It’s been an interesting start of the season for the NHL’s Atlantic Division. It’s the home of the Eastern Conference’s best record it’s worst record…well, records. We’ll go through each team with some thoughts. I’ll start from the bottom up.
New York Islanders (4-12-4, 12 points)
This has to start with a comment that was posted by an Islanders fan on my first article:
How do my Isles have 10 points in their first 8 games? Are they just off to some stupid start before they go back to losing, or should I actually start paying attention to them?
In their first 7 games, the Isles went 4-1-2. They have not won a game since and own a record of 0-11-2 in those next 13 games. They’ve scored 18 goals in those 13 games, but have given up 50. That’s an average of 3.85 goals against per game. Ew.
They say you can’t win games if you can’t score. They also say that defenses win championships. Well, what do they say when you have a bad defense and a bad offense? Only four players have points in the double digits and the leading scorer is a defenseman. Rick DiPietro and his 15 year contract (I’m being serious, he’s got a 15 year contract) have been horrible with a GAA of nearly 4 and a save percentage of .867. Fortunately, Dwayne Roloson has decent numbers (2.58 GAA, .912 SV%), but when the team in front of you is averaging less than two goals a game, then it’s going to be tough to get any wins. And oh yeah, Roloson’s 41 years old, so don’t get used to him playing for much longer.
Unless something drastic happens, it doesn’t look good for the Islanders this year.
New Jersey Devils (6-13-2, 14 points)
They got the most prized free agent on the market, but that hasn’t exactly worked out well for them. They’ve been the league’s worst team until the Isles’ hard work took honor away from them. Like the Isles, they’ve got a case of the “we can’t score goals but can’t keep the other team from scoring” syndrome.
They’re not playing like those classic Devils teams: y’know, boring. But hey, they won a lot of games. Now they seem like they’ve thrown their whole team philosophy away for one player in Ilya Kovalchuk. They have players who can score in Patrik Elias and Zach Parise (now injured for awhile), but they’re also very responsible all around players. Kovalchuk play defense? Me think not. Or at least not yet. He’s on the first year of a 15 year contract, so one would have to assume that the Devils are going to try to make it work and maybe he can turn himself around defensively. So as it stands, his job is to score goals. Whatever else happens is just something the Devils are going to have to accept. That’s all well and good if he’s scoring, but his 4 goals (10 points) so far this season aren’t going to cut it. His season, as well as the entire team’s, was summed up in a recent shootout “attempt.”
Now Brodeur’s out for about two weeks with an elbow injury. That makes Johan Hedberg the starter for awhile. Somehow, some way, he shut out the Capitals in a 5-0 win last night. I wouldn’t get too used to scores like that with the Devils winning, especially with Brodeur being on and off the shelf with injuries. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be getting much better this year.
New York Rangers (12-9-1, 25 points)
The most important move the Rangers made this offseason may have been a subtraction. Wade Redden has been sent to the AHL and no longer has to cause Rangers fans ulcers with his play on the ice and ridiculous contract. This and the emergence of some young players have helped the Rangers enjoy a solid start to this year’s campaign.
Brandon Dubinsky leads the team in goals (12) and points (19) and is showing that he can be a real offensive threat in the league. He’s well on his way to shattering his previous career high in points and this could be the beginning of a late bloom of production from the center. Another player coming into his own is U.S. Olympian Ryan Callahan. He was a prolific scorer in the OHL and is looking to translate that into top line production after playing in the NHL for four previous seasons. If Gaborik starts producing better and stays healthy, the Rangers could have a very dangerous top scoring line.
What’s a bit strange about the Rangers is the goaltending situation. Henrik Lundqvist is not his usual self and is being outplayed on the stat sheet by backup Martin Biron. Do the Rangers stick with their stalwart in net or does Lundqvist lose a significant number of his typical 70-some starts to Biron?
Pittsburgh Penguins (12-8-2, 26 points)
It’s been an up and down season so far for the Penguins. This offseason, GM Shero built a very strong group of defensemen on paper despite losing Sergei Gonchar, but it’s been tough to job how good they’ve actually been because they’ve been mired in injuries. Despite Kris Letang’s breakout offensive season, the group has struggled at times. Players like Letang and Alex Goligoski may be able to bring some good offensive potential, but if they’re not playing like good defensemen, there could be some problems. But maybe they’ve begun to tighten things up given their recent success they’ve achieved.
The most interesting story out of the Pens has been the goaltending, like the Rangers. Marc-Andre Fleury started out the season about as bad as he could. He couldn’t buy the Pens a win, let alone steal one. Fortunately for the Pens, Brent Johnson played out of his mind in the beginning of the season, and has himself a nice record of 6-2-1 with excellent personal numbers to go along. Fleury’s picked up his pace since his poor start, but being such a hot and cold goalie throughout his career, would coach Dan Bylsma hesitate to hand the starting job to Johnson for awhile? How long of a leash does Fleury have now that they know that someone can play pretty well behind him?
If the defense sorts itself out, the goaltending is decent enough, and Crosby does as Crosby does, the Pens will do as they have in the past few years.
Philadelphia Flyers (14-6-2, 30 points)
All’s been very well in Flyerdom so far this season. They’re tied for best record in the conference with the Capitals (whom they’ve recently beaten) and have the best goal differential in the entire league (+23). Claude Giroux has continued his breakout since the playoffs last year and Mike Richards is producing at more than a point per game pace. The Briere-Hartnell-Leino line never lost their chemistry from the playoffs. Even if they’re not scoring, they’re pinning the opponent deep in their own zone. Goals have not been a problem for the Flyers.
I sound like a broken record, but the headlines in Philly have been about the goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky, signed as a free agent from Russia this past May, has taken the hockey world completely by surprise. He owns an excellent 11-3-1 record with a 2.29 GAA and .925 SV% so far and has at times dominated games. And while he’s gotten some nice goal support, he’s kept the team in games when the offense was sputtering in the beginning. But it also wouldn’t be fair to mention how good of a job the defense led by Chris Pronger has done. The pickups of Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell were severely underrated as both are in the top in the league in +/-…and they’re the third pairing.
This isn’t the first time that the Flyers have started out hot. The challenge will be to keep it up, which they haven’t always been able to do in the past.
Watch Sergei Bobrovsky. Is he the real deal and the anwer to the neverending goalie question for the Flyers or is he the product of an excellent defense in front of him and teams not having much of a scouting report on him?