2013-14 NHL season preview: Atlantic Division

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2013-14 NHL season preview: Atlantic Division

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

Today, we break down the Atlantic Division.

Capsules may not include latest injury or roster updates.

1. Boston Bruins
There were some staggering losses for the Bruins in the offseason because of free agency and trades: Nate Horton, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin and Andrew Ference … all gone. Even Jaromir Jagr is gone. Though GM Peter Chiarelli added five players to the roster, the most notable of which was Loui Eriksson from the trade of Seguin to Dallas, the Bruins seem to have lost some swagger and toughness, all around. They did extend Patrice Bergeron and had to pay the piper for goalie Tuukka Rask’s new deal (eight years, $56 million). There remains a boatload of talent, but again, the sum of what was lost seems greater than what was gained, though the Bruins still retain their paws. Jarome Iginla?
 
2. Ottawa Senators
Remember how people were laughing at the Senators in 2011-12 because of all the rookies and prospects in their lineup? Well, no one is laughing at a very good and competitive club any longer. One that has Cory Conacher and Bobby Ryan and was deep enough in goal to trade Ben Bishop. Daniel Alfredsson may be gone (hence the Ryan deal), but there’s plenty to like about the Sens, although GM Bryan Murray overpaid for Clarke MacArthur. The youth movement got some nice leadership last year from Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad, but Ottawa’s success will also depend on the overall health of Jason Spezza and former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. Was Craig Anderson’s 1.69 goals-against average an aberration or for real?
 
3. Detroit Red Wings
At long last, the Red Wings are back in the East where they belong and that means one less postseason spot for someone in an already unfair playoff format given there are more clubs in the East than West. Though quality, younger free agents no longer flock to Detroit, GM Ken Holland brought in one hungry veteran who has some Olympic golds but still lacks a Cup -- Daniel Alfredsson. He also got proven 20-goal scorer Stephen Weiss from Florida. This is Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg’s club now, which means it will be competitive to the bitter end and Jimmy Howard ain’t too shabby in goal. You can never count a Mike Babcock team out of anything, but age is catching up quickly.
 
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
A few years ago, the Maple Leafs used eight goalies to get them through the season. This year, they look very good with the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier, who just might steal the starter’s job from James Reimer. This represents Bernier’s chance to finally become a No. 1. GM Dave Nonis added David Clarkson via free agency and traded for Dave Bolland at the NHL draft. Bolland’s clutch goal gave the Blackhawks their second Stanley Cup in the last four years. Clarkson got an enormous seven-year, $36.75 million contract for a player with just one 30-goal season. Coach Randy Carlyle needs a healthy year from oft-injured Joffrey Lupul and a rebound performance from Jake Gardiner who impressed as a rookie two seasons ago.
 
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Jon Cooper’s first full season behind the bench for the Bolts and he’ll be missing franchise player Vinny Lecavalier. GM Steve Yzerman’s biggest move after the Lecavalier buyout was signing a winger he was personally familiar with in Detroit: Valteri Filppula. Even bigger was what he did last April at the trade deadline in securing Bishop as his goalie knowing he was going to cut loose Mathieu Garon. That trade cost Tampa its Calder Trophy candidate, Cory Conacher. Can Steven Stamkos (29 goals) replace Lecavalier’s on-ice leadership plus do even more for the offense than he already has? Prospect Jonathan Drouin went back to Halifax.
 
6. Montreal Canadiens
So will Canadiens fans boo Danny Briere now that he has finally come home (albeit seven years later than expected) if he struggles early? Other than fighter George Parros, Briere represents the bulk of Montreal’s offseason free-agent improvement and he’s coming off a poor year with the Flyers in which injuries dogged him. Other teams in the East improved significantly over Montreal whose only real “stud” is Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. The Habs looked horrible in the playoffs and it’s obvious goalie Carey Price isn’t capable of carrying this club on a deep run by himself. Alex Galchenyuk (27 points) had a strong rookie season, but there isn’t a lot of offensive depth on the roster.
 
7. Buffalo Sabres
After torching Lindy Ruff, who had been the longest tenured coach in a single NHL city, the Sabres also shipped off team captain Jason Pominville, which means if club owner Terry Pegula gets antsy with the new rebuild in town, the next body left to throw over Niagara Falls is GM Darcy Regier. Buffalo always seems to find blue-chip prospects and this should be no different for coach Ron Rolston in his first full season. The loss of sparkplug Nathan Gerbe and the questionable health of Ville Leino are pivotal in a year in which the goaltending reins should go from Ryan Miller to Jhonas Enroth. Watch for rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen who made the cut.
 
