The wait is finally over! The best ice hockey action in the world is back as the NHL jumpstarts its 2015-16 season. There are plenty of things to be excited about, especially in the East.
The Montreal Canadiens remain one of the best teams in the league with an all-world goalie in Carey Price, while the league’s best offense in the Tampa Bay Lightning give them quite a challenge in the Atlantic Division. Over in the Metropolitan Division, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Capitals attempt to supplant the defending champions, the New York Rangers after bolstering their respective rosters.
How will the Eastern Conference landscape pan out this coming NHL season? Read on as we give you everything you need to know about the East and its top teams. If you’re curious as to how the league will play out this year, check out our complete season preview as well as the experts picks for the next Stanley Cup champions.[sc:NHLArticles ]
2015-16 NHL Eastern Conference Regular Season Preview
Can the Montreal Canadiens finally beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the regular season? Chances are, they’ve had plenty of time to figure out their Atlantic Division nemesis after losing all five regular season games last year, as well as four of six Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff games.
[sc:NHL240 ]The Habs remain the team to beat in the Atlantic. Defenseman P.K. Subban should continue his upward trajectory to superstardom after collecting career-highs in goals (15), assists (45), points (60) and plus/minus (21). They also happen to have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price, who went 44-16-6 with a 1.96 GAA and .933 save percentage last season. The Habs are +250 to win the division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning (+180) could still seize up and supplant the Habs from winning the division, though. They have arguably the best top two frontlines in the league. Steven Stamkos leads the first line after leading the Bolts with 43 goals and 72 points last season. But what makes Tampa Bay very dangerous is its Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. The Triplets each had at least 63 points last season as they helped pace the Bolts to have the league’s best offense in the regular season.
Of course, you can’t count out perennial contenders the Boston Bruins (+550) in the Atlantic. The Bruins remain a very solid and tight team.
Patrice Bergeron returns after leading the team with 55 points last season. The 2014-15 Frank J. Selke Trophy winner may now be without the services of Milan Lucic, but he’ll have a crafty winger to play with in former Ducks forward Matt Beleskey. Goaltender Tuukka Rask should remain pretty solid after finishing last season with a 2.30 GAA and .922 save percentage.
The rest of the Atlantic should be pretty competitive, especially surging sleepers Ottawa (+750) and Florida (+1,200). Ottawa should have a clear path as one of the Wild Card teams as long as stellar defenseman Erik Karlsson keeps up his level of play, leading his team with 66 points and 45 assists last year. Florida’s young core should be able to develop even further with the ageless Jaromir Jagr anchoring a team with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad (team-high +12 last season).
Writer’s prediction: Price turns into a brick wall as the Canadiens (+250) use solid goaltending to win the Atlantic.
It’s a coin toss between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals to win the division. Both were seemingly boosted by key offseason acquisitions ahead of the 2015-16 NHL Regular Season.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel makes his way to Pittsburgh. He should be able to improve on his 25-goal effort last year playing alongside Sidney Crosby. The Penguins captain was an offensive machine last season, leading the team with 84 points, 28 goals and 56 assists. The Penguins are +275 to win the Metropolitan.
Meanwhile, the Caps had their own boost by snagging former Blues forward T.J. Oshie. He’ll be a nice addition to the forward line which features a couple of heavy gunners in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin led the entire league with 53 goals last season, while Backstrom was a solid playmaker with a team-high 60 assists. The Caps and their firepower are +450 to win the division.
What about last season’s President’s Trophy winners, the New York Rangers? They’re sure to suffer some regression in the early goings with Martin St. Louis now retired. He may have had a tame postseason, but his 50-plus points in the regular season will surely be missed. The Rangers will be replacing his services with the signing of Emerson Etem and Viktor Stalberg.
The Rangers will still have one of the best attacking blue liners in the league in Keith Yandle, acquired on the trade deadline from the Arizona Coyotes last season. Plus, left winger Rick Nash should put up monster numbers (at least in the regular season) after scoring a career-high 42 goals and racking up 69 points last season.
Who could forget one of the best goalies in the league in Henrik Lundqvist? Despite a shaky start, Lundqvist still finished 30-13-3 with a solid 2.25 GAA in the 2014-15 regular season. Expect Lundqvist to step up his game after a disappointing Stanley Cup Playoffs run. The Rangers should finish third in the Metropolitan behind Washington and Pittsburgh. They’re +250 to win back-to-back division titles.
The New York Islanders (+450) should also be even better this season. They turned plenty of heads making the playoffs and pushing the Washington Capitals to seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The young, but talented group of Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome should get even better this time around. Meanwhile, John Tavares should challenge for the Art Ross Trophy after scoring 86 points last year.
Writer’s prediction: Pittsburgh (+275) wins the Metropolitan with the deadly frontline of Malkin, Crosby and Kessel.
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