Training Camp Battles: Atlantic Division

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With training camps starting late this week or early next, we at Pro Hockey Talk couldn’t help but wonder: what are the biggest position battles going in? To give you the most specific answers possible, we asked team bloggers to give their take. After all, these men and women follow their teams almost as much as general managers, so they would know better than us.

(Actually, some of them might watch their teams more closely than GMs, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Previous entries: Northeast Division, Pacific Division, Central Division, Southeast Division.

Current entry: Atlantic Division

Thumbnail image for patrickelias1.jpgNew Jersey Devils

Contributor: Chris Wassel from The Program

Which position battles are most crucial to New Jersey’s success?

Oddly enough there could be battles at Left Wing, Center, and Right Wing. The Devils have a bit of excess in riches going into this season on offense. Also coach, John MacLean has made it clear he is willing to experiment with players out of position a bit. Already Patrik Elias has been tested at Left Wing and even Right Wing. This means that the bottom six positions are wide open for a bevy of players. Depending on who is left after trades, a guy like Adam Henrique could find himself on the squad as a 4th line center with some scoring touch. His battle with 2009 1st round pick Jacob Josefson has the potential to be the highlight of camp. Also, the third line battle for RW between Dainius Zubrus and Mattias Tedenby (2008 1st round pick) could be very intriguing. These two positions are ones most crucial to the team’s success and also happen to be the greatest source of competition as well.

What Are New Jersey’s Biggest Strengths And Weaknesses?

Well to be honest, they have a quite a few forwards who can put up some points. That is the team’s biggest strength. There is some balance on this squad with the addition of Jason Arnott and the resigning of Ilya Kovalchuk. If guys like Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner can lift their games a hair, the Devils could be very proficient offensively. The potential big weakness could be the lack of a true, speedy puck moving defenseman. Andy Greene is steady and can score some but he is far from the most swift. Another potential weakness of this team could be age as the Devils rank once again in the Top 5 in terms of age. That could have an affect later in the season on the team and may explain the early playoff exits somewhat.

Who could come out of nowhere to surprise and maybe make camp more interesting?

Look for the tryouts to spice things up a bit. Adam Mair and Marcus Nilsson could make a potential 4th liner’s job very uncomfortable. If Vladamir Zharkov can find his scoring touch, then it could be another surprise battle for that 4th line Right Wing spot. However, if a few trades are made, then some of these battles are quite honestly moot. The surprise of camp could be Adam Henrique, who has the potential to be a perfect two way player for the New Jersey Devils with a little more scoring touch than Jacob Josefson. Needless to say, the Devils will not have to look outside the organization for any positional players for a change unless some defensemen are moved but that is another story.

(Note: John Fischer of In Lou We Trust also wrote a post on this subject.)

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for mattmoulsonscores.jpgNew York Islanders

Contributor: Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey.

Most congested battle: On defense, the Isles have eight NHLers on one-way contracts, with a couple of promising prospects pushing from the rear. If the physical Travis Hamonic or the cagey puck-moving Calvin de Haan are somehow lights-out at camp, then a veteran like Bruno Gervais or Milan Jurcina might get squeezed. Andrew MacDonald is still waiver exempt though, so despite his promising rookie year he could always be a roster-management casualty.

Most interesting and wide-open battle: At left wing, Matt Moulson is a lock to try to prove 30 goals was no Rob Brown Incident. If the Islanders stand pat at center with John Tavares-Frans Nielsen-Rob Schremp-Zenon Konopka, then Doug Weight remains a winger and Josh Bailey (who was drafted as a center) gets more time there before returning to his natural position. That leaves a wide-open battle among veteran Jon Sim (re-signed to a two-way deal), enforcer Trevor Gillies, big-bodied AHL prospects Matt Martin and Jesse Joensuu, and last summer’s 5th overall pick Nino Niederreiter. Of the Islanders’ three previous top-ten picks, two made the team during their draft year and one was pulled from college early, so it would not be a shock to see Nino stick with the team past nine games.

Most Father Time vs. Human Will-like battle: In goal is incumbent starter Dwayne Roloson, who turns 41 in October, and incumbent IR resident Rick DiPietro, who is said to be fully healthy after yet another knee setback late last season. (Sound familiar?) If Nature decides the body of either man shall hold up no more, the Isles have prospects Nathan Lawson and Mikko Koskinen ready to step in from AHL Bridgeport.

After the jump, we have Scotty Hockey’s take on the Rangers, Flyers Goal Scored By throwing logic batteries at Philly and an entry from the Pensblog that is no joke.


