Tag:Zdeno Chara
Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:01 am
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:42 am
 

Eye on Hockey Halloween costume contest

By Brian Stubits

Hockey season might be in full swing, but that's no excuse for players not to go out to costume parties sporting their best Halloween outfits.

Considering it is Halloween and all, we figured we would have our own hockey costume contest here at Eye On Hockey. Make your vote and may be the best costume win.

Oh, before we begin, let me just say this is the greatness of Twitter. For those athletes daring enough to share, we get to see things like this which hardly ever saw the light of day before.

First we have Twitter sensation Paul Bissonnette of the Phoenix Coyotes. He is sporting his Hacksaw Jim Duggan outfit with his date dressed as Pocahontas, I believe.

USA! USA! USA!

My take: Kudos for being daring enough to wear that out. It's a solid start and the post makes it better.

Next up on the list is Bissonnette's teammate in Phoenix, Ray Whitney rocking toy soldier outfits with his wife.

Be all that you can be!

My take: This could be a contender here. The costumes are great for starters. But the real kicker is the pose. Whitney's wife has that solider position perfect. You remember that soldier, you always put it on the highest elevation possible.

Third in line is Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. Geno is going with the tried and true costume of the hairy pimp.

Big pimpin', spending Gs.

My take: As I said, a tried and true costume here. I love how both the wig and the mustache are leaning to the side and the sunglasses are a nice touch.

Fourth up is Carolina Hurricanes forward Anthony Stewart as the one and only Chubbs Peterson from Happy Gilmore.

It's all in the hips. It's all in the hips. It's all in the hips.

My take: At the risk of contaminating the voting public, this is my favorite. Stewart nailed Chubbs from the wooden hand to the outfit and even the alligator's eye in the glass container. Chubbs would be proud.

The fifth contestant is Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler as Sylvester the Cat. At least I'm left to assume it's him considering he tweeted it out.

Sufferin' Succotash!

My take: I have to think this one will be on the outside looking in partly based on the photo itself. But at least Kesler didn't go in the same costume as his ESPN the Magazine shoot.

Next up we have recently retired player and former Dallas Stars star Mike Modano trying out an LMFAO costume. You know, the guys who brought you the Body Rock.

Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle! Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle!

My take: I don't know if Modano actually wore this out of the house or not, he tweeted this out a few days before Halloween as a potential costume. But if he was willing to send it out, it counts. Daring is all I'll say. Oh, and please don't wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.

Last up in the contest we present to you the Boston Bruins. Now we already covered this one, but figured it deserved a shot here. For voting purposes, let's just stick with Zdeno Chara in the bunny suit.

"You look like a deranged Easter bunny. He looks like a pink nightmare!"

My take: The homemade touch is great, gives it an authentic feel. But I think this one scared too many people to get enough votes to win.

For the record, Raffi Torres of the Coyotes also dressed up, electing to go with the blackface and dressing up as Jay-Z with his wife as Beyonce. As you might expect, that's drawing a whole lot of criticism for Torres.

Photos: Thanks Twitter!

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 28, 2011 1:31 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 11:04 am
 

Weekend Preview: Rangers get MSG debut do-over

By Brian Stubits

The refurbished Madison Square Garden finally hosted a Rangers game on Thursday night, and it wasn't enough like old times for the fans. And I'm not talking about the $9.50 domestic beers.

No, the fans in attendance were longing for the old MSG, where Sean Avery delighted them on the ice. OK, maybe they were just longing for Avery.

There was also a banner hanging from the upper level earlier in the game in support of Avery. Mysteriously, it was gone later in the game. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the fan didn't have a change of heart midway through the game and took it down him/herself.

The case of Avery is an odd one. He is a player that all the teams in the NHL apparently don't want to touch with a 10-foot pole, including the Rangers, who sent him to the AHL's Connecticut Whale. If you ask 100 people to describe Avery the player in one word, the most flattering response you would receive is "agitator."

He's like a member of the Rangers family. Johnny Ranger fan can insult him all day long, just like I can call my brother a jerk (hypothetically, of course). But don't you even dare to call my brother a jerk. It's in the same vain. Avery might just be an ineffective player whose only role it seems is to piss opponents off, but he's THEIR ineffective player whose only role it seems is to piss opponents off. He's a fan favorite. His antics have gone over well in New York, clearly.

