2013-14 NHL preview: Metropolitan Division

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2013-14 NHL preview: Metropolitan Division

We began our four-part series previewing the 2013-14 NHL season with a look at the Central Division on Sunday, the Pacific Division on Monday and the Atlantic Division on Tuesday.

Today, we break down the Metropolitan Division.

Capsules may not include latest injury or roster updates.

Metropolitan Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Even though they only have one Cup this decade, the Penguins remain the class of the East just based on sheer talent -- and that's despite the fact that franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has looked very mediocre in the playoffs two years running. Most people would have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their top three of any poll and that says why the Pens are that good despite being blown out by Boston last spring. Key acquisitions at the trade deadline are gone, but the biggest addition was GM Ray Shero bringing back defenseman Rob Scuderi, whose underrated performance helped the Pens win the Cup in 2009. Fleury’s play needs to pick up substantially, given the shinny hockey the Pens often display. Tomas Vokoun’s blood clot injury is huge right now, especially if Fleury goes south.
 
2. New York Rangers
The days of terror at the rink have ended on Broadway with Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella essentially switching coaching locations. The crafty Vigneault promises to be a headache for the East. No one can explain the full meltdown of the Rangers late last season outside of the $60 million-bust, Brad Richards, but goalie Henrik Lundqvist needs to raise his game in the postseason. He is just 15-17 over the last two years. They've got a lot of new faces, though centerman Dominic Moore returns after a year off following the death of his wife. He is the most intriguing in terms of re-energizing a power play that has been mired in the bottom-third of the league. Look for more help in that area from defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
 
3. Philadelphia Flyers
On paper, the Flyers seem much improved with just a few acquisitions -- Mark Streit to move the puck quicker up the ice; rejuvenated Vinny Lecavalier to give them size at center; and a veteran goalie with a Cup -- Ray Emery -- to work in tandem with Steve Mason. Yet in training camp, neither goalie looked particularly sharp and the team’s overall defense and backchecking were terrible. The search for the missing left wing didn’t turn up anyone, instead the team moved some Flyers into different spots to make room for rookie center Scott Laughton. A healthy defense is absolutely essential for the Flyers to compete, let alone make the postseason when it’s anybody game. Danny Briere’s stick and playoff madness will be missed, but if Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn rebound, so could the Flyers.
 
4. Washington Capitals
The Caps won the Southeast Division seven times between 1998 and 2013. They won’t enjoy such success competing in the realigned East’s Metropolitan, which is actually a tougher division than the former Atlantic. Adam Oates’ decision to move Alex Ovechkin from left to right wing last year to jump-start his scoring juices paid off. Ovie’s 32 goals led the league; his 56 points were third-best. Problem has been the Caps never seem to generate postseason momentum and have lost in the conference semis three times this decade. With Alexander Semin gone, Ovie has a new Russian friend in Mikhail Grabovski, the Caps' top free-agent acquisition. There is good talent here led by goalie Braden Holtby (2.58, .920) and defenseman John Carlson.
 
5. New York Islanders
No one could have asked more of the Isles, who gave the Penguins all they could handle in their fascinating six-game playoff battle before folding last year. But the time has come for this young club, which soon will move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, to make some headway in the East. John Tavares (28 goals) assumes the captaincy from the departed Streit. One thing you won’t see is that Rick DiPietro albatross hanging around the Isles’ necks. Evgeni Nabokov is again the No. 1 goalie. Forward prospect Ryan Strome appeared to have won a spot on the roster, but was sent back to juniors. He was the Isles’ fifth overall pick in 2011. More improvement is expected from Matt Moulson and Josh Bailey. Trade acquisition Cal Clutterbuck (skate cut injury) packs some muscle (155 hits).
 
