Sportspinion: Eastern conference preview

By Mike Smith

With the NHL pre-season wrapping up and the regular season getting into full swing, there is no real beast of the east this year. Last year during the regular season, the Washington Capitals owned the eastern conference and the entire NHL. The Capitals are no longer a favourite to win the cup, as their franchise player, Alexander Ovechkin, choked at both the 2010 Olympics and the NHL playoffs last year. If Washington wants to advance through the first round of the playoffs, they better hope Ovechkin learns to stay calm under pressure.

The eastern conference was tight last year and it is expected to become even more so this year. The basement dwellers of last season are undergoing major upgrades, so it will be a fun season to watch. Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke pulled off some genius moves during the offseason with the addition of Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong and other players that have proven their skill. The Leafs are expected to make a splash this year and possibly even knock other playoff contenders out of the race.

The Montreal Canadiens made a very controversial move in the offseason, dealing playoff savoir Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues. Although their star goalie is gone, they fortunately have Carey Price, an outstanding goaltender that job-shared with Halak throughout the 09/10 campaign. The Habs are expected to be good and TSN projected they would lock up a lower playoff spot.

The Ottawa Senators are returning with a roster similar to last year’s which earned them a fifth place eastern conference finish. They are expecting better goaltending from both Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliot and shipped out two of their more defensive defensemen this year, but brought in a world class offensive defenseman in Sergei Gonchar. He will produce big numbers for the Sens on the power play. The Sens should be able to retain their fifth place finish and even push for a division title and a top three conference finish.

The other 12 American teams are going to be a challenging opponent for the three Canadian ones. Watch for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning top of the eastern conference at the end of the regular season.

First overall in the conference will be the Philadelphia Flyers out of the Atlantic division and in second place will be the Washington Capitals out of the Southeast division. For third the Maple Leafs are looking promising.

The Canadiens and Penguins are likely to meet up in the eastern conference final. Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury will play well for the Penguins. Michael Cammalleri, Kerry Price and P.K. Subban will lift the Habs to their second straight Conference Final appearance. The Penguins will have home ice, but the Habs will take it in six, winning the eastern conference crown at home.

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