Pens, Crosby aim for 2nd straight ti­tle

Red Wings’ 25-year play­off streak likely end­ing; Caps could have new pri­or­i­ties

Baltimore Sun - - NHL PREVIEW - By He­lene El­liott

Pitts­burgh Pen­guins cap­tain Sid­ney Crosby added the World Cup cham­pi­onship and Most Valu­able Player hon­ors to his two Stan­ley Cup ti­tles and two Olympic gold medals this sum­mer, but for some rea­son, crit­ics still find fault with him. They shouldn’t.

Crosby comes up big at big mo­ments and has a chance to lead the Pen­guins to a sec­ond straight ti­tle, a feat no team has man­aged since the De­troit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Crosby will miss some time after he suf­fered a con­cus­sion this week.

Here are the big ques­tions in the Eastern Con­fer­ence lead­ing into the sea­son: Will goal­tender Matt Mur­ray’s bro­ken hand slow the Pen­guins? Mur­ray broke his hand dur­ing the World Cup and was ex­pected to miss three to six weeks, but it’s a long sea­son and 2009 Cup win­ner Marc-An­dre Fleury can eas­ily step in. Gen­eral man­ager Jim Rutherford showed last sea­son that he’s adept at ad­just­ing on the fly, pro­vid­ing in­gre­di­ents for a team that pro­gres­sively im­proved. Will the De­troit Red Wings’ play­off streak con­tinue? All good things must come to an end, and that likely will in­clude the Red Wings’ 25-sea­son streak. Ag­ing and lack­ing depth, they’ll have trou­ble scor­ing and will miss the magic of Pavel Dat­syuk, who went home to Rus­sia. Can the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens re­turn to the play­offs? Goal­tender Carey Price was out­stand­ing dur­ing the World Cup, sooth­ing anx­i­ety over whether he would re­gain his form after suf­fer­ing a knee in­jury that lim­ited him to 12 games last sea­son. The Cana­di­ens made head­lines when they sent pop­u­lar de­fense­man P.K. Sub­ban to the Nashville Preda­tors for stal­wart but slow­ing Shea We­ber, valu­ing short-term so­lid­ity on de­fense over Sub­ban’s pro­duc­tion and per­son­al­ity. Coach Michel Ther­rien will be un­der a lot of pres­sure to reach the play­offs. Speak­ing of coaches, who’s on the hot seat? The Pen­guins’ suc­cess after they changed coaches at mid­sea­son could put some coaches un­der in­tense pres­sure to start well. That could in­clude Ther­rien and the Bos­ton Bru­ins’ Claude Julien if his team Pen­guins cen­ter Sid­ney Crosby raises the Stan­ley Cup after the de­ci­sive Game 6 against the Sharks in June. Crosby, who is cur­rently out with a con­cus­sion, could lead Pitts­burgh to its sec­ond straight ti­tle, which no team has ac­com­plished since De­troit in 1997 and 1998. has a slow start after its non­play­off fin­ish last sea­son. Which teams are on the rise? The Buf­falo Sabres are, with 2015 No. 2 pick Jack Eichel (24 goals and 46 points as a rookie), emerg­ing de­fense­man Ras­mus Ris­to­lainen, free-agent find Kyle Ok­poso and 2016 No. 8 pick Alexan­der Ny­lan­der. Their speed should give op­po­nents fits. The Toronto Maple Leafs, 30th over­all last sea­son with 29 wins and 69 points, can get only bet­ter — and they will. No. 1 over­all pick Aus­ton Matthews, who made news dur­ing camp when one of his shots shat­tered the glass in the prac­tice rink, will lead them to­ward re­spectabil­ity as they get younger and faster. They’re hop­ing goalie Fred­erik An­der­sen can be durable. Will the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy ( most points) again be a goal for the Cap­i­tals? It wasn’t much con­so­la­tion after they led the NHL in wins (56) and points (120) but lost to Pitts­burgh in the sec­ond round of the play­offs. They were so dom­i­nant for so long that they might have lost their edge: They won only three of their last nine reg­u­larsea­son games and weren’t im­prov­ing or es­tab­lish­ing a rhythm as the play­offs ap­proached. Pucks and palm trees: Can Florida’s teams thrive again? The Tampa Bay Light­ning, which reached the Cup fi­nal in 2015 and the East fi­nal last sea­son, kept for­ward Steven Stamkos with an eight-year, $68 mil­lion con­tract and foun­da­tion de­fense­man Vic­tor Hed­man for eight years and $63 mil­lion. The team must find salary cap space to re-sign re­stricted-free-agent for­ward Nikita Kucherov. Jon Cooper is among the NHL’s bright­est coaches.

The Florida Pan­thers won the At­lantic Di­vi­sion with a fran­chise-record 47 wins but lost in the first round of the play­offs. Jaromir Jagr, 44, led them in scor­ing last sea­son with 66 points but should be passed by young­sters Alek­sander Barkov and Jonathan Hu­berdeau. The off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion of de­fense­man Keith Yan­dle should help stand­out Aaron Ek­blad with pow­er­play pro­duc­tion. Goalie Roberto Luongo’s fiery com­pet­i­tive­ness fu­els them.


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