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2011-2012 Season Preview

Healthy Crosby, Malkin make Pens favorites in East

Thursday, 09.22.2011 / 3:00 AM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Dan Rosen and E.J. Hradek - Staff Writers

Several prognosticators around the NHL are saying the Boston Bruins have lined themselves up for a run at a repeat championship season. No one here is going to argue with that, because on paper, the Bruins look as solid as the team that won the Stanley Cup just three months ago.

That doesn't mean they're going to win it all again, though. They'll be in the race, but only New Jersey and Pittsburgh have repeated as Eastern Conference champions since the NHL went to its current conference format in 1993.

Neither of us believes it's going to happen again this season.

Experts split on potential West champion

Wednesday, 09.21.2011 / 11:00 AM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Dan Rosen and E.J. Hradek - Staff Writers

How hungry are the Vancouver Canucks to get back to the Stanley Cup Final after losing Game 7? Do the Detroit Red Wings have another championship run in them? Can the Chicago Blackhawks use the hurt from last season to help them win it all again? Is the time finally right for the San Jose Sharks to advance beyond the Western Conference Finals? Will a new contender emerge?

All are great questions to ponder as the 2011-12 NHL season nears. Another one could be: Is it too early to make a prediction on who wins the Clarence Campbell Bowl?

Nah. It's never too early to make a bold prediction, and that's why we present you with this:
Chicago Blackhawks

Let's just call last season a year off for the Blackhawks, because they're better than having to wait until the final day of the 2010-11 season to learn their playoff fate. They're better than a team that leaves that fate in the hands of another team.

Positive signs seen in Crosby's recovery

Tuesday, 09.20.2011 / 3:41 PM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Alan Robinson - Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Nobody needs to tell Sidney Crosby what he's missing. Life without hockey hasn't been the same for him for the last 8 1/2 months, if only because it's the kind of void he's never before experienced.
What is encouraging to the Pittsburgh Penguins and, most of all, to their world-class center, is that Crosby might not be without it much longer.
Crosby went through an up-tempo and demanding practice for the fourth consecutive day Tuesday, with no side effects or symptoms from the concussion that has kept him out of games since early January. While he still isn't being allowed contact, there has been plenty of jostling along the boards and in the corners during drills.

Capitals' Backstrom ready to rejoin NHL's elite

Tuesday, 09.20.2011 / 12:01 PM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Two seasons ago, Nicklas Backstrom reached 100 points for the first time in his career and was on the brink of being considered among the very best centers in hockey.

Not just among the top 10, or an elite guy, but the best -- territory that is normally reserved for guys like Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk. Backstrom's point total had risen substantially in each of his first three seasons, and his work at the defensive end was starting to generate some "future Selke Trophy candidate" arguments.

Like most of the top players on the Washington Capitals, Backstrom's 2010-11 season went awry. His production swooned to 18 goals and 65 points -- hardly a bad year for some, but absolutely for a guy with his track record and potential.

"It was really frustrating, actually," Backstrom said. "At the same time, I don't even want to talk about it because it just gets me upset. It is a new season now and I'm just looking forward to the new season and a big year for us."

After trying 2010-11, Smith excited to be a Coyote

Tuesday, 09.20.2011 / 10:31 AM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Jerry Brown - Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In 2008, Dave Tippett was the coach in Dallas and the Stars had a decision to make in goal: Keep Marty Turco or up-and comer Mike Smith.

The Stars stood pat with the proven veteran in Turco and made Smith the centerpiece of a trade with Tampa Bay to land Brad Richards – feeling it was Smith's time to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

So far, it hasn't turned out that way. Smith endured injuries, lost his job, cleared waivers and was even demoted to the minors for a time last season – losing his confidence, focus and eventually his job on a Stanley Cup contender to 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson.

Fast-forward three years, with Tippett now in Phoenix. After making the playoffs each of the last two seasons with Ilya Bryzgalov leading the way, goal has gone from an exclamation point to a question mark in Phoenix.

