2009-10 NHL Preview: Southeast Division
Total Pro Sports – With the start of the 2009-10 NHL Season upon us it’s time to take a look and see how each team stacks up. As per the norm, each preview will be broken down by division in order of how we think the team will finish.
Lets take a look at the Southeast Division for the 2009-10 NHL Preview.
1. Washington Capitals
After a less than stellar 2009 playoff performance Washington will look to re-establish their dominance in the Southeast division and anything less than an Eastern Conference Finals appearance will be considered a disappointment.
Offence is what drives the Caps and when you look at who they have up front it’s easy to figure out why. Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been able to develop some great chemistry and Alexander Semin always seems to fly under the radar, mostly due to the fact that so far he’s been unable to play a full NHL season. Mike Knuble was a great pick up during the summer and Eric Fehr will look to improve on his 25 points in 61 games from last season. Brendan Morrison is the wild card as he looks to rebound after a not so great 2008-09 season.
The defence doesn’t appear to be the greatest, but it shouldn’t hurt the Caps in their quest for the Cup. Mike Green, Tom Poti and a healthy Brian Pothier will help supply some offence from the back end while guys like Jeff Schultz, Shaone Morrisonn and John Erskine give Washington some stability and toughness in their own end.
Goaltending is a bit of a question mark heading into the season. Semyon Varlamov had his coming out party in last year’s playoffs but because of Theodore’s contract the Capitals will give Jose every chance to prove he’s still the team’s #1.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina had a great second half to the 2008-09 season and finished it off with a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals. They managed to keep their core together during the summer so it’ll be interesting to see if they can build on last season’s success.
Eric Staal leads the Hurricanes offence and will look to maintain his regular season chemistry with winger Erik Cole. If not, the underrated Ray Whitney is a more than capable replacement. Jussi Jokinen, Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu will be looked upon to provide some secondary scoring and captain Rod Brind’Amour will look to rebound from a disappointing 2008-09 season where he put up 51 points and had a terrible plus/minus rating of minus-23.
Carolina’s defence will miss the departure of Anton Babchuk after his breakout season last year but in the end should still be good enough to help make the playoffs. Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo bring some offence from the blue line and players like Tim Gleason, Aaron Ward and Niclas Wallin will be able to hold the fort in their own end.
In net Cam Ward will be looking for his fourth consecutive 30+ win season and Michael Leighton will look to improve off of a so-so season that saw him put up 6 wins, a .901 SAV% and 2.92 GAA in 19 games.
3. Florida Panthers
The Panthers surprised a few people last year by finishing with 93 points and contending for the 8th spot in the East. Despite the loss of Jay Bouwmeester I expect Florida to do the same this year too.
The Panthers offence will be riding the coat tails of David Booth and Nathan Horton. Big things are expected of 2006 draft pick Michael Frolik and Stephen Weiss, Cory Stillman and Rostislav Olesz will provide the secondary scoring.
Despite the loss of Jay Bouwmeeester Florida’s defence looks good. Newly appointed captain Bryan McCabe, Jordan Leopold and Keith Ballard will look to anchor the point on the power play with Bryan Allen, Ville Koistinen and Denis Seidenberg rounding out the blue line.
Goaltending appears to be the team’s strength with Tomas Vokoun looking to start this season where he left off last season and Scott Clemmensen out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
After back-to-back terrible seasons, 2009-10 is the season the Lightning climb out of the basement.
Upfront is where Tampa flourishes. Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St.Louis, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone and Alex Tanguay make up what will be one of the top offences in the league. Steve Downie, Ryan Craig, Jeff Halpern and Paul Szczechura make up a solid bottom 6 providing toughness and good defence.
With the addition of Mattias Ohlund and a healthy Andrej Meszaros the Lightning’s blue line will be much improved over last year’s. Paul Ranger and Mike Lundin will look to keep on improving and Matt Lashoff could surprise.
Between the pipes Tampa Bay is set with Mike Smith who posted a .916 SAV% and 2.62 GAA in 41 games last season and Antero Niittymaki as a solid backup.
5. Atlanta Thrashers
Despite some nice additions to their forward and defensive groups I still see the Thrashers finishing last in the Southeast Division and obtaining another top 5 draft pick.
Ilya Kovalchuk leads Atlanta’s offence along with youngster Bryan Little and will look to develop some chemistry with Nik Antropov. Vyacheslav Kozlov, Rich Peverley and Todd White will be looked upon to supply some of the secondary scoring with Colby Armstrong assigned as the team’s pest and Eric Boulton as the muscle.
The Thrashers look pretty good on defence with Pavel Kubina, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey and Zach Bogosian making up the top 4. Nathan Oystrick, Anssi Salmela and Boris Valabik will battle it out for the 3rd pairing.
Net is a big question mark right now. Kari Lehtonen appears to be the #1 still, but if he falters the team wont hesitate to go with Johan Hedberg or Ondrej Pavelec.