8. Florida Panthers 
The biggest news of the summer in South Florida was Weiss leaving the Panthers. The biggest news of the fall there was 1.) The sale of the club (again) and 2.) The return of goalie Tim Thomas to the NHL after more than a year’s hiatus from the game to meditate and ponder the meaning of a Cup. Say hello to Scott Gomez, the NHL’s modern-day wanderer (Florida is his fifth club). Good thing the Panthers won the division two years ago because it’s going to be a while before that happens again. The Panthers ignored D-man Seth Jones for center Aleksander Barkov at the draft and he will start the season. Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau proved he is legit.

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.

10 Flyers-Devils observations: Travis Konecny impresses

10 Flyers-Devils observations: Travis Konecny impresses

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers on Wednesday night took to the PPL Center — home of the AHL affiliate Phantoms — to give fans an early glimpse of the organization’s young talent, much of which will play on a nightly basis in Lehigh Valley.

One player that may reach Philadelphia before he ever lands in Lehigh Valley did not disappoint as the evening’s main attraction.

In his quest to make the Flyers’ roster at 19 years old, heralded prospect Travis Konecny scored a goal and tallied an assist to lead the orange and black past the Devils, 2-0, in their fourth preseason game, improving to 2-2.

Let’s dive into the action with 10 observations from the game:

1. We start with who else? Konecny. Head coach Dave Hakstol paired the talented winger with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl, two of the few NHLers to suit up Wednesday. Konecny jumped all over the opportunity, deflecting an Andrew MacDonald shot for a goal 4:30 into the second period. Just shy of five minutes after, he delivered a pretty touch pass to Raffl in front for a 2-0 lead. Konecny just narrowly missed adding another goal and assist, as well, later in the stanza. You know when he’s on the ice because you’ll see bursts of unmatched speed. 

The 5-foot-10, 184-pounder is incredibly shifty with the puck and adept at avoiding contact. At times, he’ll get pushed around when a bigger body squares him up, but he makes up for it with his elusiveness. The 2015 first-round pick sure played the part of an NHL player ready to contribute to a team in need of playmaking.

2. Samuel Morin is a big boy. The 6-foot-7 defenseman really utilizes his tall frame and upper-body strength when battling along the boards. Obviously he needs to work on his skating and puck handling, but he has the size and makeup to compete.

3. Goalies Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon will duke it out for playing time in Lehigh Valley. It’s an impressive tandem. Both combined for the shutout. Stolarz, 6-foot-6, made eight saves in the opening period and 11 total over 29:23. He showed good quickness and instincts. Lyon, not so big at 6-foot-1, is sound and holds records for his time at Yale. He converted seven saves. It’s a duo worth keeping tabs on throughout the season.

4. Forward Colin McDonald will be a nice safety net for the Flyers if they ever need a body willing to bring nothing but physicality. He made loud, impactful hits and had a fight — albeit a short and weak one — early in the first period.

5. Defenseman Mark Alt lost a fight quickly in the second period. He may have lost his balance, but he went down hard. Alt appeared fine when he got up. However, he never returned to the game.

6. The Flyers killed two power plays on the night. The PK continued to show more aggressiveness and disruptiveness on the puck carrier, which wasn’t always the case last season. It’s a big reason the Flyers fell in such a big hole against the Capitals during the playoffs. So far this preseason, the Flyers are 16 for 17 on the penalty kill.

7. Along with Schenn, Raffl and MacDonald, other Flyers to play were Boyd Gordon and Chris VandeVelde, who handled themselves well, as expected. Defensive prospect Robert Hagg had an assist, as did Schenn and MacDonald.

8. Keith Kinkaid was in net for the Devils. He’s expected to be New Jersey’s backup netminder. The 27-year-old is 15-14-5 in his career with a 2.71 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Not crazy stuff, but still a goalie with NHL experience. However …

9. The Devils visit the Rangers Thursday night, so they too deployed a fair share of prospects, resulting in Kinkaid without a ton of help.

10. The PPL Center is a beautiful venue and should be a hot-spot for Flyers fans throughout the 2016-17 season. The trip is doable, parking is accessible and cheap and the arena doesn’t sport a bad seat. The Phantoms should be fun with added experience and talent.