MICHAEL RUSSO’S EASTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS
1. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
2013: 36-12-0, 1st in East (72 points)
• Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury broke down yet again in the postseason, but this is the regular season and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal will light it up.
2. BOSTON BRUINS
2013: 28-14-5, 4th in East (62 points)
• Tremendous on the back end, starting with goalie Tuukka Rask, and now the B’s add Loui Eriksson to a deep group of forwards.
3. DETROIT RED WINGS
2013: 24-16-8, 7th in West (56 points)
• Most felt the Red Wings would collapse last season without Nicklas Lidstrom. Didn’t happen, and now they move to East, where they should thrive.
4. OTTAWA SENATORS
2013: 25-17-6, 7th in East (56 points)
• Forward Jason Spezza and defenseman Erik Karlsson are healthy, and the addition of goal scorer Bobby Ryan should more than make up for the loss of Daniel Alfredsson.
5. NEW YORK RANGERS
2013: 26-18-4, 6th in East (56 points)
• John Tortorella wore out his welcome, and now this tight group presumably will breathe easier behind goalie Henrik Lundqvist and rising star Derek Stepan.
6. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
2013: 26-17-5, 5th in East (57 points)
• Made the playoffs last year for the first time in eternity and followed it up by hopefully settling their erratic goalie situation in acquiring Jonathan Bernier.
7. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
2013: 24-17-7, 8th in East (55 points)
• New captain John Tavares put up an MVP-type season last year, and look for him again to lead this up-and-coming team.
8. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
2013: 27-18-3, 3rd in East (57 points)
• Alex Ovechkin got off to a slow start last season before pouring it on en route to his third Hart Trophy. No slow start this season.
9. MONTREAL CANADIENS
2013: 29-14-5, 2nd in East (63 points)
• Was a surprise out of the East last season, but last season’s Carey Price was nothing like the Carey Price of three years ago.
10. PHILADELPHIA Flyers
2013: 23-22-3, 10th in East (49 points)
• Ilya Bryzgalov and his idiosyncrasies were purged in the offseason, but the jury’s out as to whether Ray Emery and Steve Mason will solve Philly’s eternal goaltending issues.
11. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
2013: 24-17-7, 9th in West (55 points)
• Hard-working team that should score more with a full season of Marian Gaborik, but goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will be asked again to carry the load.
12. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
2013: 18-26-4, 14th in East (40 points)
• The Lightning has scorers Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, but also has a terrible blue line.
13. FLORIDA PANTHERS
2013: 15-27-6, 15th in East (36 points)
• They’ve dug goalie Tim Thomas out of his sabbatical and are skilled with Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Shawn Matthias, but they’re still too young.
14. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
2013: 19-19-10, 11th in East (48 points)
• Ilya Kovalchuk up and retired, and this was a glacially slow team to begin with. This could be a tough go for the Devils.
15. CAROLINA HURRICANES
2013: 19-25-4, 13th in East (42 points)
• They better hope goalie Cam Ward is completely healthy after a knee injury, because defensively, this team has big issues.
16. BUFFALO SABRES
2013: 21-21-6, 12th in East (48 points)
• The pending free agency and trade discussion of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller will be a distraction all season.