With the start of the 2010-11 season only days away, the preseason is the benchmark on how we weigh the strength of each team entering the new year. Who will jump out to a hot start and who will drop seven of their first ten games?
Nobody can predict exactly what will happen and preseason results do not always indicate what a team can and will do once the games matter. For many teams it’s just another chance to showcase their new, young talent before sending out the normal first and second line stars for the majority of the game. Stars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Gaborik, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin might only see a fraction of the playing time they would normally see during the regular season.
What makes a good team is not only the play of their stars but the depth of their line-up. The third and fourth line players need to be able to contribute and keep the momentum of the game up while the first and second line players are resting between shifts.
This preseason, many new additions made a case for themselves as permanent members of their respective clubs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, so far unbeaten at 4-0-0 this preseason, have shown improvement defensively which has been the team’s weakest link over the last few seasons. Most recently, Pittsburgh was able to hold off the high-scoring Blackhawks with a convincing 4-1 victory. In addition to this defensive improvement, the Pens continue to roll offensively posting 17 goals in four games. I would say this team is right where they want to be starting off the new season.
At this point the Philadelphia Flyers have played the most games this preseason out of the five Atlantic Division teams. With a record of 4-1-1 it looks good in the point standings but if you look closer at the results of each game, there is some sharpening needed.
While the Flyers won four games in regulation and one in a shootout, they had to post four goals twice in order to get past their opponents. This may not seem like a big problem but when a team has goaltending issues and are already allowing a team like the Maple Leafs to score three goals. This may turn out to be a minor issue should Michael Leighton continue his dominant play during the season and as long as the offense lead by Jeff Carter can continue to post four goals a game.
The New Jersey Devils seem to be in a similar boat as the Flyers. They’re scoring a lot but letting in too many on the other end. In the Devils’ case it is already costing them victories. With three straight overtime losses of 4-3, 4-3 and 5-4, the Devils need to get back to their bread and butter which is defense. While giving Martin Brodeur 75 starts should help, the Devils need to find a way to allow less quality shots on goal.
Just like the Flyers, the Devils’ offense is clicking already with Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise putting the puck in the net. If New Jersey can get that defense to mesh they will be right there at the top of the Atlantic.
The New York Rangers are used to giving up three goals a game or more, even with Lundqvist in net, but scoring three, four or five per game is something we don’t see often from them.
This preseason the Rangers have two wins where they scored five goals and one where they scored four. Even in their one loss New York managed three against the Detroit Red Wings. What’s even better is who has been scoring these goals.
In addition to Gaborik, players like Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan Callahan have all been contributing to the Blueshirts lineup. One of the biggest problems with this team last season was that nobody other than Gaborik was consistently putting the puck in the net. Hopefully this is the year Henrik gets the support he needs to help the Rangers to a much needed playoff birth.
Unlike every other team, the New York Islanders only played twice so far this preseason and they played both games on the same day against two different teams. Both games ended in a loss for the Isles.
Splitting their squad to simultaneously face the Flyers and Flames may have been a tactic the Islanders used to see more of their young skaters in action giving more prospects a chance to play with ample ice time. In both games the Islanders found themselves in a 3-0 hole before finally lighting the scoreboard. These outcomes are not surprising due to the split squads but hopefully the entire Islanders team can come up with some victories this year and show improvement over last season.
This New York team is expected to once again finish last in the Atlantic and unfortunately I agree. There are just way too many missing puzzle pieces for this team to stay competitive for an 82 game season.