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NHL Predictions: Power Ranking the Teams in the Atlantic Division

Andre KhatchaturianCorrespondent IIIOctober 6, 2011

NHL Predictions: Power Ranking the Teams in the Atlantic Division

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    The Atlantic Division has been one of the more competitive divisions in recent hockey history. That being said, it has been dominated by the Flyers and Devils in its existence. 

    The Penguins have won the division once in 2008. The Rangers have also only won it once, back in 1994. The Islanders have never won the division.

    This is a new year, though, with new hopes and aspirations for these five bitter rivals. 

    One thing is for sure, they will grind it out to the very end. Until then, it's time to make some predictions on how the Atlantic Division will shape up.

    Here we go!

5. New York Islanders

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    The Islanders continue to be miles behind the rest of the Atlantic Division pack. Although they have mightily improved and get a plethora of injured players back from last season, they are still not a playoff team and are a year or two away from being one.

    The important question remains whether Rick DiPietro can stay healthy or not. He has become one of the most injury prone players in the league and the reason why the Islanders have struggled in the goals allowed category for years.

    The Islanders defense is also suspect this season. Other than Mark Streit and Mark Eaton, they are a young and inexperienced bunch. 

    The Islander forwards also lack experience, but are very talented. Guys like John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner are going to try to carry the team throughout the season. 

    With all of that being said, this team has a bright future. They are developing into a solid team but still have several years to grow. 

4. New York Rangers

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    The Rangers can make the playoffs being the fourth best team in the Atlantic. This is how strong this division is. 

    The New York Rangers face plenty of questions. There have been plenty of occasions where the Rangers have gone after the biggest fish in the market during the offseason, and he has been nothing but a bust. Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure are a couple of names that come into mind that fit the mold. 

    Will Brad Richards be a bust, too? We'll see. He may have been the biggest fish on the market, but this year's free agent market was one of the weakest in years. The signs on the wall just point for Richards being a bust. 

    Ultimately, he will be the difference maker for the Rangers. If he steps up, the Rangers can make it in to the playoffs. If he doesn't, they'll be on the outside looking in.

    The Rangers are nothing but a borderline playoff team. Their defense is young and inexperienced and is nowhere near as good as the Devils, Flyers or Penguins defense.

    They do have Henrik Lundqvist, who will be one of the best goaltenders in the league again. But if the Rangers were such a guarantee to make the playoffs because of him, why have they not finished higher than third in the Atlantic since 1995-96?

    Lundqvist can't be the only guy. Richards needs to live up to his hype. Even then, the defense is a patchwork and can be detrimental to the Rangers chances. 

3. New Jersey Devils

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    The New Jersey Devils are going to resemble the team they were in the second half of last year more than the team they were in the first half.

    They have a potent offense with a deadly scorer in Ilya Kovalchuk. He scored 22 goals in the last 45 games. Kovalchuk is surrounded by other scoring threats like Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. The team also recently brought back veteran Petr Sykora, who will provide additional scoring depth.

    Secondly, the defense is pretty legitimate with guys like Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, who are known for being shut down defensive guys. 

    Finally, the Martin Brodeur criticisms need to stop. If Dwayne Roloson can lead the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Finals, then a younger and more legendary Martin Brodeur can lead the Devils to the playoffs. 

    Many people are overlooking the team from the Swamplands because of their dismal first half last year, but they bounced back strongly and made quite a push for the playoffs. Expect the Devils to build on that momentum and make a run for the playoffs again. 

2. Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers may have lost two of their strongest scoring threats in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but that doesn't mean they haven't improved as a team.

    They addressed their biggest concern at goaltender by inking Ilya Bryzgalov to a huge contract. This addition alone will make the Flyers a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs. 

    The Flyers defense is one of the strongest in the league, with guys like Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. 

    Finally, they have great young forwards in James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who will light the lamp in Philly. 

    The additions of Maxime Talbot and Jaromir Jagr add some veteran punch for the Flyers. Jagr still looks like he can be a force as evidenced by his preseason performance, and Talbot will be a stronghold on the Flyer penalty kill. 

    The Flyers will compete for the top of the Atlantic Division and for the Stanley Cup. A man named Sidney Crosby might have something to say about that, though. That being said, the top of the Atlantic Division will be separated by less than two points. 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The consensus is that Sidney Crosby will play most of the season. Most people believe that he's going to play over 60 games, and that's just enough for the Penguins to take the Atlantic crown. 

    Crosby can easily score over 100 points in 60 games, and the resurgence of Evgeni Malkin makes things even more difficult for the Penguins' Atlantic foes. Malkin looks more invigorated and is ready to lead the team just in case Crosby isn't healthy. 

    For the first time, Crosby, Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Jordan Staal will all be playing together. This figures to be a dangerous threat for everybody in the NHL.

    The Pens powerplay will definitely improve this year with Malkin and Crosby now back in the lineup. 

    Finally, the Penguins defense is stacked with shut down guys like Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin and some guys who can rip the puck into the net like Zbynek Michalek and Kris Letang. 

    Goaltending wise, the Pens are potent with the Flower. This team has great potential. They'll definitely have a strong regular season with their deep team. Their postseason will be dictated on Crosby's health. 

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