Thumbnail image for seanaveryagitates.jpgNew York Rangers

Contributor: Scotty Hockey.

It is a difficult topic to discuss – the position battles on the Rangers depth chart. Glen Sather’s actions have rendered John Tortorella’s words seemingly baseless. He spoke of making room for the Future Blue but Glen went out and added Alex Frolov, Todd White, Tim Kennedy and Steve Eminger. And you can’t forget the camp invites he extended to Ruslan Fedotenko, Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov.

All of that leaves two big battles that I will be watching.

1 – Sean Avery vs. the world. Avery needs to play with the edge he had before Tortorella’s castration during the DC series in 2009. He regained a bit of it near the end of last season but he was injured right when they needed him most. And now Sather has brought in Torts’ Tampa crutch Fedotenko so the pressure really is on Avery. Everyone outside of NY may hate him – Tortorella may very well hate him too – but when Avery is Avery, the Rangers are winners. As an well-acknowledged fanboy, I’m pulling for him.

2 – Defense. The top four spots are filled with Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Michal Rozsival, and Marc Staal. That leaves three openings, as it appears the team is willing to look at carrying a seventh defenseman. So who gets them? Eminger, Exelby and Semenov will be going against Matt Gilroy, Ryan McDonagh and Wade Redden … yes, Wade Redden. Everyone sees his banishment a foregone conclusion but I wouldn’t put it past the Blueshirts to keep him around if he shows even the smallest signs of skill. That being said, I see Gilroy and Eminger getting the five and six spots initially with Exelby getting seven and McDonagh being the first call-up the second Gilroy falters for the first time.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for jeff carter.jpgPhiladelphia Flyers

Contributor: Flyers Goal Scored By.

Position battles that are most crucial to your team’s success.

This is at first going to come off as conceited, but then as conceited. We have 5 centers already blooded in on our roster. Baring injury they’ll all be in the lineup. One of them has no choice but to play center (Blair Betts) and the other 4 could be All Stars. No joke. I’m not saying that they’re all going to be, we’re not the Yankees. But if Danny Briere starts off this upcoming season the way he played off (wink emoticon wink!) – All Star. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards obviously could be All Stars. If Claude Giroux plays like all Philly fans and all edumacated hockey analysts think he can he could very well break out this year – in the good way, not the Proactiv way.

The competition to stay in the middle is going to have a huge impact on who starts the season in a position he’s comfortable in versus who starts off on the wing. And who knows how the impact of that decision affects us in the standings when all is said and over.

Positions under the greatest amount of competition.

The Flyers are in a peculiar position, one that most teams would envy. Coming so close to winning the Cup, their depth is virtually intact from last year’s run. The Flyers boast arguably the best defense in the entire league. Pronger and company are basically set at the blueline, but expect a battle for the #6 defensive spot. Up to four guys are fighting for the 5 minutes of ice time left, and some, like the newly acquired Matt Walker, could be a very expensive suit in the press box. I do think at the end of camp it will be Walker who gets inked into the 6th spot, although John LeClair’s stunt double Sean O’Donnell and “Latvian Nightmare” Oskars Bartulis will be pushing everyone to perform at their best.

As far as forwards go, recent developments have raised a lot of questions regarding who will be on the Flyers opening night roster. Ex-Penguin Bill Guerin has been skating at the Flyers Skate Zone for the past month, finally earning a tryout offer… AND a locker next to Jeff Carter(!). Guerin is going to be 40 soon, but those hands are as soft as James von Riemsdyk’s babyface. If Guerin earns a contract look for Bartulis to be sent down and Jody Shelly to be scratched more than poison ivy. For the Flyers, the placement of their talented forwards is where the camp’s competition will play out. This camp will be more about tinkering with the lines and deciding which wingers will play with which of the team’s All Star (yeah, said it again) centers.

Positions that qualify as your team’s biggest weaknesses (or strengths, if your team has an excessive amount of offensive defensemen/defensive forwards/etc.)

