Drop the puck; it's time to go! NHL season preview

By MEG LEACH
On January 17, 2013

Finally, it's the article everyone has been waiting for: the NHL preview comes out with the start of the long-awaited NHL season. The coming season brings excitement to the minds of hockey analysts and reporters. Without pre-season games, the groundbreaking free agent signings of last summer will put some memorable faces in new uniforms with no sort of trial run to smooth out the wrinkles.

Eastern Conference:

New York Rangers: When the Rangers fans finally got back into the hockey mindset, most had the same reaction when they reviewed their team's lineup: "Holy smokes! We have Rick Nash!"

Nash brings the game of an offensive juggernaut to the team. He had 30 goals and 29 assists last season that could help push them from the Conference Finals to the Stanley Cup.

Boston Bruins:Tim Thomas' year off from the NHL didn't seem like that big of a deal when there wasn't a season. Now, the MVP goalie is sitting on his couch, leaving his backup, Tuukka Rask, to take the starting job.

Rask has probably one of the hardest jobs in hockey in the coming season. Fans in Boston have a history of greatness on the ice and in the crease. It's all on the young goaltender to bring the team up to greatness.

Carolina Hurricanes:There'll be no "Staaling" the engines of the 'Canes this year because brotherly love just might bring the perennial, "too little, too late" team to contention.

The offseason acquisition of Jordan Staal puts two of the famed hockey family's brothers on the same team. Staal will be centering the second line, while his brother and captain, Eric Staal, commands the first. To Eric's right, former Washington Capitals winger, Alexander Semin, will be a dangerous sniper to any goalie the men in red come across. Semin had 21 goals and 33 assists last year.

Cam Ward is still fantastic, too.

Obligatory Buffalo Sabres statement:The First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo is more than ready to accept fans into its midst.

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is anxious for the season, publicly commenting that the lockout was a "waste of time." The Sabres hosted a Blue and White scrimmage earlier in the week and welcomed fans for free admission, filling the 18,000-seat arena to ring in the new hockey season.

Western Conference:

LA Kings: The pressure is on the Kings to repeat after their stellar ascension to victory last season, being the only eight-seeded team to make it to and win the Stanley Cup Final in the new playoff format.

The Kings focused on maintaining a winning combination, re-signing key players like Dustin Penner during free agency, rather than disturbing the mix with new faces.

But what more do you need if you're the Kings? Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick could win a cup by themselves, blindfolded, if they really wanted to.

Minnesota Wild:The Minnesota Wild were a part of one of the biggest trades in the offseason, bringing hometown boys back to familiar Minnesota ice.

The Wild recruited and spent good money on New Jersey captain Zach Parise and Predators defenseman Ryan Suter. Both players signed massive 13-year contracts. There is a commitment to greatness in the North Star State; failure is not an option.

Dallas Stars: Jaromir Jagr made his impressive return to the NHL ranks after a stint playing on the big ice in Russia. The two-time Stanley Cup winner showed he hadn't missed a beat with 19 goals and 35 assists for the Flyers last season.

Dallas was just nosed out of the playoffs last season, finishing in 10th place in the West and just four points shy of eighth place. Kari Lehtonen stays in net for the Stars, and with a goalie mask that portrays the likeness of Chuck Norris, they won't win games - other teams will simply not show up.

Stanley Cup Prediction:  New York Rangers over St. Louis Blues, in six.

With the addition of Nash, the Rangers have improved an already strong scoring core, a grinding defense and a star goaltender that can lead them to the final contest.

The Blues were a sleeper pick last year and shocked the West, coming in second place in the conference. Jaroslav Halak is a streaky goaltender, but he can be clutch in crunch time, as he showed in his playoff run two years ago with the Montreal Canadiens. They have three 50-point forwards and are complemented by their top defensive line, which combined for 84 points last season.

With a short season, anything can happen. Teams will not have the 34-game cushion to get into their roles and lines. It's go time from the start, and every game matters. Teams will be vying for a playoff spot from the moment the puck drops at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

 

Email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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