6. New Jersey Devils
What a disastrous summer for the Devils and general manager Lou Lamoriello, starting with sniper Ilya Kovalchuk telling his boss he was leaving for Mother Russia after free agency had pretty much ended. Then came the financial reports of the Devils' misfortunes coupled with the sale of the club and subsequent release of a mountain of lawsuits against the Devils from various entities. Had Kovy made his intentions known sooner, maybe David Clarkson would still be there. He was replaced by Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder and to a lesser degree, Rostislav Olesz. The other news is that Marty Brodeur may or may not be the starter in net by season’s end now that Cory Schneider is there. Jaromir Jagr looked cooked by the playoffs for Boston and may not offer much help.
 
7. Carolina Hurricanes
Injuries wrecked the Hurricanes last season across the board, then forward Eric Staal (53 points) injured his knee at the World Championships. The Canes’ health is vital to this club getting back into the hunt, which is why GM Jim Rutherford took a chance on Mike Komisarek with a one-year deal after he was bought out by Toronto and then rolled the dice in trading for nasty and dirty defenseman Andrej Sekera from Buffalo. Carolina also picked up diminutive forward Nathan Gerbe after he was bought out by the Sabres. In all, Rutherford added six players. Cam Ward’s knee is of huge concern, which is likely why the club added goalie Anton Khudobin. Top prospect Elias Lindholm will start the season with the team.
 
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
There have been a lot of changes in Ohio since the arrival of John Davidson as team president in charge of hockey operations. There is optimism for the first time in awhile coming off the heels of the revamped administrative wing of the organization and the pleasantries of having goalie Sergei Bobrovsky win the Vezina Trophy. Even bigger, however, was how Davidson managed to score a coup with the signing of ex-Bruins forward Nathan Horton, perhaps the best free agent on the market. He’ll have seven years to do what Rick Nash was never able to do -- make this club respectable and a playoff contender. Alas, Horton should still be recovering from shoulder surgery when the puck drops, which puts more pressure on Marian Gaborik to carry the offense.

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

VOORHEES, N.J. — Radko Gudas was so hyped up, he was having great difficulty trying to communicate his excitement after having crunched two players during battle drills.
 
“This is the fun where it starts … where the fun starts?” he said with a laugh. “Everybody wants to get the feeling of game-like situations. Everybody is trying their hardest.”
 
After two days of mostly drills with gradually advancing intensity, the Flyers wrapped up Saturday’s training camp with two-on-two battle drills.
 
Two guys going to the net and shooting, getting the rebound, all the while fighting off another player.
 
Gudas wants to demonstrate he can still maim guys along the boards with a taped-up right wrist (stress fracture). And he did.
 
“I haven’t used the wrist for a couple weeks so it’s nice to get a touch with somebody else and get into the battle situation with someone else and know I can still do it,” he said.
 
“This is more for the older guys who weren’t here for the rookie [camp] to get in there, get a feel for it.”
 
All this aside, Gudas might not participate in Sunday’s full squad scrimmage only because he has not been cleared to shoot pucks yet.
 
“I have to stay as much as I can off the heavy slapper,” he said.
 
The Flyers have two split-squad games Monday — one in New Jersey, the other in Brooklyn.
 
“The guys are anxious to have a scrimmage,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Couple good, hard workdays and they handled it really well. It’s time to get into a scrimmage situation, which leads into a game the next day.”
 
Hence the battle drills to get players to take their energy to that next level.
 
“You got to slowly keep moving toward game readiness,” Hakstol said. “There’s a difference from practice to a full preseason game.
 
“Today was a little more battle in practice than yesterday but some subtle detail mixed into each of the drills.”

Broadcast notes
Monday's game in New Jersey will be broadcast on radio on 97.5 The Fanatic, while the Islanders' game is slated to be a video webcast on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com.

Tuesday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center and Wednesday's game against the Devils in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will both air on TCN and 97.5.

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

VOORHEES, N.J. — What a difference for Brayden Schenn to walk into Flyers training camp and feel as if he’s arrived.
 
The forward is coming off a season in which he posted career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), which earned him the team’s Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the most improved Flyer. 
 
