The NBCSN Wednesday night doubleheader continues with the Calgary Flames hosting the Boston Bruins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here.
Two hot teams face off to wrap up tonight’s NBCSN games, as the Bruins carry a four-game winning streak into Calgary (facing a Flames squad that’s won three of four).
This contest shouldn’t be short on star power, as these squads pit two of the best top lines in the NHL against each other, while each team also has some nice complimentary pieces. If that wasn’t enough, Brad Marchand and Matthew Tkachuk are almost certain to ruffle feathers with their obnoxious, antagonistic ways.
The Flames and Bruins don’t meet all that often, so it should be a treat to watch these two interesting teams on Wednesday.
There was plenty of change in the off-season in the Eastern Conference.
In the Atlantic Division the Toronto Maple Leafs added John Tavares. Rasmus Dahlin landed with the Buffalo Sabres. Henrik Zetterberg is done playing hockey. Steve Yzerman is no longer general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After being traded seven times over the summer, Erik Karlsson is now a San Jose Shark.
The Metropolitan Division houses the defending Stanley Cup champions for the third straight season. Meanwhile, the champs have a new head coach and their old head coach is now with the New York Islanders. There’s also a cloud above the heads of the Columbus Blue Jackets with the unknown futures of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. The New York Rangers are in a weird transitional phase while Henrik Lundqvist remains atop of his game. There’s been an identity change in Carolina, but they still want to eat up that revenue-generating goodness that comes with selling Hartford Whalers merchandise. And the Flyers, well, they gifted the world Gritty.
With the season beginning Wednesday night, we’re rolling out our conference predictions. Below are our picks for the East along with who we believe will stand out from the rest and reach the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. (Our playoff selections sit above the line in each column.)
Let us know in the comments how you see both East divisions shaping up.
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION
LEAHY: Maple Leafs. It’s been building to this and John Tavares is the final piece of the puzzle. The young Leafs have been growing together the last few years, gaining valuable experience as they trended in the right direction. They’re set up front and in goal and maybe could use a little help on the backend, but that’s something that can be fix in-season. Their toughest job this season may be getting out of the Atlantic Division.
O’BRIEN: Maple Leafs. People forget just how explosive this offensive core already was, and Tavares makes it almost unfair. If you want tiebreakers – and this is a tough call – then consider greed (contract years for Marner and Matthews) and supply (Toronto has a ton of rental-friendly cap space, even once Nylander signs). This isn’t a make or break year, but as strange as it sounds, this might be Toronto’s biggest chance before they sacrifice depth thanks to expiring rookie contracts. Here’s saying they make that chance count.Bonus points if Mike Babcock really is a great coach.
GRETZ: Bruins. They have the best line in hockey, high-end talent at the top of the lineup, and a bunch of really good young players that were able to get their feet wet in the NHL last season that are going to give them top-line production for a dirt cheap price, giving them the added cap flexibility they will need to make another big splash at the trade deadline.
BILLECK: Lightning. Perhaps the most complete team in the NHL. If Vasilevskiy can stay relatively fresh, there’s no reason to think this team, with all it’s scoring, with its potent blueline, can’t finally finish the job.
BOSTON (AP) — How much longer can Zdeno Chara keep this up?
The Boston Bruins defenseman – and leader in ice time – will turn 42 this season, and sooner or later the window will close on his opportunity to skate around the ice again with the Stanley Cup. For his teammates, that means focusing on this season as their best and possibly last chance to win with him.
”The older you get, it’s just about winning,” said David Krejci, one of five holdovers from the franchise’s last title, in 2011. ”We know that we’re not going to be playing in the league for 10 more years, but we have maybe three, four, five years left, who knows, but this is it. We worked really, really hard this summer to get the job done this year.”
Chara was already an eight-year veteran and two-time All-Star when he signed with Boston a dozen years ago, and the Bruins built a contender around him that went to the Stanley Cup finals twice in three years. (They lost to Chicago in 2013.)
Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and David Krejci are the only other players remaining from the 2011 champs. Bergeron is 33, Rask and Krejci will turn 32 during the playoffs, and Marchand will turn 31. (Steven Kampfer was traded away in 2012 and rejoined the Bruins this summer; he just turned 30.)
Charlie McAvoy, the 20-year-old defenseman paired with Chara for most of his career, has seen players come and go and values the stability brought by the core.