But honestly, this wouldn't be that big of a deal if the Rangers were playing better, specifically Avery's replacement, Kris Newbury. Sure, they are 3-3-2, but it has been less-than inspiring. This is a team that had a lot of hype after an offseason that saw them catch the biggest fish swimming in the free-agent lake. The combination of Brad Richards with Marian Gaborik would be gold, I tell you, gold. The Blueshirts would finally be able to give Henrik Lundqvist the kind of scoring support to show he is a Vezina-quality goaltender.

Well, it hasn't happened yet -- the scoring, not Lundqvist showing he is Vezina-quality. The Rangers offense has scored 16 goals in eight games. Even the mathematically challenged should easily recognize that as two goals per game, not very impressive.

“I’ve known [Gaborik] for a month now,” Richards said. “It would be great if we’d come in here and click perfectly. Realistically, we have some work to do, and we’ve got to get to know each other on the ice. We’re both used to having the puck. That’s a work in progress, for sure.”

“It’s no secret that we have to put more pucks in the net,” Ryan Callahan said after Thursday's game.

This has coach John Tortorella tweaking the lines, trying to find the right combinations. The pairing of Gaborik and Richards just hasn't produced yet the way they hoped. Gaborik was practicing on Friday with Wotjek Wolski and Erik Christensen on one line while Richards was with Brandon Dubinsky and Callahan on another.

It's under that backdrop that the Rangers welcome the Ottawa Senators to new-look MSG on Saturday. You know the Senators, the team most everybody saw as being the worst in the Eastern Conference this year but has surprised the masses by winning four games in a row? The plus side is that the Senators could be the team to jumpstart the typically sluggish Rangers offense. Ottawa has surrendered a league-high 39 goals in 10 games.

Let's look at that game as a second chance to make a first impression at home.

Scorer's delight

Speaking of that Rangers season debut at MSG, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who spoiled the party with a 4-2 win in New York. With the victory they remained one of the surprising starters of the season, improving to 6-2-1.

But I pose this question: What's more surprising, Toronto starting so well thanks to Phil Kessel's nine goals, or Penguins forward James Neal being tied with Kessel for the league lead in goals scored? We'll have a chance to see them at the same time on Saturday when the Penguins visit the Leafs.

Normally, hearing that a Pittsburgh Penguins player leads the league in scoring doesn't come as a surprise. Rather, it is expected. But that's expected from guys named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not James Neal.

Which brings me to that trade from last February when the Penguins acquired Neal. Talk about one of those trades where both sides win. Well, let me rephrase; a trade where it looks like both sides came out well. I caution against calling winner and losers in a trade so soon. But Neal has obviously been producing for Pittsburgh as he seems capable of not only reaching his career-high 27 goals he had in 2009-10, but surpassing it. On the other end, Matt Niskanen and Alex Goligoski, while having very cool surnames, have both been good fits in Pittsburgh and Dallas.

As for the Leafs' sharpshooter Kessel? Well this is what they hoped for when Brian Burke made that trade a couple of years ago. Just for fun, I'd like to point out that Kessel is on pace for an 81-goal, 144-point season and a plus-45 at this time.

Big Z, Max meet ... again

Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins will be in Montreal on Saturday to pay a visit to the Canadiens. Obviously it's an anticipated reunion for some folks who are into that sort of thing.

Chara has already been back to Habs Town since his hit on Max Pacioretty late last season, the Bruins had to go through the Habs on their way to the Stanley Cup. But it will mark the first time Chara has faced Pacioretty in Montreal. OK, OK, we're stretching a bit. The Canadiens just beat the B's Thursday in Boston, so let's just say this one is about the game, shall we?

These are two struggling teams. Montreal got off to such a bad start, it was their worst in 70 years! It led to the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn and since then, the Habs have reeled off two in a row, including one over the Bruins. Not that that had much if anything to do with Pearn's dismissal, but at least the Habs are showing signs of getting out of the early season doldrums.

For Boston, they have struggled too, although much more quietly. Interesting considering they are the defending champs and all. In a way this might have been expected. You hear all the time about the dreaded hangover, and that might be in play here. Either way, the Bruins are struggling to score.

The game is just like any other in an 82-game season, but this will quietly be an important one. These teams both want to get on track and in the Boston's case, a home-and-home sweep at the hands of the hated Habs wouldn't help in that regard. But for Montreal, it could help forgive much of the early struggles.

