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NHL 2013 Preview: Atlantic Division

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

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Only the Atlantic and Central Divisions boasted four of five teams finishing with over 100 points last season. Annually one of the most competitive divisions in the NHL, it's shaping up again to be another battle, with a crown that offers a top-3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

A shortened 48-game season will mean plenty of miles on a much more frequent basis for some teams, but for the five clubs in the Atlantic, they'll face the shortest travel of any division in the NHL, according to Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck's fantastic Super Schedule. How much will we be hearing about that come late April?

So who will take home the Atlantic crown in 2013? The Rangers added Rick Nash after falling short in their Cup quest last year. The Penguins will hopefully have an entire season of a healthy Sidney Crosby. Ilya Bryzgalov is promising a better performance in Year 2 for the Flyers. New Jersey lost Zach Parise, but at least Ilya Kovalchuk decided to come back from Russia. And the slow build continues for the Islanders, but can they make a little noise in the division?

After the jump, our team-by-team look at the Atlantic Divison.

New York Rangers
Last Year’s Record: 51-24-7 (109 pts)
Coach: John Tortorella
Pre-Lockout Preview: "The Rangers should win the East and play for the Stanley Cup. There isn't a team that's deeper, save for them needing one more workhorse on the blue line. Tortorella will coach a team with at least three established offensive stars, a burgeoning one in Kreider and a roster of blue-collar players that play his system well. Lundqvist has yet to backstop a team out of the conference; perhaps not having him play 14 games in the first two rounds would serve him well this postseason."
What’s Changed: Michael Del Zotto, no longer an RFA, inked a 2-year deal on Sunday.
Pivotal Player: Rick Nash. The way the team is constructed, Nash is the "final piece" we hear so much about in sports. After coming within two victories of playing for the Stanley Cup last season, it's "Cup or bust" for the Rangers this year.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Henrik Lundqvist. His game started has decreased over the past three season, which has meant good things for King Henrik and the Rangers. The 30-year old Swedes stats have improved and so have the Rangers' fortunes. A shortened season, along with a few extra games along the way from Martin Biron, will mean a fresher Lundqvist heading into an important postseason.
Prediction: First.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Year’s Record: 51-25-6 (108 pts)
Coach: Dan Bylsma
Pre-Lockout Preview: "It'll be more of the same for the Penguins: Stanley Cup favorites, highlights galore from Crosby and Malkin, playoff berth. Rinse, wash, repeat. The hope is that there is defensive improvement to complement the offensive output that once again will be coming. The Penguins will again challenge for the top spots in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, but as it is with the NHL's elite teams, it's what you do in April in beyond that will be remembered."
What’s Changed: Evgeni Malkin tore up the KHL while over there, so, not much.
Pivotal Player: Marc-Andre Fleury. He was a sieve last year against the Flyers in the playoffs. The Penguins will score boatloads of goals this season, we know that, but they won't go far if their No. 1 netminder has to continually fish pucks out from behind him.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Fleury. With Tomas Vokoun backing him up, Fleury will be given much more rest than last season, which saw Bylsma lose all confidence in Brent Johnson. Less games, fresher Fleury. Will that help him come playoff time?
Prediction: Second.

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Philadelphia Flyers
Last Year’s Record: 47-26-9 (103 pts)
Coach: Peter Laviolette
Pre-Lockout Preview: "The Flyers are a playoff team, but how far they can advance will be predicated on Bryzgalov, the growth of last year's rookie crop and how aggressive Holmgren gets in filling the lineup's holes."
What’s Changed: Ilya Bryzgalov finally achieved his goal of being a cosmonaut. They also acquired Brian Boucher for the fourth time.
Pivotal Player: Claude Giroux. Their leading scorer last season will be without Jaromir Jagr, a big reason for his breakout year. With Danny Briere on the shelf for the first few weeks, Giroux will need to carry the offensive load and hope the likes of Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, Matt Read, and Wayne Simmonds produce at rates like a year ago.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Bryzgalov. A few less starts with Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher on board might mean a little less media attention for Bryz, which might keep his focus a bit more.
Prediction: Third.

New Jersey Devils
Last Year’s Record: 48-28-6 (102 pts)
Coach: Peter DeBoer
Pre-Lockout Preview: "Provided Brodeur doesn't break down and the team can recover some of the goals that left with Parise, the Devils will be right in the playoff mix, but there's better competition for playoff spots in the East than last season. Making the cut, however — with three playoff teams in the division, another potential three in the Southeast and the Bruins, Senators and Sabres in the Northeast — won't be easy."
What’s Changed: Ilya Kovalchuk gave Devils fans a moment of panic when he threatened to stay in the KHL for the remainder of this season, but cooler heads prevailed and he will be back with the team for training camp.
Pivotal Player: Kovalchuk. Zach Parise is gone and coming off his best season since 2008-09, Kovalchuk will again need to be the offense force he was in 2011-12. Patrik Elias and David Clarkson are hopeful to aid in that department, while Adam Henrique will face the dreaded sophomore jinx.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Martin Brodeur. The 40-year old Brodeur was spectacular during the Devils' playoff run last season. He's averaged 56.5 games the past two seasons, and with that number decreasing this year, plus Johan Hedberg spelling him, a strong Brodeur could keep the Devils in the playoff hunt.
Prediction: Fourth.

New York Islanders
Last Year’s Record: 34-37-11 (79 pts)
Coach: Jack Capuano
Pre-Lockout Preview: "While they're trying to allow some of their youngsters to gain experience, the results will be hard to come by playing 24 games against their Atlantic Division rivals. The Islanders will need better starts -- it was in the double digits the number of times the Islanders allowed a goal on their first shot faced -- if they're to scrape themselves off the bottom of the conference. But without any significant investment in acquiring upgrades up and down the lineup, it'll likely be another cellar-dwelling season. The only positives to come out of the 2012-13 campaign will be good news on the arena front and the continued development of their bevy of prospects. Oh, and Hockey Canada finally calling up Matt Moulson for World Championships duty."
What’s Changed: Lubomir Visnovsky still doesn't want to play on Long Island.
Pivotal Player: John Tavares. His numbers have risen in each of his first three NHL seasons. Now in his first year of a 6-year, $33 million deal, he'll need to continue being the Islanders' offensive force and, along with Matt Moulson, help whoever is paired with the two replace the loss of P.A. Parenteau's production.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Evgeni Nabokov. Sensing a theme here? Nabokov was a workhorse in his final three years with the Sharks playing 77, 62 and 71 games. He missed some time last year with injury and finished with 41 starts, so with an either healthy Rick DiPietro (we know) behind him, or one of Anders Nilsson or Kevin Poulin, Nabokov can stay fresh and not force Capuano's hand to rush one of one the kids.
Prediction: Fifth.

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