NHL Atlantic Division: Offseason checklist

With the NHL Entry Draft and NHL free agency not too far away, we here at Daily Shootout have set up an offseason checklist for each team, organized by division. Today we look at the Atlantic Division.

New York Rangers
1) Sign a backup goalie: Martin Biron, who is the current backup on Broadway, is a free agent on July 1st and the hole needs to be filled. Granted, Biron is 34 years old, which in hockey terms is slightly getting up there in age, he was still able to get 12-6-2 in 21 games last season with the Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist backup. There are a number of goalies available in free agency this summer, with the big names being the likes of Dwayne Roloson, Martin Brodeur, Cristobal Huet, and so on. If the Rangers really want to get the best bang for their buck for a reliable backup, they can either re-sign Biron or try looking into somebody like an Alex Auld, Johan Hedberg or Scott Clemenson. Bottom line is they need a backup for King Henrik and they have about $21 million in cap space to work with.
2) Get rid of Sean Avery: Avery has been nothing but a thorn in the sides of everybody in the NHL from team management all the way down to his own teammates. Nobody in the Rangers organization, it seems, really wants anything to do with this guy who, last season, played in only 15 games. With Avery let go they cut over $3 million off the payroll.
3) Re-sign the role players: Rangers already have locked in their major players like Lundqvist, Richards, Gaborik and so on. Three of their top four defensemen are signed through next season. Michael Del Zotto is the lone top D-Man who needs to be re-signed on Broadway as he is hitting restricted free agency. Once they lock him in everybody else should fall in. I would also consider watching the Rangers make a strong run at picking up Zach Parise, when he hits the market July 1. It won’t surprise me none, as the Rangers have done stuff like this in the past.

Three things to watch for: Devils v Rangers Game 3

In game one, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers had a tightly contested game through 2 periods. In the end, the Rangers pulled away, scoring three goals in the third period. While the Devils had played the Rangers closely, it became clear why the Rangers are the number one seed in the playoffs.

Game two showed why the Devils are the ugly Cinderella in the playoffs this year. After all, NHL fans have been enamored with the run the L.A. Kings have been on—and deservedly so. The Kings are playing better than any team in the NHL. But the Devils are a 6 seed and have elevated their play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Game two showed the Devils’ resiliency and even though the Rangers held a lead and fought hard, the Devils prevailed.

With game 3 scheduled to drop the puck at 1 p.m. EST and the series tied at one, here are three things to watch for in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers.

Devils’ Forecheck vs. Rangers’ Defense: A big part of the Devils’ success this postseason has come because of their aggressive forecheck.

Read more here…

 

NHL conference previews and MVP watch

Dustin BrownNow that we are down to the Final Four, lets take a look at which players are likely to take the Conn Smythe trophy home if their team lifts the Stanley Cup. Here are the front runners from each of the remaining teams, as well as a prediction for who will be playing for the right to be named the NHL’s best for 2012.

– Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Quick has been spectacular as well, but no one has been as valuable to the King’s Cinderella run than the Captain. Brown went into this playoff as maybe one of the most underrated players in hockey, but he certainly no longer is. He has 7 goals and 6 assists, good for 13 points in only 11 games and is a sparking +11. Brown has always been a tough player willing to do the dirty work to help his team and can score, but not like this. And not only is he scoring, he is scoring when it matters as 3 of his goals are game winners, best in the playoffs. On a team that had issues scoring in the regular season, Brown has been invaluable to the success of the LA Kings.

– David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils

The Devils have no clear favorite for the playoff MVP as their top guns all are pretty much equal in points and Broudeur has had a few dud games. Clarkson though is the type of grinder that thrives in the playoffs and has been important to the successful defensive performance that stopped the Flyers offensive assault. Clarkson has only scored twice, but both are GWG.

– Brad Richards, New York Rangers

It’s not often that a big off season signing earns his paycheck. It’s far less often that he deserves more, and give his performance so far Richards might. Richards was by far the best player in the Rangers second round victory over the Washington Capitals as his line was the only one to really get anything going versus the stout Capitals defense. He he also has lived up to his clutch reputation as he was involved in the 3 most important goals of the series. He set up Gaborik for the Game 3 triple OT winner, scored the miracle goal in Game 5 and scored the early goal in Game 7 that the Caps never recovered from. Lundqvist has been good, but Richards has been clutch.

– Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

Others have been good for the Yotes, but none have been as valuable as the goalie Smith. Smith has faced the most shots in the playoffs thus far despite playing less games than Brodeur and Lundqvist and sports an impressive 1.85 GAA and .948 S%. He was virtually unbearable in the deciding game versus the Hawks and stated slow but finished strong against the Predators. Many could argue the Coyotes do not have the offense that the Hawks or Predators do, yet they are still playing. Chalk that up to Mike Smith.

Predictions for the Conference Finals:

Rangers in 7: The Rangers have not been unbeatable this playoffs and had to fight to get where they are. Nothing wrong with that, but an experienced Devils squad will give them some trouble. The no name defense with the Hall of Famer goalie have been great and the Rangers will have to fight to get back to the Finals for the 1st time since 1994. But the Rangers, led by Richards and Lundqvist, have put in the work to earn the big goals so far and expect that to continue versus a good, but not quite as talented, Devils team.  Expect another close series for the Blueshirts.

Kings in 6: When you’re on, you’re on, and the Kings are on. LA found their scoring touch at the right time and have been unstoppable. Many considered the Kings a Cup contender at the beginning of the year, but they could not score. Now they can. Look for the Kopitar/Brown/Williams line to continue to wreck havoc on the Yotes and for Quick to continue his Vezina like performance he has put on all year. The Coyotes will catch a break here and there and make this interesting as it is unlikely the Kings stay this hot, but look for an LA-NY Final.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

Stars lead the resilient Capitals to huge win over Rangers

Branden HoltbyThe Washington Capitals responded to their marathon overtime loss in a big way today with a huge 3-2 victory at home to knot the series at 2-2 with the New York Rangers heading back to MSG. They did it with the three keys you need to win in the playoffs; solid defense, stellar goaltending, and excellence for your stars.

In what has become a hallmark for the Dale Hunter Washington Capitals, the line of Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer, and Matt Hendricks were a force defensively and led all forwards in ice time. Hendricks has become a fan favorite in DC as he made a key block late in the game and was a perfect nine for nine in the face off dot while playing his normal punishing style. And speaking of fan favorite, Holtby again put in a solid performance as both goals were defensive gaffes and he stood tall when it mattered late.

The play of the stars though is a welcome change to this run for the Capitals. Ovechkin scored early on a bad play by Chris Kreider despite playing only 15 minutes in the game. The slumping Backstrom potted the second goal with a rare physical play followed by a nasty wrist shot. And the annual playoff goat Mike Green scored maybe the biggest goal of his career late in the 3rd to ease the pain of Thursday morning. And not to be left out, Alex Semin made the play to help keep the puck in the zone to set up the game winner.

If one thing has been made clear this postseason it is that these are not your typical Washington Capitals. In years past, the heartbreaking triple OT loss to the New York Rangers in Game 3 would have spelled disaster for the Caps. Just as it did in the past when Pat Lafontaine, Petr Nedved, and Martin St Louis ended long games that ultimately ended the season for the Capitals. In the last few seasons, the Capitals would not have even been in this series as the team likely would have lost Game 7 to the Bruins. And no one would pick the much maligned Mike Green to deliver any goals in the postseason, let alone a clutch goal. But these are not your typical Washington Capitals.

There has been many words that have been used to describe the Washington Capitals over the years. Soft. Regular Season or Off Season Champions. Defensively lacking. Lazy. Pittsburgh South. But never resilient. These Capitals are resilient. Every time they have had a chance to wilt, they have answered with wins. Early OT goal by Chris Kelly against the unproven Holtby? Double OT winner by Backstrom. Suspension to Nick Backstrom? Gutty win in Boston. OT loss to Tyler Seguin with a chance to win series on home ice? Joel Ward knocks the Champs out on home ice in dramatic fashion. One goal games do not bother this team and neither does the media trying to make a story out of Ovechkin’s drop in ice time. They are defensively solid and do not panic no matter what the situation, following the lead of their unflappable coach and young goaltender. Players accept their roles and do whatever it takes to win. Dale Hunter has this team believing they can win and the team is buying in. Things will not get any easier in Game 5 as the Capitals will likely have to play without Alex Ovechkin in New York as there is a good chance he will be suspended for a high hit while leaving his feet on Girardi. This series is still up for grabs and neither team will go quietly. The Rangers have always been resilient and they will show up for Game 5 ready to take the driver seat again. But one things is clear. These are not your typical Washington Capitals and they are not ready for this surprise run to end.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com