Best games, on paper

Entering the season, these two games appeared to be monster October showdowns: The Sharks visiting the Red Wings on Friday then the Capitals taking on the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday. If you had to pick five preseason favorites to win the Stanley Cup, there's a good chance three or maybe all four of these teams would make that list.

The Sharks have been somewhat slow to start themselves, but seem to have flipped the switch and won three games in a row, all on the road. The Red Wings, on the other hand, began like gangbusters, but have since lost two games to the Caps and previously winless Blue Jackets. However these two are still titans and will be in the Western hunt all year and just might have another playoff battle lined up. (You might remember they played a great seven-game series last season.)

As for Capitals-Canucks? Well one team has played like a Cup contender and the other, well, the Cup contention seems like a long time ago now. Washington finally took its first loss in Edmonton on Thursday night after getting off to a franchise-record 7-0-0 start. Tomas Vokoun has been spectacular. If there has been anything to complain about up to this point, it's nitpicking.

Vancouver meanwhile has a hot mess of a goaltending situation at the moment. Starter Roberto Luongo is more than a hot topic in the city, a lot of the fans want him gone and would like to see Cory Schneider play. A victory over the Capitals, while not incredibly symbolic at this time of the season, would perhaps satisfy the fan base with the notion that things will be OK. Serenity now!

Somebody get him a compass

Ilya Bryzgalov, who is admittedly "lost in the woods" right now and appears to be a broken goalie, is slated to start Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. He better find his way out of the woods in a hurry.

Since his first two starts of the season when he was stellar, Bryzgalov has been a mess, never worse than Thursday's five-goals-on-10-shots showing in "reprieve" of Sergei Bobrovsky. His best showing since those first two was when he gave up three goals to the Kings in an overtime loss. His numbers right now? Ugggly. Try an .870 save percentage and 3.45 GAA. Ouch.

So Peter Laviolette might have decided that what better way to get a goalie's broken confidence going once again than start him the next time out?

Either that or Lavy didn't want to put Bobrovsky back out there either.

Pregame trash talk

One of the great things about Twitter is the ability for players to interact with fans and other players for thousands to see. Ever wonder what players talk about before the puck is dropped in the faceoff circle? Twitter has helped give fans an idea.

But Anthony Stewart of the Carolina Hurricanes and Daniel Carcillo talking a little pregame smack on Twitter before Friday night's tilt? Yes please!

Carcillo (@CarBombBoom13) got it started with this: Goin 2 Carolina to throw a beat down on the Hurricanes and on@EhStew13 Just like in bantam when I'd drop u in buckets b4 pracy #indafaaace

Here was the response from Stewart (@EhStew13): You remembered u got Tko'd, keep the Bus in the Windy City, these 2 points aren't for sale #meh.

The short back-and-forth concluded with Carcillo: @EhStew13 we aren't lookin to buy #5fingerdiscount and I recall me havin to double shift in practice bc some1 had post concussion syndromes.

Good stuff. Guys having some playful smack (I'm assuming its playful) for all to see is good fun.

As to the game itself between the 'Hawks and 'Canes in Carolina? Well Chicago is looking for its first win in Raleigh since 1998. Granted there is unbalanced scheduling, but still, that's a long time. Also, Eric Staal needs to improve and that league-worst minus-9 he's sporting at the moment. Ouch.

Back to Vancouver ...

There will be no Green Men sitting by the opponent's box to torment Alex Ovechkin and crew. Vancouver's most famous fans will instead be ... in Bakersfield, Calif.?

Well look at that, the Green Men have turned their antics into appearances at hockey arenas. The Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL (originally from the WCHL) will have the spandex-wearing fans at their game on Friday night. Then Saturday will be Star Wars night.

I don't know about you all, but I'd rather see Star Wars night. Either way, these promotions are two big reasons why minor-league hockey is so awesome.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 26, 2011 10:18 am
Edited on: October 26, 2011 11:42 am
 

Bruins dress up for children's hospital visit

By Brian Stubits

Four Boston Bruins players took some time out of their busy schedules to visit a local children's hospitals dressed in Halloween costumes to spread some cheer and laughter. And it worked, both inside and outside of the hospital.

