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Thursday, September 26, 2019

NHL Eastern Conference Preview-Metropolitan Division

We continue our previews with the Metropolitan Division for the Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals  Won the Metropolitan Divisionwith 104 points but were upset in the 1st round of the playoffs losing Game 7 at home to the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime.

What's to like  You can still classify this team as a Stanley Cup contender as they still have high quality scoring talent and most of their core players from their Stanley Cup run 2 years ago are still in place.  Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals last year with 51 and he still probably has 2-3 years of being a top goal scorer.  T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (will serve as 3 games suspension before the season starts) all scored 20+ goals last year and they will also have Carl Hagelin for a full season.  John Carlson who was 4th overall in scoring for defensemen anchors the blue line and Braden Holtby is a consistent presence in net who won 32 games last year.

Concerns Oshie, Backstrom, and Ovechkin are all in their 30's and they do not possess a lot of depth on the blue line with the retirement of Brooks Orpik.  Any long term injury to Carlson would be tough to overcome.  Phoenix Copley played well last year as the back up goalie but is still unproven. 

Outlook  The window might be slowly closing but this team still has enough talent to contend for the Stanley Cup. 

NY Islanders  Finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division last year with 103 points.  Swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1st round and were swept my the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2nd round.

What's to like  Coach Barry Trotz's disciplined system turned the Islanders into a team that gave up the most goals two years ago to allowing the fewest goals last year.  They did lose C Valtteri Filppula to the Detroit Red Wings but resigned a good core of their top scorers in Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle to long term deals and still have Josh Bailey and Mathew Barzal in the fold.  The biggest free agent addition for the Islanders after losing goaltender Robin Lehner to free agency to the Chicago Blackhawks was Semyon Varlamov from the Colorado Avalanche and should thrive in the Trotz system.  Back up goalie Thomas Greiss who was spectacular last season with 23 wins, a 2.28 GAA, and a .927 save percentage is back to form one of the best goaltending tandems in the league

Concerns  It seemed like everything went right for the Islanders last year so could it bounce the other way and nothing go right this year?  Will the Islanders score enough this year as they were 22nd in goals scored and 29th in power play conversions last year and did not have anyone over 70 points. It will be difficult to top the years Lehner and Greiss had in net last year and there will be a lot of pressure on Varlamov to perform.

Outlook  This team might not match the 103 points last year but still should be a playoff team playing Trotz's system.

Pittsburgh Penguins  Finished 3rd in the Metropolitan Divsion with 100 points and were swept in the 1st round by the New York Islanders.

What's to like  Sidney Crosby is still arguably the best player in the NHL and Jake Guentzel scored 40 goals last year and as long as Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Hornqvist bounce back from sub par seasons and the new addition Alex Galchenyuk lives up to expectations the Penguins should score plenty of goals.  Goaltender Matt Murray was solid last year with 29 wins and a .919 save percentage.  Kris Letang anchors the blue line and was 8th overall in scoring for defensemen. This franchise has made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons.

Concerns  Will they be able to replace the 82 points lost with Phil Kessel moving to the Arizona Coyotes.  Can Galchenyuk fill the Kessel void and live up to expectations. Was Malkin's off year an aberration or will his decline continue. Can Letang stay healthy for a Penguins defense with lots of question marks and not a lot of depth.

Outlook  This is still a playoff team but probably not a Stanley Cup contender.  It would not be a big surprise if this team underachieves and misses the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes Finished 4th in the Metropolitan Division with 99 points and made it to the Eastern Conference finals before being swept by the Boston Bruins.

What's to like  This is a team on the rise with a good core of young scoring forwards and solid depth on the blue line.  Rising 22 year old star Sebastian Aho scored 30 goals along with 53 assists last year and with Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, Nino Neiderreiter, Jordan Staal and the 2 big additions in the off season of Erik Haula from the Vegas Golden Knights and Ryan Dzingel from the Columbus Blue Jackets.  On defense they did lose Justin Faulk to the St Louis Blues but acquired Jake Gardiner from the Toronto Maple Leafs to go along with Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce. 

