Eastern Conference - O/U Picks
October 6, 2011
By Bruce Marshall
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The puck drops this week for the 2011-12 NHL season! But before the fun begins, a quick update on how the season is shaping up, and selected predictions on the best “over/under” season points totals posted at various sports books in Las Vegas.
Let the division-by-division preview commence. Posted point totals ( ) being offered in Las Vegas for the season are included ...
Pittsburgh Penguins (103 ½)...We still have to see about Sidney Crosby’s return from concussion symptoms, although most suspect he’ll be back at full speed by November. The Pens totaled 106 points without Crosby for the final four months of last season, and his return gives Pittsburgh the best trio of centers in the league along with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. The defense, led by Brooks Orpik, is robust, and Marc Andre-Fleury is an MVP candidate in goal. Granted, power play numbers were abysmal last season, but just having a healthier Malkin (who enjoyed a great preseason) and Crosby’s projected return to the lineup should alleviate those concerns. “Over” at the new igloo.
Philadelphia Flyers (98 ½)...The NHL’s wild card team this season after GM Paul Holmgren blew up the roster in the wake of the humbling Stanley Cup playoff sweep administered by eventual Cup winner Boston. Adding GK Ilya Bryzgalov from Phoenix gives the Flyers their first top-line goalie since the days of Ron Hextall, but coach Peter Laviolette has to replace the 59 goals from Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, both traded in the offseason. “Under” at Wells Fargo Center.
New York Rangers (94 ½)...Adding Brad Richards from Dallas finally gives the Rangers a true first-line center and perhaps the key to unlocking linemate Marian Gaborik’s talents on the wing. If Richards proves the upgrades expected of him, and coach John Tortorella gets another big year from GK Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers should get back to the playoffs. “Over” at MSG.
New Jersey Devils (90 ½)...The Devils dug themselves too deep a hole last season before New Year's, although they made an admirable run during the second half of the campaign. Veteran coach Jacques Lemaire has stepped down, however, with ex-Florida coach Pete DeBoer now in charge. Getting a healthy Zach Parise back on the wing should be a bonus, and Ilya Kovalchuk is a special talent, but the absence of C Travis Zajac (Achilles tendon) for at least a month is a negative. Getting one more big season from GK Martin Brodeur (who turns 40 in May) will be necessary to return to the playoffs. No call at the Pru Center.
New York Islanders (81 ½)...Hard as it is for those of us who recall the Trottier-Bossy Cup winners of the ‘80s, this is a franchise in trouble, with an aging arena on the island and no plans for facility upgrades anytime soon. Could the Islanders relocate to Kansas City, or somewhere in Ontario far enough away from the Maple Leafs’ protected territory? On the ice, young talent seem to coagulate as last season progressed for coach Jack Capuano, but lack of depth and keeping GK Rick DiPietro healthy are significant concerns. No call at Nassau Coliseum.
Boston Bruins (102 ½)...There’s a big difference between the Bruins and their Cup-winning predecessors from Chicago, as unlike the Blackhawks a year ago, Boston returns mostly the same lineup from its title team. The Bruins still don’t have a major goal scorer, and could use an upgrade with a defenseman who can get the puck up the ice (the departed Tomas Kaberle wasn’t a consistent answer last year), but they have depth and Tim Thomas in goal. A threat to go back-to-back, although they might not take flight until after the All-Star break. No call at TD Garden. Washington Capitals (107 ½)...The Caps have had all offseason to brood about their shock playoff ouster at the hands of the Lightning, which has put coach Bruce Boudreau under the gun. GM George McPhee decided to add some veteran leadership to the clubhouse (wingers Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, former Caps captain Jeff Halpern, GK Tomas Vokoun, and a few others) in order to upgrade the chemistry. With all of the existing firepower on hand led by Alex Ovechkin, the sky is the limit in D.C. “Over” at Verizon Center.
Buffalo Sabres (98 ½)... The Sabres are spending money like a hockey version of the New York Yankees, adding high-priced defensemen Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff, plus forwards Ville Leino and Ales Kotalik to what is now the NHL’s highest payroll (really!). The heart-and-soul of the team remains GK Ryan Miller, in the prime of his career at 31 years of age, and memories of early Cup exits the past two seasons should spur Buffalo onward. “Over” at HSBC Arena.
Montreal Canadiens (92 ½)... They’ve had an entire offseason to stew about blowing a 2-0 lead (and a pair of road wins) in the opening round of the playoffs last spring to the Bruins. The Habs are still built on defense, and any upgrades to an offense that blew hot-and-cold last season would help (C Scott Gomez is on alert after posting his worst numbers in years last season). Look for second-year defenseman P.K. Subban to emerge as one of the new stars of the league, and GK Carey Price remains a workhorse. “Over” at Molson Centre.
Toronto Maple Leafs (89 ½)...It’s going to be 45 years at the least between Cup wins for the Leafs unless they pull the impossible this season. But no Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, or Red Kelly are on hand in 2011-12, and under-the-gun coach Ron Wilson is still trying to cobble together a couple of productive lines; perhaps adding center Tim Connolly will alleviate some of those concerns. Or maybe it won’t. “Under” at Air Canada Centre.
Ottawa Senators (74 ½)...The bar hasn’t been set too high for the Sens, but one of the league’s most impotent attacks (only 192 goals, second worst in the league) doesn’t appear to have been appreciably upgraded. Lots of pressure on GK Craig Anderson to keep Ottawa afloat. No call at Scotiabank Place.
Tampa Bay Lightning (98 ½)...No pun intended, but Tampa Bay really did catch lightning in a bottle in the playoffs, getting yeoman’s work from over-40 GK Dwayne Roloson and confounding the opposition with coach Guy Boucher’s unique “zone trap” system. We suspect, however, that the Lightning might miss departed winger Sean Bergenheim, who was a revelation in last year’s playoffs. This team could still be dangerous come Cup time. “Under” at St. Pete Times Forum.
Carolina Hurricanes (83 ½)...They aren’t asking the Hurricanes to do much to clear that number, which should be in reach for any team with a potential dominator such as Cam Ward in goal. But too many defensive breakdowns like a year ago could scuttle any playoff talk in Raleigh-Durham. No call at RBC Center.
Winnipeg Jets (85 ½)...The relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers and a rebirth of Winnipeg Jets II has all of Manitoba atwitter, but it also makes for an awkward scheduling year for the Jets (Winnipeg, in the Southeast?). Winnipeg will have a real home-ice edge at the MTS Centre, and GK Ondrej Pavelec looks like a star in the making, but lack of depth on the attack lines and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien’s recent off-ice problems are concerns. No call at MTS Centre.
Florida Panthers (83 ½)...GM Dale Tallon went into full rebuild mode in the offseason and might have delivered upgrades to a franchise that hasn’t seen the playoffs in ten years. But questions in goal with Jose Theodore being the main option have us wondering how much the Panthers can improve upon last year’s mere 72 points. “Under” at National Car Center.