Adam McQuaid (Fred Flintstone), Jordan Caron (the crayon), Brad Marchand (I'm assuming he's playing off Marchand by being a member of a marching band) and Zdeno Chara (big, pink bunny) all were there. The one that's drawing the most attention -- as I'm sure you guessed -- is Chara and his bunny suit. It looks like something my mother would have thrown together on Oct. 30 with the sewing machine and whatever she could find around the house (love ya ma!). Just, you know, for somebody much, much taller.

For those that aren't laughing, they might be crying. A near seven-foot monstrosity in a bunny suit with long, thin ears pointing straight out to the side? I can see how it's creepy.

"You look like a deranged Easter bunny. He looks like a pink nightmare!"

Which brings me to the image in my head of Ralphie reluctantly drudging down the stairs on Christmas morning in his new pajama suit from Aunt Claire in a Christmas Story. The only thing I can't tell is if Chara actually has the bunny slippers and cottontail. If so, it's a costume win.

Of course, it's a win no matter how they go. While people are having fun with the pictures from the hospital trip, it's all under the context of these players making a visit to a hospital.

The players deserve not only kudos for making the visit in the first place, but also for throwing humility out the window and going all out. (And props to Marchand for the marching band member, very clever.)

Photo: NESN.com/Phil Pesce

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: October 6, 2011 10:05 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 11:11 pm
 

Don Cherry sounds off on hits, ex-fighters

DC1By: Adam Gretz

You can probably count Don Cherry as one person that is not a fan of the way Brendan Shanahan is running the NHL's discipline machine.

During his first Coach's Corner of the season on Thursday, Cherry, wearing what appeared to be his best Christmas-themed suit (pictured), sounded off on a number of topics, including the early suspensions handed out during Shanahan's watch, the people that tried to connect the deaths of Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien to fighting, and ex-fighters that have blamed post-retirement off-ice problems on fighting.

When asked by his longtime on-air partner, Ron MacLean, if he liked Shanahan's approach to discipline (such as the videos explaining each suspension) Cherry quickly pointed out that he hasn't seen any and doesn't want to, which is kind of like complaining about a book and then refusing to read it.

One of the first points he made was a reference to last year's incident that involved Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara hitting Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into the turnbuckle along the bench area in Montreal. Cherry went back and looked at the previous game between the two teams and showed how, after scoring a goal, Pacioretty gave Chara a shove and warned young hockey players to "never push the defenseman" after scoring a goal because "they always remember."

The next game, of course, involved Pacioretty leaving on a stretcher. When MacLean asked if Cherry felt that incident was premeditated, he simply responded with, "All I'm saying is he ticked him off and he got it the next game. Leave the defenseman alone after a goal because they always feel it's their fault."

From there, the segment focused on the bad precedent Shanahan is setting by giving players an excuse to not hit their opponents.

He then ran a highlight package of former New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens crushing people throughout his career -- including his now famous hits on Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya -- and asked how many games Shanahan would have suspended Stevens for those plays.

The answer, of course, is probably quite a few games because many of the hits he featured are now illegal. Rules change. The game changes. Things that were legal 10 years ago no longer are.

He saved his strongest words for the end of the segment when discussing fighting, calling out the people that used the deaths of Boogard, Belak and Rypien as an excuse to push their anti-fighting agenda, and that they all "should be ashamed" of themselves. He closed by calling out former fighters Stu Grimson, Jim Thompson and Chris Nilan as being "turncoats and hypocrites" for suggesting fighters can be more prone to drug and alchohol abuse.

Said Cherry, "You guys, you were fighters, and now you don't want guys to make the same living you did."

You can see the entire seven-minute segment over at CBC.

Photo: CBC

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 6, 2011 9:08 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 11:11 pm
 

Jagr records 1,600th career point



By: Adam Gretz

We were a bit worried about the Philadelphia Flyers offense following the loss of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino over the summer, but perhaps this Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux connection will be a suitable replacement. They seemed to quickly develop some chemistry in the preseason and their playmaking ability was on display in the first period of Thursday's season opening 2-1 win against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.

With the Flyers trailing, 1-0, late in the first period, Jagr set up Giroux for the 1,600th point of his NHL career, becoming just the ninth player in NHL history to reach that mark, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Marcel Dionne, Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Joe Sakic.

The goal itself was a beauty from Giroux, a player that's developed a flare for highlight reel goals throughout his young career, as he blew past Boston's best defender, Zdeno Chara, and then made a nice backhand-to-forehead move to dangle around the best goalie in the NHL, Tim Thomas, and slide the puck into the net.

