Thursday, January 26, 2012
An All-Star Weekend Look Back: Eastern Conference
Today we begin our annual All-Star Weekend look back at our preseason predictions to see how we have fared with our guesswork. We will start today with the Eastern Conference, then take on the Western Conference on Friday, and then look at our playoff and award prognostications on the weekend.
We will take the teams in order of the current standings at the break and put our prediction in parenthesis.
1. New York Rangers (5) In the preseason we said “This could be the year that the Rangers move from being a borderline playoff team to a contender.” The Rangers have remained healthy and have gotten a good array of scoring, with Marion Gaborik leading the pack with 25 goals. Martin Biron has been great as the backup to Henrik Lundqvist, allowing him to take a few more games off to conserve energy. The Rangers will have their work cut out for them to remain at the top of the Atlantic Division for the rest of the year.
2. Boston Bruins (3) The expectation was for the Bruins to repeat as Northeast Division Champs and at this point they appear to be well on their way to doing so. After a slow start, they have played as well as anyone in the NHL and should cruise to a top seed in the playoffs. Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask have actually played better than their record setting season last year.
3. Washington Capitals (1) I really expected that this would be the year for the Caps and could never have expected the turmoil that led to Bruce Boudreau's firing. The team appears to have righted their ship and should win the Southeast Division rather handily. It is unfortunate that Mike Green will probably not see much action for the as he was an important cog in their defense and would help them go further in the playoffs.
4. Philadelphia Flyers (4) Even without Chris Pronger, the Flyers have performed about as we expected. We had concerns about Ilya Bryzgalov “falling into the black hole” that seems to engulf netminders in Philadelphia and while he has not fallen completely in, he has danced around the edge. Sergei Bobrowski has been a lifesaver for the Flyers at times.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (2) Sidney Crosby was a point and a half per game player when he played but unfortunately, he only made the lineup eight times. Evgeni Malkin is making a strong push for the Hart Trophy as he has been carrying the team on his back in recent weeks. James Neal was a great addition last season and is paying full dividends even without Crosby. The team should make the playoffs but their ability to go deep will rest on Crosby's return.
6. Ottawa Senators (15) “Little hope to escape the cellar in the East” was my preseason prediction for the Sens. They have had a great run but I'm still not convinced that they are a playoff team. Craig Anderson has been great as have their cast of “All-Star” performers. I doubt that the team will do as well down the stretch and put their chance for the postseason at 50-50.
7. Florida Panthers (14) The Cats are the other big surprise of the year and I will firmly predict that they will not make the playoffs unless they have a big injection of talent at the trade deadline. Kevin Dineen has performed miracles by bringing all the imported players together to make a team that performed well for a while but the smoke and mirrors that they have used so far will cease to work when the playoff push gets serious.
8. New Jersey Devils (9) The biggest challenge facing the Devils down the stretch will be their divisional opponents. However, like the Central Division in the West, I do expect the Atlantic to sneak four teams into the playoffs with the Devils bringing up the rear. Johan Hedberg has been a lifesaver, playing well enough to give Marty Brodeur a few games off to save himself for later in the year.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs (10) At this point, I predict that the Leafs will be the team to move into the top eight and bump out the Panthers or the Sens. They have been a marginally competitive team so far but I don't expect Brian Burke to be sitting on his hands at the deadline. I predict that Toronto will be one of the more active trade partners in the next five weeks for better or worse.
10. Winnipeg Jets (12) The Peggers have been great at home and have been one of the fun stories of the season but are horrible on the road, winning only seven games so far. As the season wears on, the travel will wear on them as well. It is too bad that the re-alignment has been delayed, returning them to Southeast Division purgatory for another year next season.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (6) The Bolts have been one of the bigger disappointments of the year in the NHL. They have played well at home but have been miserable on the road. Their reliance on the aging Dwayne Roloson as the number one goalie caught up with them and Mathieu Garon is a quality backup but cannot lead them to the promised land this season. Picking up a goalie at the trade deadline will help the future but will be too little, too late, this season.
12. Montreal Canadiens (8) The Habs have had an unexpected fall from grace and it has truly been a team effort. I had predicted that they were the best of a group below the top seven in the East and I was way off base. Little has gone right for the team and the fans have turned on them. They will be sellers at the deadline and hopefully will be able to pick up a few assets for the future.
13. New York Islanders (13) The Isles are exactly where I predicted them to be but have made strides lately with Evgeni Nabokov in net. Despite being in a tough division, I think that they will finish higher than their current position at season's end.
14. Buffalo Sabres (7) I predicted that “Lindy Ruff may have his toughest test yet” before the year started and was not a believer in buying a team, but I had no idea that things could go this wrong. Ever since Milan Lucic nailed Ryan Miller the Sabres have been in a tailspin and I don't see a soft landing. They will be sellers at the deadline and Ruff will survive the fall and be back next year.
15. Carolina Hurricanes (11) The Canes have been worse than expected and after seeing them in person, I can honestly say that they are indeed not very good. Injuries have not helped their situation and hopefully they can pick up a few assets at the deadline.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass