Our overview of the Atlantic Division could start with one of four solid teams that posted 100 or more points last season. However, the most interesting story comes from “scenic” Uniondale, N.Y., the lame duck home of the improving New York Islanders.
Off-ice issues will find the Isles moving to Barclays Center in 2015-16, sharing the building with the NBA Brooklyn Nets.
Inside the rink, the disappointing Islanders have been hampered by playing in arguably the toughest division in the NHL, yet corrections by management are addressing several issues.
The most obvious is the play of rejuvenated goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who was collected off the waiver wire by GM Garth Snow, himself a former NHL netminder. Originally, Nabokov thought he would return from Russia off a contract with Detroit, then Snow surprisingly convinced him to sign.
Nabokov’s numbers still rank in the middle of the pack among NHL goalies, yet he still led the team to a 4-2-1 start.
The goalie saga has been long and tenuous over several years, including four on the roster at one time. All that changed when NYI acquired the “retired” Tim Thomas, who led Boston to the 2011 Stanley Cup last week.
The Bruins didn’t care about losing the 38-year-old Thomas, posting a 8-1-1 record, their best 10-game start in team history. And now his cap hit will be significantly reduced. Should Thomas report, back-up Rick DiPietro now becomes available to trade, further improving the club.
Also talked into coming to the Island is D Lubomir Visnovsky, who made his season debut last week after refusing to report.
Snow may soon be known as the Dr. Phil of hockey on two fronts – he’s not really a doctor, yet gains positive results.
On offense, John Tavares is gaining more a point per game, while the team is tougher thanks to Colin McDonald and Marr Martin.
Meanwhile, head coach Jack Capuano has fixed a leaky special teams unit, which ranks among the top penalty-killing units in the league.
Sure the team has lost four straight entering the week, but the Isles are on the rise and a team to bet on, especially against non-division foes, as they seek to win their first playoff series Al Arbour coached them some 20 years ago.
New York Rangers: The mucho hyped Broadway Blueshirts are off to a mediocre 6-5-0 start because of the same coaching mistakes made annually by John Tortorella.
Although great for Fantasy players, Tortorella continues to play his top 12 skaters way too much, thus, the team runs out of gas down the stretch and into the playoffs.
So Rangers President/General Manager Glen Sather announced the acquisition of forwards Darroll Powe and Nick Palmieri from Minnesota.
The offseason deal for Rick Nash left NYR short of centers, making Tortorella again choose to go to the short bench. Now with three full lines that the coach can trust, the Rangers will finally make their run to another division title. But this time, a Cup run is now visible – if they fix a woeful power play.
New Jersey Devils: The rumors of G Martin Brodeur being over the hill are greatly exaggerated. Brodeur has led the Devils to the best record in the East (8-1-3), and second overall to Chicago (10-0-2).
David Clarkson scored twice Sunday to complete a home-and-home sweep of Pittsburgh. He now leads the team in scoring (9G-6A-15P), ahead of both Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk. Not too bad.
For betting purposes, here’s all you need to know: The Devils are Parlay Heaven! Among their eight wins, seven were UNDERS; in four four losses, three went OVER. Do I need to say more?
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers hope to avoid a revolving door in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton, but a 5-6-1 start has fans grumbling. Meanwhile, the leading scorer is undrafted free agent Matt Read (five goals).
Claude Giroux can’t find the net, enforcer Wayne Simmonds is hurt... this is a team to avoid.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The lazy Penguins take way too many penalties, especially in the offensive end, making life tough for a solid goalie tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun.
Still, the Pens can score and score and score. And with a 6-2-0 record on the road, this team needs to overcome the mental challenges with a super-talented roster.
Simple advice: bet Pittsburgh at a decent road price.
Speaking of penalties, how does Montreal and Columbus keep winning despite leading in PIM?
Notes: Sunday is Hockey Day in America. It only means there will be a massive slate of games, which is simply fine with me!
Contact Nick at [email protected].