Just minutes later Jakub Voracek beat Thomas seconds before the period came to a close to score what proved to be the game-winning goal. Just as important for the Flyers is that their big-money pickup from over summer, Ilya Bryzgalov, stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced to earn his first win for Philadelphia.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.


Posted on: October 6, 2011 12:55 am
Edited on: October 6, 2011 1:38 pm
 

Boston will be first team to repeat in 14 years

ZC1

By: Adam Gretz

Recent history suggests it's a terrible, pointless idea to pick the defending Stanley Cup champions to repeat. It hasn't been done since 1997-98 when the Detroit Red Wings swept the Washington Capitals, and only three times since then has a defending champion even managed to return to the finals (the Dallas Stars in 2000, the New Jersey Devils in 2001 and the Red Wings in 2009).

Winning the cup one time is hard enough. But to come back following a shortened offseason, after going through a grueling 82-game regular season and four best-of-seven playoff series just to do it all over again has to take a tremendous toll on the body.

Despite all of that, I'm still picking the Bruins to repeat anyway.

2011-12 NHL Season Preview
They have a great 1-2 punch in net, balanced scoring depth through all four lines and one of the best defenseman in the NHL. What's not to like about their chances to repeat?

Three reasons to like the Bruins:

1) Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask: You can probably count on one hand -- and have fingers remaining -- the number of goalies in the league that are capable of carrying a team all the way to the Stanley Cup, and Boston has one of them in Tim Thomas. A former ninth-round pick that had to bounce around the minor leagues and Europe before finally getting his shot in the NHL, Thomas has become the best goaltender in the league and won two of the past three Vezina Trophies, leading the league in save percentage each year, and is one of the few true game-changers at his position. His margin of victory in the save percentage race last season (.008 points) was the largest in the NHL in over 12 years.

If Thomas isn't enough, his backup, Tuukka Rask, has proven that he's capable of being a No. 1 goaltender as well, and sandwiched between Thomas' two Vezina seasons he ended up getting the starting job in Boston and had the best save percentage in the NHL himself. That, of course, means the Bruins have had the goaltender with the top save percentage in the league three years running. There's not many teams that can say that.

2) Depth down the middle: Unfortunately, Marc Savard's career appears to be in jeopardy due to his ongoing concussion problems, but even without him the Bruins boast impressive depth down the middle with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci leading the way. They may not put up huge numbers offensively, but they're excellent two-way players that can control the puck and shut down whoever is on the ice against them.

Bergeron finished fourth in Selke Trophy voting last season and is my pick to win it this year.

The Bruins may not have had a single player finish higher than 40th in the NHL scoring race last year, but they still managed to finish fifth as a team in goals scored due to their depth, and even with the losses of Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi this offseason, they're still able to go four lines deep.

3) Zdeno Chara: Of course, any time you have one of the best defenseman in the NHL it's always a boost to your chances, and Chara has become a regular in the yearly discussion for the Norris Trophy thanks to his ability to match up with the other teams top line and also provide offense from the blue line with his booming slap shot. Along with Chara, Dennis Seidenberg is an underrated player on the blue line that is a fearless shot-blocker and can also provide some offense. There's not a ton of depth on the blue line after that, but Chara and Seidenberg are a pair of workhorses that can carry the load, and when you combine their goaltending with the relentless defensive play of their forwards they should able to overcome whatever shortcomings their bottom two defensive pairings might have.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 29, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 4:27 pm
 

Northeast Division Preview: Champ B's still tops

By Brian Stubits

For the first time since the 1993-94 season began, the reigning champion resides in the Northeast Division after the Bruins ended their Cup drought with a thrilling run through the postseason. The even better news for Boston (but not so awesome for the rest of the division) is that the Bruins are back almost completely intact.

No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings in 1997 and 98. Only two other teams have made it back to the Finals a year after winning in that time, the Stars in 1999 then 2000 and once again the Red Wings (2008, 09). There's a reason for it, the fabled championship hangover.

But in hockey, I think it plays a bigger part than any other sport. The offseason is as short as it gets, the playoffs as long and grueling as any of the major sports. The Bruins lifted the Cup in the middle of June and reported back to camp in early September. All the while they were enjoying a whirlwind of a summer that included plenty of partying and celebrating a title. The Blackhawks admittedly struggled with it last season (although the roster being ripped apart didn't help matters). If only getting rid of it were as easy as taking a couple Tylenol and drinking Vitamin Water.

