NHL Season Preview 2012: Outlook for NY/NJ Metro-Area Teams

Daniel Friedman@DFriedmanNHLCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2011

NHL Season Preview 2012: Outlook for NY/NJ Metro-Area Teams

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    The 2011-12 NHL season has officially begun, and the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and New York Rangers are ready for battle in the tight Atlantic Division. 

    Each team has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, questions and answers. What those will translate into on the ice, well, that's a different story. 

    Here's how I expect things to play out. 

New Jersey Devils

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    Prediction: Fifth in Atlantic Division, 13th in Eastern Conference

    Three Reasons Why They Can Make the Playoffs:

    1. Martin Brodeur 

    He may be aging, but that hasn't seemed to slow down guys like Tim Thomas or Dwayne Roloson. Thomas just won a Stanley Cup, while Roloson came within one game of the Finals last season. If Brodeur can stand on his head, this team will be competitive and will be in the playoff race all year long.

    2.  Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk

    The Devils might not have a ton of depth on offense, but they do have two of the best wingers in hockey. If Kovalchuk and Parise can both break 90 points, they'll take some pressure off the rest of the forwards. The more they score, the less everyone else has to. Scoring by committee does work, and if you don't believe me, just look at what's happened in Nashville and Phoenix. It can work in New Jersey, too.

    3. Adam Larsson

    If Larsson can turn in an exceptional rookie campaign, he'll have done the Devils a tremendous service. New Jersey can use all the help they can get on defense, so if he can step up from the outset, that will be a tremendous boost that could give the team a chance to compete for a playoff spot.

    Three Reasons Why They Can Miss the Playoffs

    1. Lack of Depth

    There's simply not enough depth on this team. Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias (who's not getting any younger) and Travis Zajac will need to shoulder the load on offense, and aside from those forwards, the cupboard is relatively bare. Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov and newcomer Adam Larsson headline a solid defensive corps, but one that did not play well as a unit last year. 

    2. Martin Brodeur

    Martin Brodeur is still a good goaltender, and as I mentioned before, age doesn't necessarily have to prevent him from playing well. That being said, it's certainly possible that age plays a role here.

    He has not shown the same flair in recent years that he used to flaunt on a regular basis, nor does he have the defensive help he once had. Johan Hedberg provides stability in net; he's one of the most reliable backup netminders in all of hockey.

    3. Lack of Experienced, Fully-Developed Skaters 

    It's clear to me that the Devils, whether they wish to admit it or not, are in the midst of a rebuild, and the hiring of Peter DeBoer made that all the more obvious.

    DeBoer's strongest asset is his ability to work with young talent, and when you consider some of the new faces in Larsson, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefsen and Nick Palmieri, it's crystal clear that New Jersey is committed to a youth movement. Devils fans need to be patient; the playoffs will come, but this team just isn't there yet.

New York Islanders

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    Prediction: Fourth in Atlantic Division, Ninth in Eastern Conference

    Three Reasons Why They Can Make the Playoffs:

    1. Offensive Firepower

    Say what you will about the Islanders, but this team packs plenty of scoring punch.

    John Tavares (29 goals in 2010-11), Matt Moulson (31) and Michael Grabner (34) are a threat every time they touch the puck, and even third-line winger Blake Comeau managed to find the back of the net 24 times. Don't forget, Kyle Okposo missed most of last season, and he should be a 25-goal/60-point player this year. Mark Streit is back, too, and he's capable of producing points, especially on the power play.

    Star players have the ability to be game-changers, regardless of how much or how little his teammates are producing. If John Tavares plays well, he makes the players around him better, and we saw that last season when he helped P.A. Parenteau notch 50-plus points. The more he produces, the better the Isles' playoff chances will be.

    2. Veteran Leadership

    Brian Rolston, Jay Pandolfo and Steve Staios should provide much-needed experience and veteran guidance for this young Islander team. Perhaps had that been the case last season, the Isles wouldn't have put an end to that 20-plus game downward spiral they went through in 2010-11, which all but destroyed any shot at the postseason. 

    3. Solid Goaltending 

    Unorthodox as the situation might be, there's little reason for a trio of Rick DiPietro, Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov not to be able to deliver at least 15 wins each. That would translate into 45 wins and 90 points, which should be enough to keep the Isles in the hunt for a playoff spot. It's not so much to ask for. 

    Three Reasons Why They Can Miss the Playoffs

    1. Lack of Defensive Depth

    We know what Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald bring to the table, but if Milan Jurcina, Steve Staios and Mark Eaton are unable to hold the fort, it's going to be a rough season. 

    2. Power-Play Woes

    The Islanders need to take advantage of the man advantage, something they've struggled to do in recent years. The more they execute on the power play, the better their chances of winning hockey games. If they can't find a way to convert on those opportunities, they're going to come up short in the long run. 

    3. Poor Goaltending

    If DiPietro can't stay healthy, it'll be up to Montoya and Nabokov to steer the ship in the right direction. Montoya impressed during the preseason, but he needs to stay sharp this year. If last season was a fluke, he's in trouble and so are the Islanders. Nabokov needs to prove that he can shake off the rust and if he can't, that's also a major issue for this team. He wants to show he can still be a goaltender in this league—here's his chance. 

New York Rangers

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    Prediction: Third in Atlantic Division, Sixth in Eastern Conference

    Three Reasons Why They Can Make the Playoffs:

    1. Henrik Lundqvist

    He's been nothing short of spectacular since the day he arrived. Whenever Henrik is on his game, the Rangers usually win the game. Lundqvist is the main reason why the Blueshirts have even sniffed the playoffs lately; he'll play a major role once again in 2011-12. 

    2. Dynamic Duo of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik

    Finding a center for Gaborik was GM Glen Sather's top priority this summer, and he was successful in doing so. As long as both players stay healthy, they're going to be a lethal scoring tandem that will keep the Rangers in hockey games. 

    3. Secondary Scoring

    Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Artem Anesimov have been able to chip in and be productive. Good teams have multiple lines that can score, and as long as those guys keep that going, the Rangers will be in good shape. 

    Three Reasons Why They Can Miss the Playoffs:

    1. Injuries

    Gaborik has struggled to stay healthy for much of his career, and last season was no exception. If he's out of the lineup, the Rangers will be in trouble. The same can be said for defenseman Marc Staal, who's been out with concussion symptoms. New York must take his situation very seriously. Don't rush him back and make sure he's 100 percent ready to go before reinserting Staal into the lineup. He's the team's best defenseman. 

    2. Poor Defense

    Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonaugh need to prove that last season wasn't a fluke. They played well on defense in 2010-11 and they'll have to do it again, or the Rangers could find themselves on the outside looking in. Michael Del Zotto must improve his two-way game. Henrik Lundqvist is an excellent goaltender, but he can't do it alone.

    3. Secondary Scoring

    Assuming they're healthy, Richards and Gaborik should produce. That won't be enough, though, and if forwards such as Artem Anesimov and Wojtek Wolski don't contribute, it'll be much more difficult for the Rangers to clinch a playoff berth. 

    Comments are welcome.