People please, this is the Flyers we’re talking about. If there is anywhere you need to look for a weakness it’s between those pipes. Simply go past the Pronger Forest and over the Timonen Mountains. Hang a right at Coburn Point and you’ll see the shantytown known as Flyers Starting Goalie. This year it’s journeyman and recent playoff stud Michael Leighton in net, backed up by perennial backup Brian ‘Backup’ Boucher. Michael Leighton is no Henrik Lundqvist, but what he is is a determined, hard working, meat and potatoes type of goalie. Paul Holmgren has put this club in a position where they’ll live and die by team defense. Playing behind this Flyers back line corps, Leighton will simply need to be good and use the blueliners in front of him to help block shots, clear the zone and keep the crease area full of rumbling bumbling tumble weeds. Still, it’s a dangerous pastime being a Flyers starting goalie..one that claimed Marty Biron, Antero Niittymaki and Ray Emery in the same calendar year. We believe in Leighton, but for how long?

Any other interesting battles that come to mind. Could a player come out of nowhere to make an impact?
Will a savvy veteran need to worry about getting cut for a prospect? Will that first round pick make the big club?

No. Not a chance. We could lose 2 forwards and 2 d-men to a summer bobsledding accident and a young prospect would still not be in uniform to open the Consol Energy Center for Arron Asham and his Penguins fans. Maybe up in the press box if we needed bodies, but there is no prospect that is ready for the NHL, much less to beat out Andreas Nodl, Jon Kalinski, or David Laliberte on a team that needs to come out of the gates strong.

There’s some talk around Philly of newcomer Mike Testwuide pushing for a spot but the kid only had 31 points in 36 games last year against college kids. And he got a B- in Social Studies, which tells me he’s just not ready. Maybe in January or February if he’s tearing up the A and we need to spice it up a bit, but no chance this Fall.

tylerkennedycamp.jpgPittsburgh Penguins

Contributor: Adam from The Pensblog.

Last season was a great ride, with the Pens bowing out to the Canadiens in seven games. But you can’t win the Stanley Cup every year. It was an exciting year. People want to immediately point to the Penguins’ lack of “wingers for Sid and Malkin” as the glaring weakness for the Pens’ shortcomings last season. The Pens went to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals with Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa, two big-name wingers. The Penguins lost in those Finals and then lost both Hossa and Malone in the ensuing offseason. The next year, the Pens won the Cup, essentially replacing Hossa and Malone with Guerin and Kunitz, while Petr Sykora also ended up disappearing. Pens can win without top-flight wingers. They won the Cup in ’09 because their team defense came together and Malkin exploded in the playoffs.

And now, with Pens GM Ray Shero going to town this past offseason in order to solidify the blue line, the battle for spots in the Pens’ top 12 forwards is under the magnifying glass just because nothing else is going on. Shero brought in Arron Asham and Mike Comrie late in the offseason, filling in some holes in the four lines.

Kunitz-Crosby-Comrie
Dupuis-Staal-Malkin
Cooke-Talbot-Kennedy*
Asham-Adams-Rupp

There are the lines for the Pens opening night. The Pens have an army of young and capable forwards waiting…in the wings…in their minor-league system. The arrival of The Big Dog, Eric Tangradi, in Pittsburgh is highly anticipated. If there is one player to watch early on this season, it will be Tyler Kennedy. If he isn’t putting some pucks in, things will get interesting.

The Buzzer: Benn vs. Benn, poor get poorer

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Line of the Night: The St. Louis Blues’ superb top trio.

Seemingly every night, at least one of the NHL’s best scoring lines seems to make its case as the best. It’s getting to the point where any off night is surprising, which seems almost impossible in a league where it’s still (allegedly?) tough to score on a nightly basis.

In Tuesday’s case, the Blues’ red-hot trio of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko added to the Oilers’ profound miseries by triggering an 8-3 stomping.

Schwartz scored one goal and three assists, while both Schenn and Tarasenko enjoyed ridiculous two-goal, two-assists nights. Schwartz and Schenn both are at 30 points in 2017-18, while “The Tank” is rolling with 26. Tarasenko almost had a hat trick today, but settled for the Gordie Howe:

Highlight of the Night: Jamie Benn vs. Jordie Benn, just in time for American Thanksgiving.

(They’re Canadians, but still.)

Shared sadness: The Canadiens lost a hard-fought game to the Stars as the 3-1 margin of defeat was inflated by an empty-netter, while the Oilers were just humiliated, yet both teams really needed wins and neither even got a standings point for their efforts. Times are getting tense for two Canadian franchises that came into 2017-18 with high hopes.

Brendan Gallagher‘s reaction to the empty-netter says it all:

Factoid of the Night: Clearly, it’s totally Connor McDavid‘s fault.

Scores

Canucks 5, Flyers 2

Blues 8, Oilers 3

Stars 3, Canadiens 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

On fire vs. fireable: Blues humiliate Oilers

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If you judge a person or sports team by how they react to their backs being up against the wall, then the Edmonton Oilers were complete failures on Tuesday.