If they do look sluggish and lethargic to start the season then the Buffalo Sabres will be ready to pounce on the opportunity. They are hockey hungry in Buffalo these days with hope their Sabres can become power players in the East. As for the other three in the division, the East's Canadian coalition? Well they will all be hoping to resurrect their glory days.

You can't exactly count out the Canadiens and Maple Leafs from the division crown, but this likely is a two-horse race in the Northeast.

Now we'll just have to wait and see how the Bruins respondin their quest for another Cup.

Northeast Division (predicted order of finish)

Boston Bruins: Why mess with a good thing? That's an easy philosphy to live by when you are coming off of claiming the Stanley Cup. Really, the only new additions they have to work into the fold are Benoit Pouliot as a bottom-six forward and Joe Corvo on the blue line. With the solid support all around them of a close-knit group, they should be able to seamlessly slide in and fill the voids left by Tomas Kaberle, Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder, the only pieces to the championship puzzle missing.

One thing I'm not sure many people realize, but this team is very young in addition to being super talented. There are still five players just among the forwards who will be restricted free agents when their contracts run out. The defense is a bit more grizzled, however, and that's where a good chunk of the leadership comes from, of course including captain Zdeno Chara.

There might be a slight sense of urgency for the B's to repeat as champs as they will have a lot of work to do to keep the team together as 10 of their regulars don't have contracts beyond next season. But GM Peter Chiarelli seems to be preparing for that well, saving the B's cap space to maneuver.

Strengths: What's not to like? They are very balanced as 10 players had more than 40 points a season ago, although two of them have departed (Kaberle and Ryder). Defensively they have plenty of veteran presence and have been a very good unit under Claude Julien. Plus, you know, they have that fella named Chara.

Oh, and how can we make it this far without discussing the team's best player, Tim Thomas? He was simply superb last season and through the playoffs, posting the highest single-season save percentage in league history. It's not as if his backup is chopped liver, either, as Tuukka Rask will be expected to shoulder more of the load for the 38-year-old Thomas this year.

Weaknesses: Despite all of their success when five-on-five, Boston's special teams weren't up to snuff. Without much change in personnel, they are going to have to find a way from within to improve the 20th-ranked power play and 18th-best penalty kill units. The power play was a growing concern in the playoffs, which included an 0-for-21 streak in the opening round win over the Canadiens. They tried all sorts of remedies to fix it, including parking Chara in front of the net, but they found their groove late in the playoffs when Chara and his booming shot returned to the point. Their hope is that success will roll over.

After that, we're just getting picky here. There just aren't too many holes from a team that ranked in the top five both offensively and defensively last season and was the NHL's top plus/minus team. They will have the talk of a championship hangover looming over them for much of the season and they will have the proverbial target on their backs as the champs. Those are hurdles that will be new.

Buffalo Sabres: I'm not sure what fans in Buffalo are more excited about right now: the Bills' 3-0 start or the first full season under Terry Pegula? The Sabres' biggest (and richest) fan ushers in a new era that the fans are still trying to get used to, in a good way: Buffalo is a big spender now. Pegula will make sure of that as he is willing to put his money where his mouth is. And his mouth has expressed some awfully high expectations ... multiple championships.

On that note, the Sabres were active in the offseason, most notably signing Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino to augment the core group that Buffalo has built. But possibly the biggest acquisition they made was the less-heralded of them all, and that was bringing in Robyn Regehr. The stout defenseman should prove to be a great addition as he brings a lot of toughness and all-around defense. Not to mention he will serve as a good influence for assumed partner Tyler Myers, who is in line for a nice bounceback season with more talent with him on defense.

It almost feels like an acquisition, but the return of Derek Roy will be a big boost, too. The front-line center missed the second half of last season due to a quad injury.

Welcome to Pegulaville. Buffalo still can hardly believe it.

Strengths: There is obviously a strong leader, for one. That's a very nice asset to have an owner so willing to win. But beyond him, there's a reason why Buffalo has moved into the conversation to crack the home-ice equation in the East, the new faces likely will make a very good group even better. In particular, the addition of Ehrhoff to the league's ninth-ranked power-play unit will make the special-teams unit a real asset for the Sabres.

