The Atlantic Division has a lot different look this year as players from all 5 teams have come and gone since the end of last season. Besides hosting the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions, the Atlantic Division has some teams that could make a serious run and be very competitive amongst some of the best teams in the league. Today we join forces with Pat “Muncky” from A Clockwork Orange to talk about the teams where we will see lots of competitive and good hockey from this year.
New York Islanders:
Last Year’s Record Against: 6-0
After their first season with new coach Scott Gordon, the Islanders finished at the bottom of a competitive Atlantic Division and remained the only member to not make the playoffs. Finishing with only 61 points, they selected hyped Canadian center John Tavares with their first overall pick. He has been finding success in preseason when he is lined up with Matt Moulson, but time will tell how he does in his first full season in the NHL. They also signed former Flyer Marty Biron to be a backup, bringing their goalie total to the maximum of three along with other backup Dwayne Roloson. This has led to speculation that they needed a steady veteran in case DiPietro’s recovery time from his knee injury took longer than expected. They were right as he will not be starting in the beginning of the season.
This is a team in a serious rebuilding stage just like last year. Kyle Okposo had a strong season and the Isles probably hope to build on that with the addition of Tavares. We won all six against them, but towards the end of the season we saw just why the Flyers cannot fall asleep on teams like this when they were not playing hard against them. It’s a division match-up, so arguably it is always important.
Islanders: Going undefeated against a divisional opponent is hard. Doing it more than one year in a row is harder. The Islanders are heading in the right direction, but they’re not there yet. I expect the Flyers to win the season series against the Islanders this year, but I think the Islanders will take a game or two of the series.
New Jersey Devils:
Last Year’s Record Against: 3-1-2
The Devils won the division last year with 106 points after losing the solid goaltending of Martin Brodeur when he fell to injury. However, they rode their veterans and a breakout year from Zach Parise to win the division. Scott Clemmensen backed up Brodeur and won the job over Kevin Weekes as he provided a strong substitute until Brodeur returned. Like the Flyers, the Devils were a team with high expectations that ended their season in an opening round exit. They lost in a grueling 7 game series with the Carolina Hurricanes. Jacques Lemaire was named as head coach following the season after Brent Sutter stepped down. Key losses include Mike Rupp, Brian Gionta, and John Madden.
This team will most likely focusing on their two strong points, goaltending from Martin Brodeur and scoring from Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. Expect great games this year versus the Devils. We split the series last year, but got the most points out of those games by forcing overtime in 2 of our 3 losses. If our offense’s high-scoring power can beat Brodeur and the Jersey trap defense that we all know Lemaire is going to instill again, We just need to control the game. We can’t take penalties and our revamped defense needs to force their key scorers to stay quiet.
Devils: The Devils enter the year as one of the older teams in the league. But don’t let that fool you; this is a team that could very well steal the division. They reunited with former coach Jacques Lemaire, the architect of their defensive “trap” system, and the man who lead them to their first Cup win in 1995. Even with Brodeur in net, the Flyers are a better team than the Devils this year. If they lose the season series it will be their own fault for not being able to adapt to the Trap.
Last Year’s Record Against: 2-2-2
The 2009 Stanley Cup Champions are in our division this year, and they’re arguably our biggest rival most recently. Two straight years of losing to them in the playoffs and the outburst of Pittsburgh hockey fans challenging us will do that to a rivalry. They tied us with 99 points last year, yet had more wins so they got home ice during the playoffs. They were a team who wasn’t even in the playoff picture last February/March, yet firing coach Michael Therien and bringing up minor league coach Dan Bylsma lit a fire in this team. Picking up well-seasoned veteran Bill Guerin helped their cause even more, and they built up slowly until they were one of the hottest teams in the NHL going into the playoffs. With a solid defense headlined by Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, the Penguins just needed to score goals. That wasn’t a problem as Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both had 36 and 31 playoff points last season respectively. Cap that off with great (and sometimes amazing) goalkeeping from Marc-Andre Fleury, and you have your 2009 Stanley Cup Champions.
So what do we expect from the team that has had our number in the playoffs the past two years? They’re without a doubt the toughest team we play against considering all the excitement and energy that goes into it. These teams flat out do not like each other. It will be much of the same stuff from these Pens this year, however they lost two key players in Scuderi and Sykora. The Flyers have toughened up their defensive corps a lot this season, and with those actions came a lot of talking and buzz about if this was to control the Penguins and if it would be enough. With Pronger and Carle providing a valuable 1st pairing and powerplay pairing, it leaves room for Timmonen and Coburn to continue their success together. Us having two good pairings will absolutely help us against the Penguins and any other team. Our offense just needs to find more ways to score against Fleury who arguably closed that playoff series last April. How many times did a shot look like a total goal before Fleury dazzled us with a save? The Flyers played like the better team for much of that series, and Fleury saved them. If Emery makes the saves he has to, our defense can shut down their offensive weapons in Malkin, Crosby, and Staal, and our offense can find ways to score with their deeper set of
forwards, then Pittsburgh should not be as tough to beat as they were last year. Let’s see us take it to them this year.
Penguins: You shouldn’t need any introduction to the Penguins. They’ve ended the Flyers season the last two years, made it to the Cup finals both years and won it this past season. The Flyers entire offseason strategy was structured around trying to beat the Penguins. All six games against this team are going to be a war this year. The Flyers went 2-2-2 against the Pens last year. I can see a split season series this year.
New York Rangers:
Last Year’s Record Against: 2-4
The Rangers are a much different team than last year. Accumulating 95 points after firing their coach and hiring John Tortorella, the Rangers clinched a playoff berth. They lost in the first round during an intense 7 game series with Washington. The one aspect of the Rangers gameplay that hurt them was their lack of scoring power. Although they have great goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist, they had trouble lighting the lamp. Gomez and Zherdev helped a little last year, but not enough. This doesn’t matter now as those 2, as well as Antropov, Colton Orr, Blair Betts, and Naslund are no longer on the team. Instead they have added the likes of Gaborik, Prospal, Brian Boyle, and Donald Brashear (kind of strange considering the scenario with him last year in the Washington series).
This team is a wild card to me at this point. I have no idea what to expect from this VERY different lineup. John Tortorella has had a full off-season with his team and obviously looks to improve on last year’s record. I don’t see them having as much success as last year, but they can and might prove me wrong. On paper, the Flyers look like the better team. That will be meaningless when the season starts as we had trouble solving King Henrik last year. Much like the Devils, we just need to control the tempo and get some goals in past a tough defense that is led at the helm by Lundqvist.
Rangers: The Rangers gave the Flyers fits last year. This was especially true at the end of last season when two losses to the Rangers prevented the Flyers from getting home-ice for the first round of the playoffs against the Penguins. They have an enormously high potential for offense this year, but most of that is riding on the shaky groin of Marian Gaborik. I see the Flyers winning the season against the Rangers and using their losses to them at the end of last season as motivation.