Is There Any Chance for other Eastern Teams?
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With the massive news today of the Kovalchuk to New Jersey trade, I find myself asking an intriguing question: Are there any teams in the East that can compete with the top 3?
Now by top 3, I am not referring to the division leaders in Washington, New Jersey, and Buffalo, I am referring to the Capitals, Devils, and Penguins. Although Buffalo is currently tied with Pittsburgh in points with two games in hand, I do not feel that they are on the same tier as the Pens. Lets be real – can the likes of Connolly, Vanek, Pominville and Roy even compare to Crosby and Malkin? And yes Miller is having a terrific year, but is he that much greater than Fleury?
Washington is undeniably the most offensively minded team in the NHL. On any given night, it is nearly impossible to stop all of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, and Green on the back end. When it comes to playoff time, I feel the Caps may struggle unless they can firm up their back end, but unless teams can find a way to shut down the Caps offense, this is a scary team to play against.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins know what it takes to win. With only a few different players than last year’s winning team, are the Penguins destined for another Stanley Cup? There is always a chance when you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the charge, and a proven and reliable goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury. The only thing that seems to be missing from the Pens this year is a second-line left wing who can chip in on a regular basis, but rumours are rampant that they are heavily pursuing bringing one in. The Pens will be a tough team to beat.
With their new acquisition yesterday, the New Jersey Devils just got that much better. The Devils may now have one of the most devastating offenses in the league with players like Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner, and now Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils have an underrated defensive core, which we will see most likely upgraded before the trade deadline. And the scariest thing of all is that the Devils have arguably the greatest goaltender of all-time holding the fort between the pipes. According to capgeek.com the Devils can still afford to bring in another player with a cap hit of approximately 4.8 million. Imagine if the Devils could grab S. Niedermayer from Anaheim, or if they could somehow get Burke to deal Kaberle? This year’s Devils are probably the best all around team in the East.
So Who Can Compete?
In my opinion, there are only two other teams, one of which is not currently in a playoff position. Those two teams are the Philadelphia Flyers and ….. the New York Rangers? .. yes the Rangers.
The Flyers did not have a great start to the year, but are slowly piecing things together. They have the depth at forward, and the physicality of Chris Pronger on the back end who forces players to keep their head up and be weary when he is on the ice. The only real concern I have with this team is its goaltending. Can Ray Emery and Michael Leighton / Brian Boucher keep enough pucks out of the net? Only time will tell.
On to the Rangers .. my sleeper pick. Now to be honest I may be slightly biased as I am a Rangers fan, but when looking at the roster, I believe they have the pieces to create a few upsets. The defense does hurt and is a huge question mark, but the Rangers now have two possible lines that can score as Jokinen looked good alongside Dubinsky and Callahan, which is a necessity to this team. But what makes the Rangers a potential upset team is its role players. Callahan, Dubinsky and Drury are all great defensive minded shut-down forwards, and Drury is best known for being a clutch player when he is needed. The Rangers have one of the best penalty killing units in the league, which will be crucial against the all-star lineups the Pens, Caps, and Devils can send out on the powerplay. And we cannot forget about Henrik Lundqvist who will undoubtedly steal games for the blueshirts. Call me crazy, and I know some will, but I do believe in this team.
Final standing predictions coming next …
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