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.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers (36-32-8) vs. Islanders (35-28-12)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers welcome the New York Islanders to the Wells Fargo Center Thursday on a busy night in the wild card.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Let's get wild
Ready for some movement in the Eastern Conference playoff race?

The four teams ahead of the Flyers for the second wild card are all in action Thursday.

The Bruins (vs. Stars) still lead the pack at 86 points, followed by the Lightning (vs. Red Wings) with 83. The Islanders come to Philadelphia with 82 points, while the Hurricanes (vs. Blue Jackets) also have 82.

And one more team to follow: the Maple Leafs (at Predators), who lead the Bruins by only one point for third place in Atlantic Division.

2. Time to streak?
With all the inconsistency, the Flyers are looking to win three games in a row for the first time since Jan. 22-25.

The final six contests for the Flyers are no cakewalks because every single one is against the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers are 9-13-2 in divisional play and have a record of 6-9-1 against the remaining clubs on the schedule.

They still have to play the Blue Jackets and Rangers, two top-five NHL teams.

And they also get the Devils twice more, a team that has won the first three meetings between the two by a combined score of 14-3.

We'll see if the Flyers can flip the script and make things interesting.

"We're not going to quit until the end of the season," Travis Konecny said Tuesday. "That's the way we are. It's the character of our team. It's the things we've shown all year.
 
"Our games may not show it at times, our scores, but I think each and every night we always compete, we always battle. I think things are starting to happen for us."

3. Weal's turning
Jordan Weal has provided a legitimate jolt to the Flyers, who desperately needed offense.

He'll see more and more ice time if he continues to perform the way he has in the past two games, putting up two goals and an assist.

Dave Hakstol has liked the early chemistry on the new second line of Weal, Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

"I think right now, Wayne Simmonds is playing some of his best hockey of the year in terms of a power forward game," Hakstol said Tuesday. "He is just a straight forward, power forward right now. He is very tough to handle down low and I think that is adding an element for Fil and Weal there."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere has looked like his old self offensively the past two games in which he has one goal and two assists. He's been active with nine shots, while his point blast looks sharp. The Flyers will need more of that the rest of the way.

Islanders: It has to be John Tavares, who does so much for the Islanders. The captain has 28 goals and 37 assists this season. Twelve of his 65 points have come in the previous 12 games. He also has put up 15 goals and 14 assists in 37 career games against the Flyers.

5. This and that
* Steve Mason will make his 14th start in the last 16 games. Over his past 13 outings, Mason is 8-4-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

* Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss has been tough on the Flyers in two starts this season, going 1-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

* New York has lost two straight games and six of its last nine.

* Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk is likely to return from a foot injury that has sidelined him since March 5.

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Nothing has changed for the Flyers as they enter Thursday night's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
They remain six points behind Boston for the wild card. They still have four teams to leapfrog over to claim the second wild card spot.
 
Their Tragic Number remains 6 points -- points the Bruins need to eliminate them or points the Flyers need to lose to eliminate themselves.
 
The only difference tonight is the Flyers are playing head-to-head against a team in front of them in the chase.
 
The Islanders absolutely feel they're in this thing even after losing to the Bruins this week. So if they think like that, why not the Flyers?
 
"Obviously a team that is in the race with us," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "But, in general, we know we pretty much have to win every game. Our focus is on the Islanders. The big picture is not a picture we like to see.
 
"But at the end of the day, we have to worry about the New York Islanders. It's the only thing we can control now. We can't control future games or other teams."
 
There was genuine euphoria after the Flyers' comeback, 3-2 shootout win over Ottawa on Tuesday. Some of that excitement was immediately tempered when the players realized Boston had won as well.
 
Yet there is a noticeable difference in the Flyers dressing room right now. Guys are looser and more relaxed after three wins in their last four games.
 
"We keep doing what we keep doing," coach Dave Hakstol said. "Guys keep showing up. We're playing hard for each other and taking care of business. We've been real focused on doing that, day after day and night after night."
 
Several players said this week that the games right now are "fun" to play, despite the obvious pressure to gain a playoff spot that is virtually impossible to attain at this point because the numbers overwhelmingly favor clubs ahead of the Flyers.
 
Have games become "fun" because the players are resigned that it's out of their hands and they are now content to allow the chips to fall where they may be?
 
"No, I'll be honest, I think we are seeing some results," Hakstol said. "When you play hard and don't get results it's not fun. But we've continued to play hard and are getting some of the results right now.
 
"We all know the reality of our situation and don't have to revisit it day-in, day-out. We know that for us the most important thing is take care of our own business. That's the single-minded focus of our group right now.
 
"Come to the rink, playing hard together and winning becomes fun. We got to just turn the page, come out and play hard again."
 
Among those Flyers who believe the impossible is doable is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
 
"Our motto is ‘Never die,'" Gostisbehere said. "We know what's against us here. We're just taking it game by game and we're just trying to win every game.
 
"I think you can tell it's a little looser in this locker room, but we’re still going out there putting our best foot forward and trying to win games."
 
The Flyers are 2-1 against the Isles this season.
 
Lineup:
 
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Schenn
Vandevelde-Bellemare-Konecny
 
D: Provorov-MacDonald
Del Zotto-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas
 
G: Mason; Neuvirth