”As long as we have those veteran guys the culture will always be the same, I really believe that,” he said. ”I really think it could be another special year. You bring back all these guys, the veterans, it could be an awesome year and I’m really excited to get it going.”
Here are some other things to look for from the Bruins this season:
”None of us are forecasting a setback, I call tell you that,” McAvoy said. ”Something about the experience of having a full season, playing a few playoff series now, seeing that element. I can use all those things to allow me to come in and play great hockey from the start. That’s my goal.”
Those five combined to score 151 points (48 goals, 103 assists) last season.
”You need those young guys,” Krejci said. ”And our young guys are fast, they’re good, they’re smart, they make plays. They deserved to make the team last year and I’m looking forward to what they’ll bring again this year, one year under their belts.”
Rask returns for his 12th season but he has a new backup.
Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year contract to come to Boston from the Islanders, where he started 49 games last season and had a 3.19 goals-against average. He replaces Anton Khudobin, who had been the backup for two years and started last season 7-0-2 filling in while Rask had a concussion.
The fast start led fans to call for him to replace Rask, when he won just three of his first 13 games. But the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner did not lose a game in regulation from Nov. 26 until Feb. 10, finishing with a 34-14-15 record and a GAA of 2.36.
The Bruins played two exhibition games in China against the Calgary Flames, with Cassidy and half the squad heading over to Shenzhen and Beijing for a week while the rest of the team stayed back in Boston. The split squad wasn’t ideal, but the Bruins started the 2010-11 regular season with two games in Prague and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Cassidy said that would be a nice precedent to follow.
”Well if it’s a repeat of ’11, yes,” he said. ”I’d love that to happen, trust me.”
AP freelancer Matt Kalman contributed to this report.
In 2017-18, the Atlantic Division was the only one of the four divisions that had three teams pick up at least 105 points during the regular season. The Lightning (113), Bruins (112) and Maple Leafs (105) each managed to have pretty strong seasons. Unfortunately for the rest of the teams in the Atlantic, those three organizations were the only three that made the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Panthers, who finished fourth in the division, missed out on the postseason by just one point. But in the end, five of the eight playoff teams in the East came from the Metropolitan Division.
What will the division look like this year? Let’s take a look:
Strengths: There’s no denying that the Bruins have one of the best first lines in the NHL. Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak were unstoppable at different times last season, and there’s no reason to believe anyone will be able to slow them down this year. Yes, Bergeron is banged up right now, but the Bruins managed to overcome a stretch of games where he was injured last year, too. He managed to finish the year with 63 points in 64 games, while Marchand had 85 points in 65 games and Pastrnak accumulated 80 points over 82 contests.
Weaknesses: The Bruins have a great first line, but do they have enough scoring to match teams like Tampa Bay or Toronto? David Krejci has a hard time staying healthy and David Backes isn’t the same player he once was. They have some good youngsters on the roster, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can pick up the offensive slack enough to carry the Bruins to a division crown.
2017-18 Highlight: The team scored plenty of nice goals, but there’s no highlight that stands out more from 2017-18 than the one of Marchand licking opposing players. It’s gross, but it’s all anybody talked about when it happened.
MVP Candidate: It has to be Marchand. He led the team in scoring last year, and even though he’s the guy other team’s love to hate, there’s no denying that he’s an effective hockey player. Sure, he crosses the line a lot, but when he focuses on playing hockey, there aren’t too many in the league that are better. He’ll have to continue taking his game to another level if the Bruins are going to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Playoffs or Lottery: Definitely playoffs. Assuming they stay healthy, this team will compete for the division and conference crowns. They should stack up pretty well with the Maple Leafs and Lightning.
Better or Worse: The Sabres may have been one of the worst teams in the league last year, but they should be better. The simple fact that they were able to add Rasmus Dahlin because they won the NHL Draft Lottery last year makes them an improved squad. Even though they traded away Ryan O'Reilly to St. Louis, they still managed to add a veteran scorer like Jeff Skinner at a very reasonable price. The Sabres may not make the leap into the playoff picture this year, but they’re definitely better.
Strengths: Buffalo has one of the best young centers in the game in Jack Eichel. Even though they’ve yet to make the playoffs since he came into the league, every team in the league would kill to have a player like Eichel to build around. GM Jason Botterill still needs to work on getting his star forward some more help, but finding franchise centers is a lot harder than getting a good supporting cast. So the toughest part of the job is done.
