Well it's just 21 days till the Caps regular season home opener; full squad training camp starts tomorrow at Kettler; and around the league things are heating up. Here's some background from the mainstream media on our Eastern Conference rivals.
Ottawa -It's their fourth day in camp today, they will start making cuts this weekend, they currently have 54 players in camp. Today's Ottawa Sun actually had an article by my "favorite" MSM hockey beat writer, Bruce Garrioch, on Chris Neil that didn't sound like it was written by a conehead. You can find it here. Other articles in the Sun center on the fact the Senators currently have 18 defensemen in camp as they look for a viable replacement to their former anchor, number 1 minute muncher, Wade Redden; and an article on how new coach Craig Hartsburg has a mindset that everything and everyone starts with a clean slate. I doubt that sentiment will be taken to heart by Ottawa's hockey mad press and fans - I'm betting they still expect a Cup this year, like every year. Hopefully, the Capitals will continue to "have the Senator's number" this year as they did last season.
Montreal - The Canadeans opened camp today and have an increased focus on strength and conditioning this year, or at least that appears to be the implication of this article in today's on-line edition of the Montreal Gazette. No doubt last year's Conference winners will once again be a tough group to beat and the big recent news in Montreal is the trade for Robert Lang which will only help the "rich" become "richer." though with Jose Theodore in the net, the Caps will again have a netminder with something to prove to the Montreal fans and team management and will likely play with a little bit of edge. The same edge that AO always seems to play against Montreal with.
Toronto - The Maple Leafs opened training camp with General Manager Cliff Fletcher and Coach Ron Wilson taking a look at 60 players who started camp today. Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin lead a group of rookies hoping to crack the roster. Notable not absent were Mats Sundin and many Leaf mainstays such as Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and Andrew Raycroft. As of his last press conference Sundin is still trying to figure out if he wants to play another NHL season - from what's going on it sure seems to me he's looking to play a "Scott Neidermeyer" season if he plays at all this year.
Boston - The Bruins rookies play the Islander's rookies today and the Bruins continue to try and bulk up the size of their roster. Boston will again be a solid team though there has been a lot of changes, this will be the season where fans will see if Tim Thomas can put together two All-Star seasons back to back. The Caps should match-up well against Boston but if they continue to build the size of their roster, they will not be an easy W for anyone.
Buffalo Sabres - The big news yesterday in Sabreland was that the Sabres, tired of losing their homegrown talent to free agency, have agreed on a five-year, $26.5 million contract extension with high-scoring right winger Jason Pominville. The extension will keep the 25-year-old team captain in Buffalo through the 2013-14 season. The Sabres open training camp tomorrow at HSBC Arena with a huge 56 man roster: 6 goaltenders, 19 Defenseman, and 32 forwards, a scrimmage and an unveiling of their new third jersey for their fans.
New York Rangers - The official beginning of the post-Jaromir Jagr era was Tuesday. Training camp officially got underway, as the 65 players in camp - many of whom, including all of the team's free-agent acquisitions, had already reported early - convened at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh to take physicals before Wednesday's first official skate. The more pressing questions surrounding the Rangers have less to do with physical education than with chemistry. After the July, 2007 signings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury gave the team potency and depth at center, this summer's departure of Jagr, Sean Avery and Martin Straka - and the limbo in which Brendan Shanahan finds himself - have completed a near-overhaul of the roster and made way for new veterans on the wings and the blue line. This offseason's four big acquisitions - wingers Markus Naslundsld, and Nikolai Zherdev, and D-men Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin - left their old teams amid doubts about their futures and have come to New York hoping to reinvigorate their careers. Alas, as can be seen in more detail in this article, my second "favorite" MSM hockey beat writer, Larry Brooks, seems to have already used his great hockey knowledge, hockey sense, and infallible intuition realtive to human nature and drive to quickly determine that Zherdev is an underachieving bust. So of course I am now rooting for Zherdev to call out Larry and suggest that he eat his hat on center ice at the first intermission of a Ranger's Home game after Nickolai scores his 30th goal this season. Yes, I just want to see it posted on YouTube for all to see.
New York Islanders - The Islanders veterans started training camp today and there's not a lot of news out of their camp other than the fact that new head coach Scott Gordon is bringing an energy level and vitality to the organization that seems familiar of the same type of stuff Bruce Boudreau's arrival brought to the Cap's team last season. Time will tell if that view is well founded but the Islanders are not a team without talent and Rick DiPietro is a great guy to have in between the pipes.
New Jersey Devils - The Devils reported for physicals today and start workouts tomorrow. That is just two days before they play their first preseason game Monday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers. Per the Newark Star-Ledger, coach Brent Sutter said he will start exhibition games with his goalies playing half a game. He even thinks backup Kevin Weekes will be able to play soon enough after recovering from late May surgery to re-attach the biceps muscle to the bone in his left arm. Though they may continue to be less exciting to watch then the Washington Capitals, the Devils look once again to be a tough opponent and a contender this season. Coach Sutter is hoping that the return of free agent Brian Rolston will give the Devils some more offensive punch to compliment their ever sound defense.
Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers and new Team Captain 23 year old Mike Richards, coming off a season in which they reached the Eastern Conference finals, will open their training camp tomorrow with 66 players. With backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki expected to miss the start of the season after hip surgery, the Flyers yesterday signed Jean-Sebastien Aubin to a one-year contract just in time to report to camp. The Flyers will start camp and the season with a solid line-up and a stable situation after going from "worst to "almost" first" last season. The local MSM lists the following five players as the ones for lyers fans to watch as they get ready for the regular season to start: Antero Niittymaki, Ryan Parent, rookie Claude Giroux, comeback story Bryan Berard (Berard is not quite a Vince Pappale story but one that ought to have everyone rooting him.), and Simon Gagne - it would be huge for the team to get back the Gagne who had back-to-back, plus-40-goal seasons, but we all know too well that concussions are a scary unknown. Even if these five guys on the roster, the Flyers will again be a tough opponent for the Capitals, and Caps fans will no doubt again be treated by the rivalry between Richards and Ovechkin when the two teams play each other. The Richards-Ovechkin rivalry is as intense or more so then the Crosby/Malkin - Ovechkin battles ever will be. That said look for Jose Theodore to work really hard to outplay Martin Biron when these two old rival teams battle each other.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Pen's coach Michel Therrien will open camp tomorrow with a 42 player roster after returning 9 players from rookie camp to their junior team's today. Pittsburgh will still still have 24 forwards, 14 defensemen and four goaltenders in camp. The lineup for tomorrow includes forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal, Janne Pesonen, Ryan Stone, Kris Beech, Jeff Taffe, Miroslav Satan, Petr Sykora, Bill Thomas and Eric Godard, defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Ben Lovejoy, Alex Goligoski, Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton and Darryl Sydor and goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin. Though the Pens lost some very good players to the Salary Cap & Free Agency this off-season the young core of Crosby-Malkin & Fleury is second to none, though our own Capitals' "Young Guns" do give them a run for the money.
Carolina Hurricanes - The Hurricanes opened training camp today with player physicals and will be in full practice mode tomorrow morning. After three weeks of camp and six preseason games. While the 'Canes don't look any stronger this year than last they will no doubt find a way to give the Caps lots of solid competition for the Southeast Division Championship. Getting edged out by the Caps last season will no doubt make them play Washington with their "A" game even when they are tired and bruised later in the season.
Atlanta Thrashers - The Atlanta Thrashers open training camp under new coach John Anderson with a roster of 51 players at 9AM tomorrow and will work hard to be ready for their season opener on October 11th at Philips Arena against the Capitals. Atlanta has a couple of challenges that it's hard to understand - they may struggle to stay above the league's minimum salary requirement and they haven't named a team captain to replace Bobby Holik who departed for Atlanta for New Jersey as a free agent in the off-season. Why they haven't assembled a solid set of players who compliment Ilya Kovalchuck using the cap room created by the "departure" of Marian Hossa and why they haven't already named Kovalchuck their captain remain mysteries to many fans of the game. All things considered the Caps should be able to handle the "Bluebirds" well this season as Atlanta takes stock and starts to build the team's offense firmly around Kovalchuck.
Tampa Bay Lightning - Coach Barry "the mullet" Melrose opened camp 4 days ago with a vengeance, encouraging hard play and "physicality". The Lightning will be a wild card for every team that plays them this season; they have a high powered offense, a very young defense, and an interesting situation in goal. The big thing to watch in Tampa Bay over the next couple of weeks will be the development and acclimation of Steven Stamkos to the NHL game.
Florida Panthers - The new-look Panthers get back on the ice Saturday for the first time as training camp opens in Coral Springs. The Panthers signed defenseman Keith Ballard to a six-year extension on September 9th. Ballard, was acquired from Phoenix along with defenseman Nick Boynton for Olli Jokinen in a trade at the draft, is expected to start the preseason skating in the first pairing with Jay Bouwmeester. The biggest question for the Panthers this season is who will fill the scoring void left by the departure of Jokinen. The Panthers look solid on defense (fitting for a team whose color commentator is Dennis Potvin) and in goal; scoring/power forward is the area that the Panthers leave the most questions. Free Agent pick-up Cory Stillman provides a possibility for filling some of the gap left by the departure of last year's team captain (Jokinen) but those will be big shoes to fill. The Panther's now formidable defense will keep them in most games, if they can put together a fair offense they should win their share of games. The Caps - panthers match-ups will be interesting to watch but the edge is defninately with the Capitals. The other thing that is a sure thing, is that after last season Caps Fans will cheer for Richard Zednik when he hits the ice, every time, as long as he isn't the one filling that scoring void.
The last team to talk about in the Eastern Conference ....
Washington Capitals - The best, most fun to watch team in the NHL. That's all I have to say on that one. I can't wait for the home opener on October 11th when we'll all be "Rockin' the Red".
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!