Concerns  Justin Williams retiring removes a veteran presence from the locker room along with 20 goals and a prime time playoff performer. Goaltender Petr Mrazek is still a question mark as a true #1 and back up goalie Curtis McElhinney who was outstanding in the back up role moved to Tampa Bay. 

Outlook  This should be a playoff team and has the potential of getting in the top 3 of the division and making another long run in the playoffs

Columbus Blue Jackets  Finished 5th in the Metropolitan Division with 98 points and lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs to the Boston Bruins after stunning the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round of the playoffs with a sweep.

What's to like  Coach John Torterella still likes this team even with the big free agent defections of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel.  Cam Atkinson anchors the offense coming off a 41 goal season along with Pierre-Luc Dubois (27 goals), Josh Anderson (27 goals), and Oliver Bjorkstrand (23 goals).  They have one of the top pairs of defensemen in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski who ranked 17th and 22nd in scoring for blue liners. 

Concerns  Tough to overcome major free agent losses especially in net as the Blue Jackets will go with untested Joonas Korpisalo who was the back up last year.  They lose their leading scorer from last in Panarin with 87 points and even with Panarin the power play was the 4th worst in the NHL last year. 

Outlook  This team will probably not make the playoffs as losing Bobrovsky and Panarin is just to much to overcome.

Philadelphia Flyers  Finished 6th in the Metropolitan Division with 82 points and did not make the playoffs

What's to like   A full season of young and talented Carter Hart in net who showed flashes of his talent last year when he got called up during mid season.  The Flyers played 8 different goaltenders last year so they might finally have their #1 to solidify a major sore spot with the franchise.  Center Kevin Hayes was the big free agent signing to go along with 20 goal scorers from last year Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Koceny, and James van Riemsdyk. 

Concerns  Carter Hart even with his talent still has to prove he can be a top level goalie for an entire season.  They were outside the top 20 in both power play conversions and penalty kills so the special teams will need to improve.  Hayes is a talented forward but has never put up big numbers and Flyers fans will expect a lot from him and if he doesn't produce and the Flyers struggle he will feel the heat from an impatient fan base. 

Outlook  Borderline playoff team who could possibly snag one of the last playoff spots.

NY Rangers  Finished 7th in the Metropolitan Division with 76 points and did not make the playoffs.

What's to like  The Rangers made 2 huge free agent signings in Center Artemi Panarin from the Columbus Blue Jackets who was 11th overall in scoring last season and defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets who was 13th overall in scoring for defensemen.  You also add the 2nd overall draft pick in future NHL all star Kaapo Kakko along side Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad and you should see a much improved offense who ranked 24th in goals scored last year. 

Concerns  At 37 years of age can Henrik Lundvqist bounce back and be a servicable goalie after struggling last year or is it time to make the unproven but talented back up goalie Alexandar Georgiev the #1.  Even with the signing of Trouba still many questions on the blue line after giving up the 9th most goals on defense last year and having the 5th worst penalty killing percentage.

Outlook  The Rangers are improved and could be a playoff team if Panarin has a huge year, Lundqvist bounces back, and Kakko lives up to the hype but probably a year away from making the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils  Finished last in the Metropolitan Division with 72 points and did not make the playoffs.

What's to like  A nice remake of the roster in the offseason as the Devils traded for all star defenseman P.K. Subban and a promising scorer in Nikita Gusev, added the #1 overall draft pick in Jack Hughes, and signed veteran Wayne Simmonds.  Also Taylor Hall, the Hart Trophy winner 2 years ago returns healthy after only playing in 33 games last year. 

Concerns The goaltending position is still a question after 3 different goalies last year combined for 3.30 GAA and .895 save percentage.  Cory Schneider played well at the end of last season after coming off of hip surgery.  The lingering off ice issue is whether the Devils will resign Hall to a big extension or let him become an unrestricted free agent. 

Outlook  The Devils like the Rangers should be improved and if Hughes is the real deal and Schneider solidifies the goaltending position this team could compete for a playoff spot.  Probably to many questions to answer and will likely miss the playoffs. 

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