Weaknesses: They’ll have their share of issues on defense, but the addition of Dahlin improves the unit right away. Rasmus Ristolainen is another important piece on the back end and Marco Scandella is a useful player, but the rest of the group needs some work. Also, they still don’t have a proven number one goalie on their roster. Carter Hutton is a veteran, but he’s never been asked to shoulder a starter’s workload. Linus Ullmark is an unproven commodity at the NHL level. Keeping the puck out of the net will be an issue this season.
2017-18 Highlight: A “Jack-Trick” isn’t really a creative name, but it’s still something that happened last season. The fact that he managed to score two goals in under 10 seconds is also pretty impressive.
MVP Candidate: As you’ve probably been able to figure out at this point, Eichel will be the one to carry this team if they’re going to make it to the postseason for the first time in years. His point total has increased from 56 to 57 (61 games) to 64 (in 67 games), so it’s only normal to expect his offensive numbers to increase assuming he can stay healthy.
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery. The Sabres are on the way up with players like Eichel and Dahlin at their disposal, but making the playoffs is a bit too big of an ask from this group right now. Expect them to be improved through.
DETROIT RED WINGS:
Better or Worse: The Wings brought back Thomas Vanek and they re-signed Mike Green, but the fact that they lost Henrik Zetterberg to a back injury definitely makes them worse. After years of being a model franchise, Detroit is going through a rebuild right now. They have some solid youth to build around, but they’ll suffer through a few more lean years before becoming competitive again.
Weaknesses: The Red Wings have one of the worst bluelines in the NHL. Four of their top six defensemen are over 32 years old (Mike Green, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathon Ericsson and Trevor Daley). That group just isn’t good enough to make the Wings competitive. This roster needs a ton of work, especially on the back end.
2017-18 Highlight: There weren’t many memorable moments for the Red Wings during the 2017-18 season, but the opening of Little Caesars Arena was special.
MVP Candidate: Larkin will have to be great if the Red Wings are going to compete for a playoff spot. The 22-year-old posted a career-high 63 points in 82 contests last season. Those are impressive numbers, but he’ll have to be even better if Detroit has any chance of playing deeper into April.
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery, again. The Red Wings just aren’t deep enough at any position to be pencilled into a playoff spot at this point. They don’t have enough scoring, they probably won’t be good enough on defense and there’s only so much Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier can do between the pipes.
Better or Worse: GM Dale Tallon did a good job of making his team better after they missed the playoffs by one point last year. They went out and acquired Mike Hoffman from San Jose (via Ottawa), which gives them another proven top-six forward. Some of their young players have gained experience and that should also make them a better team, overall.
Weaknesses: Their goaltending isn’t a weakness, but it can become one if Roberto Luongo fails to stay healthy, again, this season. The 39-year-old was solid when he played last year, but he only managed to suit up in 35 games. If he can play the majority of the games, he’ll be fine. If he can’t, the Panthers will have to turn to James Reimer, which is less than ideal.
2017-18 Highlight: Luongo delivered this incredibly emotional speech after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
MVP Candidate: Barkov has emerged as one of the premiere two-way forwards in the game. The 23-year-old posted a career-high 78 points in 79 games last season. There’s no reason to think that he can’t get even better this season. The Panthers’ new captain will have more pressure on his shoulders, but he can handle it.
Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. They missed the postseason by a point last year, so they’ll use that to fuel their season this year. They have a solid blue line and some skilled forwards. If the goaltending cooperates, they’ll be just fine.
Better or Worse: Things seem to be a little more positive around Canadiens camp right now compared to last year. But it’s hard to suggest this team is better though, especially because they won’t have Shea Weber until Christmas and because they traded away their top two goal scorers in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk.
Strengths:Carey Price is still considered to be one of the best goaltenders in the league. Even though he struggled mightily last year, he still has the ability to bounce back in a big way. If Price plays up to his potential, the Canadiens might surprise the hockey world this season.
Weaknesses: GM Marc Bergervin still hasn’t addressed the defense. Losing Weber for months hurts, but they’re still lacking good puck-movers. Jeff Petry will serve as their number one defenseman until Weber comes back, but his defense partners this preseason have included Karl Alzner and Jordie Benn. Yikes.
2017-18 Highlight: This Price save against Tampa is just too pretty not to watch over and over again. Ridiculous.
MVP Candidate: There’s no doubt who the MVP is in Montreal. It’s Price. If he dominates between the pipes the Canadiens will have a chance. If he doesn’t, they’re toast. It’s as simple as that.
