THN pre-season prediction: 3rd in East
Scoring leaders: Patrice Bergeron, 32; Milan Lucic, 28; David Krejci, 27.
Key stat: Bruins have the best 5-on-5 goals-for/against ratio in the NHL at 1.47.
Biggest surprise: Tim Thomas may only be a season removed from winning the Vezina, but who could have predicted a season like this after Tuukka Rask seized the top job last year?
Biggest disappointment: It’s not that David Krejci has been bad – and he battled a concussion earlier this season – but this is a guy who should be knocking on the door of being a point-per-game player on this team.
What to expect: The Bruins need more consistent production from what is a pretty impressive group of forwards on paper. Boston’s power play is just 17th in the league and that needs to improve. Marc Savard is coming back from a serious concussion and Krejci hasn’t been bringing everything he can on a nightly basis. Whereas the B’s will likely count on growth from within up front, they may look to add a piece to the blueline, which is a bit of a question mark after Zdeno Chara. Amazing as Tim Thomas has been, look for Tuukka Rask – who has a .927 save percentage himself – to get more action in the second half. It might be a bit much to suggest the Northeast is Boston’s to lose, but the conference’s No. 3 seed is definitely there for the taking.
THN pre-season prediction: 6th in East
Scoring leaders: Derek Roy, 35; Thomas Vanek, 31; Jordan Leopold, 24.
Key stat: Buffalo’s home points percentage is .452; last year it was .653.
Biggest surprise: He’s cooled of late, but Jordan Leopold’s production is still a wonderful surprise.
Biggest disappointment: Tyler Myers won the Calder last year and was among the league’s best defensemen, but the sophomore slump has struck.
What to expect: With leading scorer Derek Roy gone for the season with a quad tear, clawing into a playoff spot will be a tall order for the Sabres. Ryan Miller has started 19 straight games and don’t look for that streak to end any time soon. If the post-season is a dream by the Feb. 28 trade deadline, Buffalo may be able to acquire a couple picks for battle-tested veterans Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer, both of whom are UFAs at season’s end. Tim Connolly’s contract is expiring, too, so his days in Buffalo are likely coming to an end. The biggest and best 2011 news in Western New York could be billionaire Terry Pegula officially becoming the team’s new majority owner in the next few weeks.
THN pre-season prediction: 8th in East
Scoring leaders: Tomas Plekanec, 33; Mike Cammalleri, 28; James Wisniewski, 28.
Key stat: The Canadiens get just 2.46 goals per game; only the Islanders, Senators and Devils score less often.
Biggest surprise: Everybody knew Carey Price had it in him to be a great goalie, but, especially considering the circumstances and constant pressure, he’s been fantastic.
Biggest disappointment: Mike Cammalleri had 13 goals to lead last season’s playoffs; this year he has 12.
What to expect: The Canadiens – who kill penalties more efficiently than any team in the league – will keep grinding. The team doesn’t score nearly enough goals and will play the rest of the season without its best defenseman and possibly best skater in Andrei Markov and its best shutdown D-man in Josh Gorges, both gone with knee injuries. Price is far and away the team’s MVP, a fact that can’t budge in the second half. It’s hard to believe the undermanned defense, even with the addition of James Wisniewski, won’t crack at some point. Don’t expect a ton at the deadline, with the possible exception of adding another body on the back end. A division title remains in reach for the Habs, but ultimately you have to think they’ll be life and death to make the playoffs.
THN pre-season prediction: 10th in East
Scoring leaders: Daniel Alfredsson 26; Erik Karlsson, 25; Jason Spezza, 20.
Key stat: Alfredsson is on pace to lead the Sens with 48 points, the lowest full-season total for an Ottawa scoring leader since its modern era began in 1992-93.
Biggest surprise: That nobody has been fired…yet. The rumors have been circling around coach Cory Clouston for a while and GM Bryan Murray built this disintegrating team.
Biggest disappointment: Take your pick. Can we stop thinking Nick Foligno will ever be a top-six forward? Is Milan Michalek’s history with knee troubles the reason he can’t score? Mike Fisher has played all 43 games this year and has 17 points.
What to expect: It’s time for the control-alt-delete treatment in Ottawa. This is a team suffering from a severe identity crisis, as witnessed by the summertime signings of Alex Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar in successive years. There’s not one encouraging thing about the Sens’ current core and Murray, if he has the mandate from ownership, should listen to offers for every single player on his roster who isn’t Karlsson. There are some decent prospects in the system, especially on the blueline where Karlsson is already there and Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch and David Rundblad are coming. Owner Eugene Melnyk needs to figure out who he wants orchestrating the rebuild and give that person the agenda of constructing a new team from the bottom up, starting with a very high draft pick this summer.
THN pre-season prediction: 12th in East
Scoring leaders: Clarke MacArthur, 36; Mikhail Grabovski, 34; Nikolai Kulemin, 32.
Key stat: Even with their current four-game winning streak, the Leafs are on pace for 78 points, just four more than the 74 they had last year.
Biggest surprise: Clarke MacArthur was signed off the scrap heap for $1.1 million. He’s had hot starts before, but this time it has carried over.
Biggest disappointment: Maybe it was always unrealistic to expect Tyler Bozak to fill a top-line center role, but either way the Leafs aren’t getting what they need from him.
What to expect: Who knows? If GM Brian Burke wants to strike while the iron is hot, the likes of MacArthur, Grabovski and Kris Versteeg will be in play. If he believes those relatively young players are just now realizing their potential and can be contributing members of the core long-term, the emphasis on player movement could be restricted to trying to ship out veteran rearguards Tomas Kaberle and Francois Beauchemin. Burke, as we all know, is a big fan of the bold move, so nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. With J-S Giguere’s contract expiring, it will be interesting to see if Jonas Gustavsson can find consistency or if James Reimer can continue his hot play and gain the inside track on being No. 1 next season.
THN Puck Panel – Breaking down the Northeast and Pacific Divisions
THN’s mid-season reports will run two a day from Jan. 12-14.
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