NHL Season Preview 2008/09
The heart-stopping, hard-hitting action of the NHL has regathered its breath and has taken to the ice for the new season. There will be big-hits, spectacular goals and fights fit for the boxing ring as the thirty franchises spanning Canada and the USA all battle for the title of Stanley Cup Champions 2009 and with it, get their names engraved on the one of the most famous trophys in world sport.
Last season saw the perennial powerhouse Detroit Red Wings return to the top as they defeated Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings, led by the outstanding trio of Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, were dominant all season long and even Crosby, the NHL's greatest talent, was powerless against their charge. This season they will be hoping to repeat their success and the early signs are looking good. Their squad has remained intact and with the addition of top free agent Marian Hossa they may be an unstoppable force this year - Western Conference rivals will be trembling at the prospect of entering the Joe Louis Arena.
The best of the rest in the Western Conference looks like being the Pacific Division's San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. Expectations in San Jose often outweigh on-ice performance but they do have a talented group of players and a world class goalie in Evgeni Nabakov - they should be a dead cert. to make the play-offs. The Ducks, on the other hand, consistently achieve great results each season but this season they may be a bit fragile. In Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer they have one of the strongest blue lines in hockey but offensive production could be an issue. Anaheim's fate could be dependant on whether star right winger Teemu Selanne returns.
If a dark horse is to emerge in the West then it could well be the Dallas Stars. The Stars are definitely under-rated! With a potent attack and a strong defence they certainly have the ability to raise a few eyebrows although it may just be that neither is quite strong enough for domination.
In the Eastern Conference the Penguins should be strong again. Crosby will be supported by Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to form the strongest line fans in the East will see this season. Injuries at vital times proved costly last season and could well do again this season but if a clean bill of health is kept then they will be fine.
The Penguins main competition should come from the Montreal Canadiens. The partnership between Alex Tanguay and Saku Koivu is their key to success and if it clicks they will be very successful. Alongside the superstars there is a feeling that the Canadiens can form four lines that will score and keep it tight defensively. In terms of strength in depth they are unrivalled.
The other team from the East looking capable of challenging this year is the Washington Capitals. When Alex Ovechkin started out he was strongly tipped to be an instant megastar, and, while he was good, he was not the franchise player the Capitals had hoped for. Now he is! This team is built around Ovechkin but if Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom continue in a similar vein as they ended last season then they will be a difficult proposition for anyone. Also, the Southeast Division is not the strongest meaning Washington should have a clear path to the play-offs and from there, who knows?