Winnipeg fans, players excited for preseason opener

Tuesday, 09.20.2011 / 10:27 AM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

"You can't say enough about it. The city is just on fire. Everywhere you go, everywhere you see, it's all Winnipeg Jets. It makes you feel pretty special to be a part of it. That first (regular-season home) game, I can't speak for guys who have played in the Stanley Cup Final, but it's going to probably be one of the craziest games that any of us have played in." -- Blake Wheeler

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets' "real" home-opener still is 19 days away, which is a common school of thought around the club this week.

However, the buzz surrounding Tuesday's preseason-opening game against the Columbus Blue Jackets certainly resembles that of a regular-season game. Winnipeg hockey fans circled the date in June, when the Jets released their preseason slate, and a packed MTS Centre will greet the two clubs. The Jets' cable broadcast outlet, TSN Jets, will televise the game live, and a full press contingent is expected.

There was as much action off the ice as on the ice when the Jets practiced at the MTS Centre on Monday. All throughout the building, arena employees and contractors hustled to put some of the finishing touches on the building necessary to host an NHL game.

Leafs, Jets will still be playing after regular season

Tuesday, 09.20.2011 / 3:00 AM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Dan Rosen and E.J. Hradek - Staff Writers

Will New Jersey get back into the playoffs after missing for the first time since 1996? Can Carolina find its way in after back-to-back seasons of being on the outs? Will Winnipeg give its fans a gift that the people in Atlanta received only once in 10 seasons? What about Toronto, Ottawa, Florida and the Islanders?
Which team or teams from the Eastern Conference that didn't make the playoffs last season will get their ticket punched this season?
Our opinions on the who differ, but we both believe there will be a dark horse team that emerges and catapults itself into the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

Alzner, Carlson shouldered heavy load early

Monday, 09.19.2011 / 6:35 PM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Last season was the first full one in the NHL for Washington Capitals defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

Not only did they excel, they proved to be a vital pairing for the injury-depleted Washington defense and far exceeded expectations. As they prepare for an encore, it is possible the Capitals will rely on them less -- even if they continue to improve.

"I think they had a great year. We used them in a lot of key situations, a lot of pressure situations, and they passed with flying colors," Washington assistant coach Bob Woods said. "We're going to expect more out of them and they are going to expect more out of themselves, but I also think we have some support on the back end, so hopefully that will take a little pressure off them. I think they're going to be fine."

Alzner and Carlson eventually became coach Bruce Boudreau's most trusted defense pairing last season, a remarkable achievement for two guys who were 22 and 20 years old, respectively, at the start of the campaign.

Kane starring in scrimmages as left hand heals

Monday, 09.19.2011 / 5:34 PM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO -- So much for the plan.

It took Chicago Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane all of one training camp day without scrimmaging to figure out a way to get himself back into action during scrimmages -- which happened on Sunday in just the second day of Chicago's camp.

Kane, who had offseason surgery to repair the scaphoid bone in his left hand, also looked really good in his first scrimmage session, scoring a pair of goals. He then followed it up on Monday with another scrimmage and practice at the United Center, where he picked up a pretty assist in the second half of the scrimmage by setting up prospect Kyle Beach for an easy tap-in goal.

On that play, Kane held off a defender with his right arm while scooping the puck with the stick in only his left hand before sliding a pass through traffic near the crease to a wide-open Beach on the other side.

Pacioretty ready to put last season's hit behind him

Monday, 09.19.2011 / 4:21 PM / 2011-2012 Season Preview

Arpon Basu - Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Que. -- Max Pacioretty said prior to the start of Montreal Canadiens training camp that he was completely recovered from the neck injury and concussion that put a premature end to his 2010-11 season.

But until he actually took some contact, there was no way he could be 100 percent certain.

After playing in his second intra-squad scrimmage of training camp Monday, Pacioretty was happy to report his neck withstood the challenge of taking a check and he's now ready to move on to the next step of playing a preseason game.

"It's good to finally get some physicality going, to take a couple of hits and give some as well," Pacioretty said. "My neck's feeling great and I'm ready to go."
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