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery. They’re too thin on the defense, too thin down the middle and there’s too much pressure on the goalie. It feels like the Canadiens are heading in the right direction, but they aren’t ready to make the playoffs this year.
Better or Worse: You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to argue that the Senators are a better team this year than they were last year. Trading away Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman will do that. Chris Tierney and Mikkel Boedker won’t be able to fill the voids left by the players that they were traded for.
Strengths: Even though they traded some of their best players away, they still have Mark Stone and Matt Duchene on the roster for now (they’re both free agents at the end of the season). Those two will have to drive the offense for the Senators this season. Will they finish 2018-19 in Ottawa? That’s a different question.
Weaknesses:Thomas Chabot has a bright future ahead of him, but there’s no number one defenseman on this roster now that Karlsson’s gone. They aren’t very deep up front. And if Craig Anderson struggles like he did last year, it’s going to be a very long year in Ottawa.
2017-18 Highlight: As bad as things were last season, at least the Senators took care of the Canadiens in that outdoor game in December.
MVP Candidate: Stone put up an impressive 62 points in 58 games last year, but he’s going to have to be a whole lot better in 2018-19 if the Senators are going to surprise. Of course, the better he plays, the more Eugene Melnyk will have to pay him next summer. So, is this a lose-lose for the Sens?
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery. There’s so much drama around the Senators right now that it’s hard to imagine them going on any kind of run this year. Management has already come out publicly and said this is a rebuild (even though they have no first-rounder).
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING:
Better or Worse: The Lightning didn’t make a major splash over the summer, but they’ll benefit from having J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh for a whole season (they acquired both players at the trade deadline). The Bolts didn’t have to make a major move to be considered one of the elite teams in the division. They’re better.
Weaknesses: Ummmmm this team doesn’t appear to have any weaknesses on paper. They’ve got scoring, they’ve got quality defenders and they have one of the best goalies in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
2017-18 Highlight: There’s no way Anze Kopitar didn’t have nightmares about this Vasilevskiy save.
MVP Candidate: There’s so many options, but Kucherov has to be the guy here. In the first half of last season, he was probably the favorite to win the Hart Trophy but players like Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon eventually emerged as options. The Russian winger cracked the 100-point mark for the first time in his career. Don’t be surprised if he does it again.
Playoffs or Lottery: Too easy. This is a playoff team. They’re good enough to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final, but there’s going to be a ton of competition in this division.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS:
Better or Worse: Any team that’s able to add John Tavares in free agency is automatically better (no kidding).
Strengths: There aren’t many teams that could go head-to-head with the Leafs down the middle. Auston Matthews and Tavares are one of the top two center duos in the league along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh.
Weaknesses: Their defense is still a question mark. Sure, they have Morgan Reilly, who is a quality defender, but they’re still lacking another top pairing guy. Maybe this is the year they’ll sacrifice some of their forward depth to make sure they go out and address that need.
2017-18 Highlight: This one was pretty funny. Matthews had a goal called back after video review, so the next time he put the puck in the net, he made sure to signal that it was a good goal.
MVP Candidate: There’s options here, but Matthews still has to be the go-to guy in this category. The 21-year-old scored 40 goals in his rookie year and 34 goals in 62 games last year, so it’s scary to think what he’ll be able to do if he stays healthy in 2018-19. He’ll need to be great if he wants to claim the division and conference crowns.
Playoffs or Lottery: Whether or not they make the playoffs isn’t the question. What everyone wants to know is: Will they make it out of the first round of the playoffs? No matter how good they are during the regular season, another first-round exit would be a huge disappointment in Leaf Land.
Scary moment at the NHL Rookie Showdown prospect tournament on Friday night when Montreal Canadiens prospect Jake Evans had to be stretchered of the ice midway through the third period of their game against prospects from the Ottawa Senators.
Evans was on the receiving end of a high hit from defenseman Jonathan Aspirot and fell hard to the ice, hitting his head.
He was taken to a local hospital and has since been released according to a statement from the Canadiens.
Evans was a seventh-round draft pick by the Canadiens in 2014 and completed his collegiate career at Notre Dame this past season where he was the team’s leading scorer with 46 points in 40 games. In the previous two seasons he finished as Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer behind only Anders Bjork, a forward that made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins this past season.
Evans is expected to open this season in the American Hockey League as a member of the Laval Rocket.