By BLAKE CORRAO
It’s that time of year again, hockey season is right around the corner. After last year’s shortened season due to the lockout, fans are eager for a full year of NHL action. So just how well are the local team’s chances this year?
In Buffalo, New York, the Sabres have been struggling to find some footing in the league. They’ve remained an under-the-radar franchise for too long, and never quite lived up to the level of hype that superstar goalie Ryan Miller has earned. Back in the 2009-10 season, Miller held an impressive .929 save percentage, but last year that dropped to only .916. Despite Miller’s recent drop from great to good, the Sabres offense is what really needs improvement this season, as they continue to hope for goal scoring from the line of Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, and Marcus Foligno, who ended last year’s season on a great note.
Over in Long Island, the Islanders are still searching for their shot at glory. In recent years, they’ve been disappointing to say the least, but their comeback is inevitable, as their young talent continue to grow and develop. Plus, their impending move to Brooklyn next year could bring about a revitalization similar to the Brooklyn Nets, who were able to turn around from years of bad luck.
Meanwhile, in New York City, the Rangers look to start strong with a brand new coach on their bench, and some new players ready to prove their worth. Last season, Rangers fans had had enough of then coach John Tortorella, whose “dump-and-chase” style simply wasn’t getting it done anymore. The organization let go of Tortorella this past offseason and brought in former Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. The Rangers may also have some unexpected new talent from rookie Danny Kristo, who didn’t fail to impress during his NHL debut during Sept 16’s preseason matchup against the Devils. In his statement to the press after the game, head coach Alain Vigneault stated “I like Krisko’s game tonight. I thought he showed some real poise and some really good offensive abilities.” So it is likely that Krisko is a name Rangers fans will quickly learn this upcoming season.
Down in New Jersey, the Devils are back at it with a win over the Rangers in their first preseason game this year. The Devils have added some and lost some during this offseason. Their major loss comes from Ilya Kovalchuck, the Devils’ star player, deciding to stay in Russia after last year’s lockout. The Devils have, however, added some new faces to the roster as well. Veteran Jaromir Jagr will be playing in New Jersey this season. Jagr has been a bit of a journeyman lately, playing for the Dallas Stars two seasons ago, and the Philadelphia Flyers just last year. Ryan Clowe has also been added to the Devils lineup after playing for the Rangers last season. Jagr will hopefully bring in the star power scoring that the team lost with Kovalchuck.
In Philadelphia, the Flyers will attempt to come off of what can only be described as a mediocre season last year, and get back in the race for the Stanley Cup. The Flyers acquired some major talent this offseason when they signed Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract. This will certainly bring in some much needed scoring to a team who simply could not find the net last year.
Finally, we come to Pittsburgh, where the ever-menacing Penguins reside. The team is always a powerful threat, and are never to be taken lightly. However, in their first preseason matchup, the Penguins were crushed 4-1 by the Detroit Red Wings. On the loss, Penguins center Brandon Sutter told press after the game that this preseason loss simply “Wasn’t the game we wanted to start with. “I know half the guys that are here didn’t play last night, so I think we’ve got to make sure we’re a little sharper next game and just a better overall effort. I think we just got outworked and that can’t happen, so we’ve got to get those habits now and can’t wait for another two weeks to find them.” Coach Dan Bylsma also added that rookies such as Chris Conner and Chuck Kobasew have certainly earned their places in the line up when he spoke in a press conference after the game, so these are surely names that Northeast fans will start to hear more often this season.
Many of the local teams have made some big moves this offseason, whether they be on or off the ice, so there is no doubt about how different and exciting these Metropolitan Division matchups will look this year.