Whether you place most of the blame on Connor McDavid (bad) or management (fair), the bottom line is that a response was needed, as people are already doing the math to wonder if the Oilers can dig themselves out of an early hole with a huge rally.

Instead, we saw the same story tonight, only it was sadder and more dramatic. The St. Louis Blues absolutely dismantled the Oilers by a score of 8-3, and that deficit wasn’t an unfair depiction of what happened on the ice. The red-hot Blues absolutely dismantled the Oilers, seemingly scoring at will.

Just check Paul Stastny‘s body language after this beautiful goal; it almost seemed like the veteran forward felt squeamish about the carnage going on in Edmonton’s zone.

Again, it was the same story with McDavid straining to create quite a few chances, even while dealing with an unspecified sickness (note: sickness not a joke about the poor team around him, this time).

It seems fitting that the same few Oilers contributed at least something to the cause, as McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were involved in Edmonton’s three scores.

This loss encapsulated a lot of the themes of this season for Edmonton: not enough support, a cratering structure, and goaltending Cam Talbot having a miserable night.

Morale in Edmonton is, uh, low.

Now, none of this should take away from the West-leading Blues’ side, as they flexed their muscles once again. Really, the main debates surrounded if the Blues were the best in the West by a large or merely a slim margin.

It was a banner night for one of the best lines in the league in Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Tarasenko almost had a hat trick, but will settle for the Gordie Howe variety, as he dropped the gloves with Matt Benning.

Fittingly, the Oilers didn’t even win that battle, either.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fight video: Vladimir Tarasenko vs. Matthew Benning

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Vladimir Tarasenko earns the nickname “Tank” because he’s a big, hoss-like scorer and because it matches up well with his name.

He showed a different kind of firepower on Tuesday, though, as he took exception to a Matthew Benning hit and decided to fight the Edmonton Oilers defenseman. The bout happened even as the Oilers seemed like they were getting a precious scoring chance, but the crowd in St. Louis was riled up mainly to see the superstar drop the gloves.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first battle for “The Tank.” According to Hockey Fights’ listings, Tarasenko fought once in 2015-16 and another time in 2014-15, while also dropping the gloves once in the KHL.

(This is his first fight against someone not named Ryan, as he exchanged fisticuffs with Ryan Kesler and Ryan Ellis in his other NHL fights. I mean, unless Matthew Benning’s middle name is Ryan?)

So far, the Oilers haven’t been showing as much fight as Tarasenko, as the Blues currently hold a 3-0 lead and chased Cam Talbot. Read more about what’s been a tough night for goalies so far here.

Tuesday has not been kind to goalies

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There are three games on Tuesday, yet we’ve already seen two goalies benched for poor play.

If variety is important to you … hey, at least the two situations were different, albeit with some regrettable moments of pucks going into nets.

The most depressing probably came during Tuesday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues, which you can watch on NBCSN right now.

Now, you can justifiably hang a lot of the Oilers’ struggles on poor management from GM Peter Chiarelli, yet it’s also true that teams/coaches/general managers often see their reputations rise and fall with the play of their goalies. Cam Talbot has already been struggling in 2017-18 after playing outstanding hockey – and a ton of games – last season, but tonight serves as one of his shortest and most troubling efforts.

(And Talbot gets whatever is the opposite of bonus points for languishing while angst is nearing a fever pitch in Edmonton.)

Talbot made it through just 7:35 of ice time on Tuesday, allowing two goals on just three shots before Todd McLellan understandably pulled the plug. This Dmitrij Jaskin goal was a real soul-crusher for the reeling Oilers:

Credit Laurent Brossoit for playing very well in relief of Talbot, at least as of this writing. But this isn’t what the Oilers wanted to see. (Brossoit just allowed a goal, but he has been sturdy overall with a lot of time left in this game).

Negative night for Neuvirth

Compared to Talbot, Michal Neuvirth had a long night for the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, it was a long night in more ways than one, as Neuvirth struggled against the unexpectedly potent Vancouver Canucks.

Neuvirth got the hook after giving up four goals on 22 shots over 34:26 of game time. Some of that’s on the defense in front of him, as Philly can’t be happy to give up so many chances against a Vancouver team that still has something to prove.

So, this leaves one burning question: will any other goalies get benched tonight? As it is, two out of three is quite bad. Sorry Meatloaf.