Like their division rivals in Boston, as talented as they are all over the ice, their best player probably sits in the blue paint all game long. Ryan Miller didn't have the greatest of seasons last year for Buffalo, but that tends to happen when you come off a Vezina-winning season ... there's only one direction to go. He's still one of the absolute best in the game.

Oh, and the slug logo is gone, wiped away for good. That's positive for everybody.

Weaknesses: The cap situation is a bit troubling. With Pegula's desire to spend, the Sabres actually exceeded the salary cap over the summer, so they will have to be extra diligent with how they manage the roster. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave them much room to try and make any improvements midseason if need be.

Overall, it's not a roster with many holes in it whatsoever. It will just come down to how talented the team proves to be as there are multiple players capable of 50-plus point seasons.

Montreal Canadiens: Last season, without Max Pacioretty or Andrei Markov, the Canadiens captured the six seed in the East and took the eventual champions to the brink. I'm sure this team, almost al of it remains in town, is still stewing over blowing a 2-game lead to its bitter rival in Boston.

I definitely like the signing of Erik Cole in July, he is a solid (and physical) forward who could prove to be one of the bigger acquisitions of the summer for any team. He adds to a good, but not great group of forwards. They are capable, but need to be better than 23rd-best in the league like a season ago.

Where the success of this team will likely hinge is on the blue line. They have a couple of excellent young talents in P.K. Subban and Markov and some solid players behind them like Josh Gorges and Hal Gill.

A few steps toward a return to form for Scott Gomez (just seven goals last season) wouldn't hurt eiher.

Strenghts: Special teams. Under Jacques Martin, the Habs have been good in both departments of special teams, ranking seventh in both phases a season ago. If Markov remains healthy, the power play remains lethal as Subban and him both are excellent with the man up.

It's pretty Wild the goaltending this division features. Like both teams above them here, the Habs have an oustanding man living in the crease. It took fans a while in Montreal, but they finally warmed up to Carey Price, who finally lived up to his expectations last season. Playing a 72-game work load, Price posted a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage. The trick will be doing it again, but the safe bet is that he turned a corner and an encore shouldn't be a problem.

Weaknesses: Let's be honest, having to rely on Gomez to anchor a top-six line after a 37-point season doesn't have overwhelming talent. It showed in their scoring totals from last season when they averaged 2.60 goals per game. Cole will help as he not only brings a power game (among the league leaders in hits for forwards) but he can score. They would love to see him at least match his 26 goals from a season ago, that would have been good for second on the team.

A major concern all season will rest on the blue line and the depth there. Adding Chris Campoli after camp began was a nice addition to help with the concern, but they still can't really afford for injuries to set in, particularly for Markov. They just invested in him with a rich contract this offseason, so they are counting on him returning at full strength from the ACL tear and remaining that way.

Toronto Maple Leafs: How much longer will the fans in Toronto put up with a team that can't make the playoffs? The postseason drought stretches back to the lockout as the Leafs have been on the outside each season since. The only other team in the same boat is Florida, and let's just say the fans in Toronto take their hockey a touch more seriously than those in the Sunshine State. There's hope that this could be the season where they break through and return to playoff hockey, but that's a tall order for this group still.

Over the summer, GM Brian Burke really coveted center Brad Richards, but his staff was unable to convince the top free agent to head to Toronto. So as a backup plan he signed Tim Connolly from Buffalo to anchor the team's top line. If healthy, a very big if, Connolly can prove to be a good addition, the Leafs had to get deeper at center. Also, I really liked the quiet addition of John-Michael Liles to the defense.

But not much else will matter if the goaltending situation isn't solved. That has been the achilles heel for years in Toronto, but they think -- or hope -- the answer lies in James Reimer in his first full season in the NHL.

Strengths: As you'd expect for a team built by Burke, they have become a physical bunch in Toronto. The team captain, Dion Phaneuf, is one of the toughest hitters in the league. But there is obviously a danger of that being a weakness if the team is getting sent to the sin bin (or being Shanabanned with the new emphasis on safety) too often.

The second line is probably good enough to be Toronto's No. 1 group. The combination of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin placed second, third and fourth in the team scoring, respectively. Each had at least 21 goals.

Weaknesses: The problem is, the skill on the team doesn't go much deeper. Only six players on the team last year reached double digits in scoring. The fact is the Leafs have two lines that can hold up with most in the league, but the third and fourth lines are where they feel the drop.

