Joey Alfieri

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2018-19 Preview: Part 4

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Part Four of our 2018-19 season preview will feature the first five teams in the Metropolitan Division. You can check out Part OnePart Two and Part Three of the series here if you haven’t already done so.


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Washington Capitals


2017-18 Finish: 49-26-7 record, won the Stanley Cup


Noteworthy Gains: None


Noteworthy Losses: Jay Beagle, Philipp Grubauer


Biggest Strength: The defending Stanley Cup champions are still loaded up front. Not only do they have some of the best skill players in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, they also have incredible depth scoring with players like T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky. The Caps might go through a Stanley Cup hangover, but they’re talented enough to make another run at the cup.


Biggest Weakness: Braden Holtby is one of the elite goalies in the NHL, but he had his share of ups and downs last season. In the end, he found his game and won a Stanley Cup, so he should be fine this season. But if he struggles for long stretches again, the Caps no longer have Grubauer to bail him out. Pheonix Copley is expected to suit up as Holtby’s backup, which means they won’t have an experienced second netminder to rely on. At the same time, if the backup goalie position is your biggest weakness, it means you’re in pretty good shape.


Player to Watch: This is a big year for Burakovsky. He’s clearly talented enough to be a top-six forward at the NHL level, but he still hasn’t been able to find any sort of consistency in his game. He’s entering the final year of his contract, so he’ll be motivated to play well in 2018-19. Burakovsky has to find a way to stay healthy, too.


Pittsburgh Penguins


2017-18 Finish: 47-29-6 record, second round loss to Washington (4-2)


Noteworthy Gains: Jack Johnson, Matt Cullen, Jimmy Hayes, Derek Grant


Noteworthy Losses: Tom Kuhnhackl


Biggest Strength: The Penguins continue to have the best one-two punch down the middle in the NHL. Having Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin at their disposal at the most important position in hockey makes Pittsburgh competitive every year. Neither player has shown any signs of slowing down, which means you can likely expect them to continue dominating on the ice for years to come. With winger Phil Kessel also on the roster, the Penguins had three players hit the 89-point mark last season.


Biggest Weakness: Finding holes on a team that won back-to-back Stanley Cups heading into last season isn’t exactly easy. Their group of defensemen often gets called into question, especially since Kris Letang has had some rough luck with injuries as of late. Adding Jack Johnson to the fold gives them more depth, but if Letang doesn’t stay healthy, it won’t be easy for them to replace him.


Player to Watch: Matt Murray is a young goaltender that’s already won two Stanley Cups, but there’s no denying that he had a tough year in 2017-18. In his first season without Marc-Andre Fleury, Murray struggled badly at times. If the Penguins are going to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final, they need their netminder to be on top of his game. He has the talent to do so, he just has to put it all together.


Philadelphia Flyers


2017-18 Finish: 42-26-14 record, first round loss to Pittsburgh (4-2)


Noteworthy Gains: James van Riemsdyk, Christian Folin


Noteworthy Losses: Brandon Manning, Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read, Petr Mrazek


Biggest Strength: The Flyers are loaded with two of the best young defensemen in the NHL, and there could be more help on the way. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov have already emerged at two of the best blueliners in the league, and they’re both just 25 and 21 respectively. Add Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers to the mix, and it’s easy to see why so many are high on the Flyers defense. Their forward depth isn’t too bad either, as they have weapons like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, JVR, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny, too.


Biggest Weakness: For years, the Flyers have always had the same problem. They haven’t been able to find themselves a clear-cut number one goaltender that could carry them through a long playoff run. They’ll head into the season with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. Both players are in the final year of their contracts, so they’ll have even more to play for. Top prospect Carter Hart isn’t that far away from solving the organization’s biggest problem.


Player to Watch: Nolan Patrick went from being the second overall pick in 2017 to playing in the NHL right away. He was able to hold his own at the highest level, but he only managed to put up 13 goals and 30 points. He got more comfortable as the season went on, but the Flyers will be looking for him to take a big step forward this season.


Columbus Blue Jackets


2017-18 Finish: 45-30-7 record, first round loss to Washington (4-2)


Noteworthy Gains: Anthony Duclair, Riley Nash

Noteworthy Losses: Ian Cole, Jack Johnson, Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert


Biggest Strength: The Blue Jackets are fortunate for have Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes. The Russian netminder is one of the best in the game at his position, and he gives his team an opportunity to win every night. When the forwards were struggling to produce at the start of last season, the Russian netminder was there to carry to his team to victory. Also, having a top defensive pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski is impossible to overlook.


Biggest Weakness: Columbus finished sixth in goals per game in 2017-18, but there’s still some questions surrounding their depth scoring. After Artemi Panarin, who will find the back of the net consistently for them? Cam Atkinson got off to a sluggish start, Nick Foligno struggled at times and Brandon Dubinsky doesn’t look like the same player he was just a few seasons ago. They need those players and others like Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand to elevate their game.


Player to Watch: Like most teenagers that make it to the NHL, Pierre-Luc Dubois needed some time to get comfortable. He ended up finishing his rookie season with a respectable 20 goals and 48 points in 82 games. He was also one of Columbus’ better players in the playoffs, as he recorded two goals and two assists in six contests. Dubois is talented enough to become a franchise center in the NHL.


New Jersey Devils


2017-18 Finish: 44-29-9 record, first round loss to Tampa Bay (4-1)


Noteworthy Gains: Eric Gryba


Noteworthy Losses: Patrick Maroon, Michael Grabner, Jimmy Hayes, Drew Stafford


Biggest Strength: The Devils are still an up-and-coming team, so they aren’t really blessed with incredible depth at any particular position, but what they do have is the NHL’s most valuable player. Taylor Hall was an incredible in 2017-18. Not only did he win the Hart Trophy by accumulating 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, he also led the Devils to the playoffs, which no one expected before the start of the season. For them to make it back to the postseason, they’ll need the 26-year-old to have a repeat performance.


Biggest Weakness: Despite having players like Sami Vatanen and Andy Greene, New Jersey is still relatively inexperienced on defense. Will Butcher had a phenomenal rookie season, but Damon Severson, Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller each had their share of growing pains at various times. With a little more seasoning, the Devils should have a solid group on the blue line, but as of right now it’s not a strength.


Player to Watch: Cory Schneider is supposed to be one of the better players at his position. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way for the Devils of late. Schneider missed an extended period of time with a groin injury and he underwent off-season hip surgery, so it’s unclear if he’ll be ready for the start of the season. Whenever he gets back, he needs to find a way to provide his team with better goaltending than he gave them last season.

Email :Joey Alfieri

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