Philadelphia, PA – The biggest question in the Atlantic How many games will Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby play this season?
Crosby has still not completely recovered from the concussion he suffered back in early January and his playing status will be in limbo from training camp into the beginning of the season. Luckily for the Penguins, Evgeni Malkin is 100% healthy after missing 39 games last year and they'll certainly need him to produce, especially if Crosby misses extensive time. With both stars out of the lineup, the Penguins averaged just 2.2 goals per game last season as opposed to 3.4 when both centers were in the lineup.
Don't forget that Malkin dominated the NHL with 14 goals and 36 points in 21 games during the time Crosby was out in January and February of 2008, so it is doubtful the Pens will fail to score as often as they did over the second half of last season.
Bold prediction - Steve Sullivan leads all Pittsburgh wingers in points.
WILL ILYA BRYZGALOV BE PHILADELPHIA'S SAVIOR IN GOAL?
The Flyers revamped their entire team over the summer trading both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for a bunch of young talent. They also brought in Jaromir Jagr to help an offense that will fall from its perch as the Eastern Conference leader in goals scored.
The biggest change comes between the pipes with Ilya Bryzgalov replacing the three-headed monster that was Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton. Bryzgalov has posted consecutive .920 and .921 save percentages the last two years with a combined 15 shutouts. However, playing in Dave Tippett's defense-first system surely helped his numbers. Will Bryzgalov be able to maintain such consistency behind a Flyers' defense that was atrocious in the postseason?
The jury is still out if Philadelphia will be a better team this season, especially since its own goalies allowed three fewer goals than Phoenix did in 2010-11.
Bold prediction - The Flyers fall from 3rd overall in scoring to 13th.
HOW MUCH WILL BRAD RICHARDS MEAN TO THE RANGERS?
Madison Square Garden will be rocking this year with Brad Richards applying his trade for the Rangers. New York has lacked a true No. 1 center the last few seasons so his arrival should help winger Marian Gaborik rediscover his scoring touch.
Another area where Richards will play a gigantic role is on the power play. The Rangers, (18th in the league with a 16.9 power play percentage last season) will not be forced to use both Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi on the points since Richards can log multiple minutes. In fact, he was second only to Sidney Crosby last year with a whopping 5:20 of PP time-per-game.
Bold prediction - The Rangers finish first in the Atlantic Division.
CAN THE DEVILS REBOUND FROM A DISASTROUS 2010-11 SEASON?
Last year was a train wreck for New Jersey. First, Zach Parise went down with a knee injury on Oct. 30. Then, the team won just seven of its next 29 games (after going 3-8-1 with Parise in the lineup). The Devils finally forged ahead with a 28-10-3 second half record but the damage was already done.
It is doubtful New Jersey will get off to another dismal start, but losing Travis Zajac for at least the first month certainly doesn't help matters any. Still, the Devils can take some solace in the fact that the last two previous teams that finished 30th in the league in goals scored (Colorado and Calgary) jumped up to 6th and 5th, respectively, the following seasons.
Look for New Jersey to be one of the top defensive teams in the league, which will keep them in the playoff hunt throughout the entire campaign.
Bold prediction - Martin Brodeur finishes in the top three in goals-against average.
HOW WILL THE ISLANDERS GOALTENDING SCENARIO PLAY OUT?
Not a single team gave up more even strength goals last season than the Islanders. In fact, they allowed 23 more goals than 12 of the other 14 Eastern Conference squads. To that end, it is imperative that a goalie emerges in the preseason, whether it's Al Montoya, Rick DiPietro, or even Evgeni Nabokov.
Montoya, a former first-round draft choice (ironically by the Rangers), had never been given a chance to show his talents on a consistent basis until last year. The Illinois native proceeded to compile a .921 save percentage in 21 games. If Nabokov, who wilted in the Kontinental Hockey League last season, returns to previous NHL form, he could (and should) be used as trade bait to a team in need of goaltending, which will leave Montoya and DiPietro as the two netminders.
Bold prediction - The Islanders finish 10th in the league in power play percentage.
PREDICTED ATLANTIC DIVISION STANDINGS
1) NY RANGERS 2) PITTSBURGH 3) NEW JERSEY 4) PHILADELPHIA 5) NY Islanders
BOLD - PLAYOFF TEAMS