent signing Brad Richards and the injury-prone Marion Gaborik are having nice seasons with 25 pts each. Overall this is a young team, especially on the back end. The goaltender tandem of Martin Biron and Henrik Lundqvist has been outstanding with 3 shutouts between them and an average save% of .920. New York should make the playoffs aand be a difficult opponent.

New York Islanders (9-12-6; 24pts 14th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: @MTL vs. DAL @NYI @MIN @WPG

Goaltending is a major issue for the Islanders. When you start 4 different goalies in your first 25 games, it's generally not a sign of health or good things to come. Evgeni Nabakov is a controversial goalie. He started last season playing in Europe. He signed a one-year deal with Detroit about midway through last season, New York picked him up through waivers as Detroit was required to give all thirty teams a chance to pick him up to get him on their roster. Nabakov refused to play for the Islanders and essentially missed the 10-11 season. Over the summer he had a change of heart and played his way onto the team He has started 8 games, put up decent numbers but is currently injured. Rick Dipietro is a big $$ problem with a contract that runs through the 2021-22 season. Al Montoya has been the best of the bunch thus far with a respectful .920 Save% and 2.83GAA. The rest of the team led by blue-chip prospect John Tavares and Canucks snub Mikael Grabner, is young and still has a lot of growing to do. They'll get a good draft pick in the next 3 years.

New Jersey Devils (14-13-1; 29pts 12th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: @TB @FLA vs. DAL @MTL vs. NYR

The New Jersey Devils are yet another team hurt by a huge contract (see a pattern here?) They signed Ilya Kovalchuk initially to a 17 year deal that was promptly rejected by the NHL. So he and the Devils shaved two years off the deal and that was enough to satisfy the league. The deal is really front-loaded with most of the salary in the first few years of the deal. Kovalchuk is near the top in scoring on the Devils but he's an atrocious -12 overall. Starter Martin Brodeur is near the end of his hall-of-fame career and his best days are behind him. He still shows flashes of his greatness but he's also looked pretty bad on some of the goals he's let in. Back-up Johan Hedberg has done all right, enough to give his team a chance to win. This team is middle-of-the-road when it comes to experience. Kovalchuk's contract is really hurting what the team might be able to do at the trade deadline.

Philadelphia Flyers (18-7-3; 39pts 1st in Eastern Conference) Next 5: @WAS @MTL vs. BOS @COL @DAL

Ah karma it's a bitch sometimes. For the past several seasons the Flyers main kryptonite has been its goalies. Every playoffs the Flyers were eliminated and questions were raised about their ability to stop pucks. They had tons of talent throughout their line-up, plenty of grit and some solid defenders but goaltending seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle. Over the summer they went out and traded for Ilya Bryzgalov promptly signing him to a fresh nine year deal. Bryzgalov;s numbers have been mixed, getting lit up by the Jets in a wild 9-8 game and beating rival Pittsburgh to take over 1st place. The Flyers also traded Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to change the dynamic in the locker room. Claude Giroux has absolutely played out of his shoes, clearly taking the bull by the horns in his opportunity to play top line minutes. Other players having solid years include Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr, who's making a successful comeback after 3 years out of the league. Philadelphia is a strong Stanley Cup contender but goaltending is still a big weakness.

Northeast Division

Boston Bruins (18-9-1; 37pts 2nd in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. LA @OTT @PHI vs. MTL vs. FLA

Ah the Boston Bruins, the big bad Bruins. This is an intimidating team at the best of times. When you play these guys, you better have pretty good padding, a lot of ice packs and Brendan Shanahan's number on speed dial. Winning the Stanley Cup hasn't changed the Bruins style of play. They hit hard, can score a bunch of goals and have a goalie who can stop the impossible. And the Bruins have the luxury of getting away with just about anything. Much has to do with forward Gregory Campbell being on the team and his dad Colin in a fairly prominent role with the NHL. Yes he's no longer handling the discipline but it still seems like he has a lot of influence on decisions or at least Shanahan senses his presence in NY. Another factor is Owner Jeremy Jacobs is fairly tight with commissioner Gary Bettman. Nevertheless, this is a legitimately good team that has a solid chance of repeating as Stanley Cup champs. Oh yeah and Jacobs should be phoning Bettman and asking him to schedule games vs. the Leafs more often.

Buffalo Sabres (15-12-2; 32pts 7th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. OTT vs. TOR @PIT @OTT @TOR

Another team another big money contract. This time it's Christian Ehrhoff who the Sabres were forced to overpay in order to prevent the Detroits of the world from signing him on July 1st. After 3 solid seasons in Vancouver, the Canucks decided they weren't going to be able to re-sign Ehrhoff and traded his rights to the Islanders who flipped him to Buffalo after their offer was rejected. So far it's looking like a bust as Ehrhoff has a terrible shooting % of 2.8 and is still a defensive liability in his own end. Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy lead the team in scoring. Goalie Ryan Miller's health has to be a concern as he has taken a couple of shots to the head from players body-checking him. Jhonas Enroth has done ok filling in for Miller but this team lives and dies with Miller in net. Look for the Sabres to be booking early tee times.

Toronto Maple Leafs (15-11-3; 33pts 6th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. CAR @BUF vs. VAN vs. LA vs. BUF

As usual, Toronto is teasing its poor fans. This year they got off to a white hot start leading the Eastern Conference or at least keeping the seat warm until Boston woke up from its early season slumber due to the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover, something the Leafs won't experience in the near future. Goalie James Reimeri s coming off a concussion himself and has looked shaky as have the other goalies who played in his absence. Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel have gotten off to really strong starts and have looked dangerous every time they've been on the ice. Penalty killing and special teams in general has been a major stumbling block for this team. Matthew Lombardi absolutely has to win the comeback player of the year award. He's coming off a serious, serious neck injury and his career looked dead but he made an improbable comeback after getting medical clearance back in October. The Leafs will be in a dog fight for one of the last spots in the playoffs.

Ottawa Senators (13-13-4; 30pts 11th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: @BUF vs. BOS vs. PIT vs. BUF vs. FLA

And we continue with our theme here as Ottawa has seen some horrendous goaltending from both Alex Auld and Craig Anderson. In fact the duo have combined to let in a whopping 105 goals thus far, 2nd only to the lowly Carolina Hurricanes. The scary part: Ottawa is a mere point out of 8th place in the Eastern Conference! Veteran Jason Spezza leads this sorry squad in points . Let the fire sale begin!

Montreal Canadiens (12-11-7; 31pts 9th in Eastern Conference) Next 5: vs. NYI vs. PHI vs. NJ @BOS @CHI

After a horrendous 1-7 start to the season the Canadiens fired Assistant Coach Perry Pearn. The move paid immediate dividends with the Habs winning the next 4 games. Carey Price has looked human at times but he's put up respectable numbers. The Canadiens are in the middle of the pack scoring and allowing goals. A big disappoint is the play of PK Subban who's got just 11 points and a single goal thus far. Those kind of numbers wont cut it if this team wants to be in the playoffs. They'll be in tough with Washington ahead of them right now.

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