The center position remains a concern. Sure, Connolly was brought in to help that and same with Matthew Lombardi, but you can't be sure what you are getting from either guy from a health standpoint. As mentioned, Connolly has a history of injury issues. He has only played more than 70 games once (2009-10) since the 2002-03 season. With Lombardi, he's coming off a concussion that cost him all but two games last season. If either or both goes down, then Toronto is right back to being razor thin down the middle.

Ottawa Senators: This is odd territory for the folks in Ottawa. Never in the franchise's history have they had to actually rebuild. Since originally building the team in the early 90s, the team had a long, successful run that included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006-07. A couple of the members from the old guard are still around -- Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, but the majority of the team is in place to win in the future, not necessarily now.

Expect to see a lot of the kids getting burn this season. It appears as though the team's top draft pick this summer, Sweedish center Mika Zibanejad, is going to make the team out of camp. Another coveted prospect, Jared Cowen, is also making a bid for the roster and join David Rundblad among the defensive corps. Nikita Filatov, who hadn't lived up to his perceived potential in Columbus, will also be given a shot to show what he can do. If he fits in and focuses on his game, his addition could prove to be a steal for Ottawa.

While new coach Paul MacLean and GM Bryan Murray are saying all the rights things about this team being competitive this season, it will serve as a good opportunity to get a glimpse of the future.

Strenghts: They didn't score much at all or play defense particularly well, but they were alright on special teams, particularly on the penalty kill, which ranked ninth in the league. Sergei Gonchar can help keep that ball rolling. That will qualify as a positive here.

We'll also throw goaltender Craig Anderson into the category. He wasn't spectacular last season split between Colorado and Ottawa, but he's shown before what he is capable of when he starred for the Avalanche two seasons ago. And his stint with the Sens was encouraging as he was 11-5-1 with his new team.

It speaks well for what is in the system that the team's AHL affiliate in Binghamton won the Calder Cup.

Weaknesses: This says a lot: No player that participated in more than 30 games for the Senators had a plus-rating last season. Chris Phillips was the lowest of them all at minus-35.

This team struggled mightily to score last season and that is unlikely to get easier this time around. Right now there just isn't a heck of a lot of talent to talk about. Spezza was the only player to top the 20-goal mark last year and he barely did so with 21.

The youth is a weakness for now as it will be error prone and show it is green, but the hope is that it turns into a strength down the line.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 21, 2011 9:51 am
Edited on: September 21, 2011 11:53 am
 

Daily Skate: Realignment decision needed by Dec.

By Brian Stubits

PROGRESS IN MOVING: In addition to getting the OK to on changes to the net and a goal verification line yesterday, the Board of Governors also opened up the discussion on realignment for next season. In order to prepare the schedule, they will need to make a decision by December. "Obviously we have to make arrangements to move Winnipeg west, and we had an opportunity to explore the issues," Commissioner Gary Bettman told NHL.com. "No conclusions were reached, but it's something I'm hopeful we can resolve at the December meeting."

NOT SO SHARP GLASS: With Zdeno Chara's check of Max Pacioretty into the stanchion in Montreal as the impetus for change, the glass at the Bell Centre has a new look to it. Instead of the sharp, 90 degree angle it was at before, it instead is rounded off, hoping to avoid another ugly incident. (@habsinsideout1)

STARTING OVER: Things hardly went well for Sheldon Souray in Edmonton, flaming out at the end of his career with the Oilers. But this offseason saw him make his way to the Stars where he gets another chance. “It’s not about finding extra motivation to go out and prove other people wrong. It’s about proving myself right.” (Montreal Gazette)

SOCIAL STUDY: The reactions continue to come in from players about the new social media policy the NHL adopted earlier this month. Numerous players on the Predators don't have any problems with it, helping to prove it was more of just a formality than anything Earth-shattering. (Puck Scene)

IS REIMER READY? It's a fair question to ask. The Toronto Maple Leafs are handing the torch over to their young goaltender for the start of this season. Nicholas J. Cotsonika takes a look at whether or not James Reimer is the real deal in Toronto or not. (Yahoo)

NHL'S TRIBUTE: The NHL has put together a video tribute that is being played before some of the preseasgon games, paying homage to all of the former NHL players who died this summer, including Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and all of those in the KHL plane crash. (On the Forecheck)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
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