Best of all, he was rewarded with a four-year, $20.5 million contract in July.
 
“I feel good coming into this year,” Schenn said. “The Flyers showed some trust and confidence in me by signing me for four years. Coming in here, I’m excited to get the season going and build off last year.”
 
At least he won’t have to begin camp on the fifth line like he did last fall after general manager Ron Hextall had challenged him to take his game to another level and new head coach Dave Hakstol made him work to advance himself in the lineup.
 
“You hope it won’t be like that [fifth line], especially with [seven] guys gone,” Schenn said jokingly, meaning the Flyers playing in the World Cup of Hockey.
 
The big question for Schenn is whether he plays left wing on Claude Giroux’s line or plays wing on Sean Couturier's unit. He proved to everyone last season he can play all three forward spots now and be effective on the ice.
 
“I finished on the left,” he said. “I said forward or center but I played so much left wing, right wing a little center in the playoffs. So I feel comfortable now all over.
 
“Wherever the opportunity is to play with great players and make the most of the situation is where you want to be right now.”
 
These first two days of camp, Schenn has been very aggressive and motivated on the ice.
 
Schenn, Giroux and Wayne Simmonds represented the top line much of last season, especially in the second half. That was partly because Jakub Voracek had slumped so badly from his breakout season the year before and couldn’t hold his spot on the first line.
 
“It’s tough to say because lines change throughout the year,” Schenn said. “When you are trying to find chemistry and this and that. Wherever I start, I just have to make the most of every opportunity.
 
“We have a lot of top players around here to play with … to pencil my name into one spot is hard to say. Wherever they place me at the start, I’ll to try with it.”
 
It’s expected he’ll start the season again at left wing on Giroux’s line after he serves his three-game suspension for a hit against Capitals forward T.J. Oshie in the playoffs.
 
“It’s good to have guys who can move around because you never know what you are gonna need in a top six,” Hextall said. “You like a left-hand Brayden on the left side with skill.”
 
Hakstol said he wants guys “who fit well” together, so that may be the answer right there.
 
There was talk last season whether the Schenn Brothers were having negative impacts on each other. Luke Schenn, the veteran defenseman, came to camp and was demoted to eighth on the depth chart. He was angry from Day 1. Brayden Schenn was angry at the fifth line.
 
Both would huddle with each other every day. Both cared so deeply about the other, they acted as each’s confidante. Yet when Luke Schenn was traded, it seemed to benefit both players.
 
“Probably a better question for Brayden, but a lot of people have pointed to that,” Hextall said. “When Luke got traded, Brayden had played six or seven really good games ahead of that.
 
“Whether that was coincidence or not I don’t have an answer. I do think what he said there, there’s obvious reason based on personality and it probably could do you good or do you harm.”
 
Brayden Schenn said he always dreamed of playing with his brother, but it adds other pressures.
 
“When you come to the rink [as brothers], you are so tight and so close, you tend to worry about each other more than you have to, just because it’s family and he’s your brother,” he said.
 
“Now that Luke’s gone, he’s in a good situation in Arizona, I hope he gets a good opportunity. Now you tend to worry about yourself a little more. Come to the rink and focus on what you have to do and not to worry about Luke or vice-versa.”
 
Schenn said it’s obvious that the club has made a commitment to himself, Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier and Voracek with the long-term contracts handed out in recent years.
 
To that end, he said, the window of opportunity for some of these Flyers is fast approaching. Some are in their peak years now. Schenn, 25, and Couturier, 23, are the youngest among that group.
 
“They will challenge us again this year to get better,” Schenn said. “They have invested in us. We all got to step up. Parts on the back end like 'Ghost' [Shayne Gostisbehere] and Gudy [Radko Gudas]. Everyone has got to get better year by year.
 
“I hate to say it. We’re not old by any means, but our core group of guys are in their prime now and we have to try to make it happen.”
 
It starts in training camp.