Pens, Crosby aim for 2nd straight title
Red Wings’ 25-year playoff streak likely ending; Caps could have new priorities
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.