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.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.