The Atlantic division has always been one of the most unpredictable divisions in the NHL. Every team in the division has enjoyed runs of success, with the Pittsburgh Penguins being the most recent, as they won the 2008-09 Stanley Cup.
Today I will give my projected standings, and analysis on each team in the Atlantic division, here are my projected standings.
Pittsburgh Penguins 103 pts
Philadelphia Flyers 98 pts
New York Rangers 96 pts
New Jersey Devils 93 pts
New York Isalnders 82 pts
The Pittsburgh Penguins seem the obvious pick, due to their immense amount of talent, but it won't come easy. The Penguins blue-line took a hit, as they lost defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, both solid defensemen. The Penguins also lost Petr Sykora, a reliable goal scorer, with playoff experience. Pittsburgh is still left with many strenghs, offensively.
The Penguins offense will be explosive, as always. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby Chris Kunitz, and Jordan Staal will do that to any offense. The Pens have the ability to score on all four of their lines. Players like Bill guerin, and Tyler Kennedy add grit to the Penguins line-up, along with scoring touch. If Pittsburgh makes another deep playoff run it will be on the strength of excellent offense.
Defense will be a bit of a question mark for Pittsburgh. They have a solid top four, with the likes of Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and newly acquired defenseman Jay Mckee, but they have very little depth.
It seems Alex Goligoski and Mark Eaton will be relied on as the third pairing, on the Pens blue-line. If the Penguins defense has injuries like it did early last year they will be in trouble, as their division is full of speedy scorers.
Goaltending should be quite solid for the Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury can be streaky at times, but he usually gets on good hot streaks when it counts the most. The Penguins also have Brent Johnson, who was a solid back-up on the Capitals for many years. He has also proven he can start for an extended period in his past, and should provide a nice compliment to Fleury.
The Philadelphia Flyers will finish second in the division, in my opinion. They too have excellent offense with the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne. The Flyers will sport a solid four line attack, with a nice amount of grit. Players like Dan Carcillo and Riley Cote will put fear in the opponents, who try to lay a hit on any of the Flyers' play-makers.
The Flyers defense will be quite good, as veterans Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger headline their blue-line. Braydon Coburn has also proved to be a great defenseman in the making, to think the Flyers only traded Alexie Zhitnik, to acquire this stud. Matt Carle and Ole-Kristian Toleffson will also be solid players on the back end.
The defense will have its work cut out for them, as they have to face the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik and Zach Parise quite a bit.
Goaltending may prove to be the biggest weakness, for the Flyers. Newly acquired goaltender Ray Emery has not played in the NHL, for a few years, and has proved to be a cancer in the locker-room with Ottawa.
I would not be surprised if back-up Brian Boucher starts the bulk of the games this season, as he was solid for the San Jose Sharks last year, and was a very good goaltender in his first stint with the Flyers.
The New York Rangers come in third in the Atlantic, and will join the Penguins and Flyers in the playoffs. The Rangers made some big moves this off-season, trading Scott Gomez for Chris Higgins, and signing sniper Marian Gaborik. Higgins and Gaborik had injury troubles last season, but if both can stay healthy they will add punch to an above average offensive line-up.
The Rangers also bolstered their offense, with the acquisitions of Ales Kotalik, Vinny Prospal and Tyler Arnason.
Defense at the moment appears average, but the Rangers have a bright future at the blue-line. Michael Del Zotto, Matt Gilroy, and Bobby Sanguinetti should give the Rangers a solid blue-line, a few years down the road. At the moment Michael Roszival, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Wade Redden will be relied on to protect the back end.
Goaltender Henrik Lunqvist will be relied on heavily this season, as he is every year for the Rangers. He has continually proven he is one of the best in the NHL, by at times carrying the Rangers on his back to a playoff run. Back-up Steve Valiquette will be relied on to give Lunqvist much needed rest, throughout the season.
Call me crazy but I do not expect the Devils to make the playoffs. Yes, they were excellent throughout the bulk of the 2008-09 season, but looked quite sloppy, and lazy near the end of the season. This was magninfied as they were beaten by a sneaky Carolina Hurricanes team in seven games, in the first round of last year's playoffs.
Offense should be a strengh for the Devils, but could be suffocated with new coach Jacques Lemaire's defensive style of play. Forwards Zach Parise, Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias will be relied on for the scoring, and should be complimented nicely by veterans Brendan Shanahan, and Jamie Langenbrunner.
The defense is not what it was when Lemaire's trap style reigned supreme. The likes of Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko are gone. Defensemen Paul Martin, Cory Murphy and Johnny Oduya now call the blue-line home, and will have to play way above their heads, to keep up with Lemaire's trap style.
When it comes to goaltending all you need to say is Martin Brodeur. Brodeur will be key, and have to be huge if the Devils want to make the playoffs, with solid back-up Yann Danis, goaltending should not be a problem for New Jersey.
The New York Islanders had a rough 2008-09 campaign, but I do believe they will improve this year. Kyle Okposo has another year under his belt, and John Tavares will be an excellent player in the future, and seems to be ready to help this franchise rise from the ashes. With these two, along with Trent Hunter, Doug Weight and Josh Bailey the Islaners will have a decent offense.
Defense will be a problem for the Islanders. Mark Striet is a nice defenseman, but there are just not enough defensemen on this team, with NHL experience. Brendan Witt had a rough 2008-09 season, but will be relied on for his experience.
The Islanders should have good goaltending, even if Rick Dipietro fails to stay healthy. The Isles have a solid duo, behind Dipietro with Dwyane Roloson and Martin Biron, acting as back-ups.
The Atlantic division will definitely be an exciting division to keep track of as, there are many skilled players that will amaze us in the 2009-10 NHL season.