Posted Thursday, January 31st 2013 @ 5am
Not unlike last year’s post-lockout NFL season, the NHL’s first action has followed a similar template of chaos and bad defense. In a season in which many of the players let alone the fans thought would never exist suddenly has. As many players return from their European diaspora, and the Olympic style of play which is a lot less congested than North American hockey, there certainly have been some growing pains-- which for some perennial contenders means an uphill battle out of the divisional basement right out the gate. While playoff teams like the Bruins, the Blackhawks, and San Jose have flourished in the first leg, many veteran squads have suffered from both abysmal goaltending and blue line play like the Penguins and Coyotes, or have struggled to get consistent scoring from their top lines which is a big woe among the Caps and Predators. Still many fans aren’t ready to admit that these accumulating losses are anything more than anomaly of rust and poor conditioning, the shorten schedule does put a lot of pressure on teams to correct their issues as punctually as possible.
Looking at the East, here are the teams to watch.
The black and gold finished last season on our sour note, falling in game 7 to a Capitals team that finally lived up to its lofty expectations. Often overlooked at the start of the season as threats coming out of the east, the B’s have been able to establish the intimidating defense and restless forecheck that was the foundation of their 2010 Stanley Cup run. Captain Zdeno Chara appears to have benefited from the extended off season, showing no signs of fatigue as he continues to consistently log 20-plus minutes of ice time per game, and newcomer Dougie Hamilton has shown signs of being the 2-way defender Boston had sorely needed. There are of course still concerns about goalie Tuukka Rask as he adjusts to the number one role, as maturity issues in the past served to derail what was undeniably a talented netminder.
The New York Rangers tried to address the offensive anemia that stagnated their playoff run last year and for the most part the addition of former Blue Jacket, Rick Nash, has proved fairly effective. Nash has 5 assists and a goal to start this season proving that his recent play in Columbus was less physical regression and more Middle-America ennui. Still the Rangers will expect to get most of their production from Gaborik who has begun this season with the same remarkable play that really helped to catapult the Rangers to the top of the division last year. While expectations are rightly high for the Blue Shirts, Captain Ryan Callahan’s shoulder/arm injury could cast doubt on New York’s prospects. If seriously injured the Rangers will lose not only their emotional leader, but also one of the most tenacious and relentless forwards in the game today—it could be a huge blow. Maybe get him some of that deer antler extract that Ray Lewis used.
It is too early in the season to pass harsh judgments on any team, well except maybe the Florida Panthers because that team is a train wreck, but beyond that most squads are given the benefit of the doubt that their issues are correctable. The same should go for the Penguins who easily boast one of the more talented rosters in the NHL, but have lacked a consistent effort so far. The defense has been lousy to put it nicely, the goaltending is below average, and the offense been okay-- but okay is not good enough when it comes to the expectations for Pittsburgh. In the end no one should be concerned about offense with Crosby and Malkin on their team, but it should worry them that Marc Andre-Fluery’s save percentage continues to hover near the low 9’s as he continues to exhibit regular sloppy performances.
Tampa's Lightning In A Bottle
After a forgettable season in 2011-12, the Lightning have shown early signs of rediscovering their mojo and once again the intimidating 1-3-1 forecheck, the brainchild of Coach Guy Boucher, looks just as lethal as it did during their playoff run 2 years ago. It’s tempting to jump on this team’s bandwagon, especially with their offense looking so unstoppable and St. Louis and Stamkos playing the way they are. But, for a team that sputtered in mediocrity for 82 games last year I’d like to see them play well for at least 10 before I tag them as the real deal.