NHL Preview Capsules: Southeast Division
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By The Associated Press
LAST SEASON: 33-33-16, 82 points. Missed playoffs by finishing 12th in Eastern Conference.
COACH: Kirk Muller, 2nd season overall and with Hurricanes, 25-20-12.
PLAYER TO WATCH: C Eric Staal. The team captain and face of the franchise blossomed after Muller took over two months into last season, with 19 goals and 40 assists in the final 57 games. With his younger brother on the team and veteran Semin on his line, Staal should have enough pieces around him to carry the team to the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: The Hurricanes have made the playoffs just once since winning the 2006 Stanley Cup, but the additions of Jordan Staal and Semin should give them enough quality offensive depth to reach the postseason -- even in a tough Southeast Division.
LAST SEASON: 38-26-18, 94 points. Lost to New Jersey 4-3 in first round.
COACH: Kevin Dineen, 2nd season with Panthers, 38-26-18; 2nd overall in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kovalev. He's still strong and talented, and could be the perfect fit for a second line that sometimes struggled with scoring a year ago. Plus, considering how much Florida struggles with shootouts, someone like Kovalev could pay immediate dividends.
OUTLOOK: Most of the team that won the Southeast Division title last season is back. The Panthers might have one of the best 1-2 goaltending combos in the league with Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. If health isn't an issue, the Panthers could go deeper in the playoffs this time around.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
LAST SEASON: 38-36-8, 84 points. Missed the playoffs by finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference.
COACH: Guy Boucher, 3rd season, 84-61-19.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steven Stamkos. Young rising star had NHL-best 60 goals, including a league-high 12 game-winners last season. The Lightning are counting on him to continue delivering in clutch situations.
OUTLOOK: A year removed from making the Eastern Conference finals in their first season under Boucher, the Lightning finished 10th in the conference -- eight points short of the playoffs -- last season. Stamkos & Co., feel a quick start will be one of the keys to getting back to the post-season.
LAST SEASON: 42-32-8, 92 points. Lost to New York Rangers 4-3 in Eastern Conference semifinals.
COACH: Adam Oates, 1st season with Capitals; 1st overall in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Alex Ovechkin. Something less than Alexander the Great the past two seasons, the Capitals' captain will be the key to how far Washington goes this season. There's been talk of shifting him from left wing to right wing in a bid to get him back to the form that earned two league MVP awards.
OUTLOOK: Under first-time head coach Oates, the Capitals will try to find the proper balance between the all-out, go-go style and sit-back-and-play-defense style they shifted between under past coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter. For all the talent on Washington's roster, the team has never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs with Ovechkin.
LAST SEASON: 37-35-10, 84 points. Missed playoffs by finishing 10th in Eastern Conference.
COACH: Claude Noel, 2nd season with Jets, 37-35-10; 3rd overall, 47-43-16 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: After nearly making the team out of training camp last season, 19-year-old center Mark Scheifele is eager for another shot this year. He's a dependable two-way forward who's enjoyed a solid first half of the season playing for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League.
OUTLOOK: Will the honeymoon of the NHL's return to Winnipeg be over after last season? The former Atlanta Thrashers are still stuck in what's becoming a tough Southeast Division. And until the NHL realigns its divisions, the Jets are still stuck with a grueling travel schedule that could wear them down in a tightly packed 48-game schedule.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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