The Patrick Division promises to provide an instant replay of last season's frenetic finish when only seven points separated the six teams. In fact, the division's ultimate playoff champion. New Jersey, needed an overtime goal in the final regular-season game just to qualify for the playoffs.
To help the Caps cope with anxiety, Washington hired Jim McGee as the team psychologist. He should be busy. Two of the Caps' top three scorers last season were defensemen. The forwards need to start chipping in, but it won't be enough. Washington lacks the killer instinct to survive in the Patrick.
Aside from Tomas Sandstrom, New York Rangers coach Michel Bergeron will get most of his goal-scoring from a pair of 37-year-olds. Marcel Dionne and the aforementioned Lafleur. That's got to make Bergeron nervous, and so should the condition of starting goal-tender John Vanbiesbrouck's left wrist. VBK needed microsurgery after suffering lacerations of his ulnar nerve and partially severing three tendons in a household mishap last summer. There are too many question marks here.
Forget Mario Lemieux and Paul Coffey, who will help Pittsburgh produce goals by the dozen. Can the Penguins succeed with Steve Guenette, Rick Tabaracci and Wendell Young in goal? Rookie coach Gene Ubriaco, whose Baltimore Skipjack team was 13-58-9 last year, means business. He has already sent bodyguard Wayne Van Dorp back to Pittsburgh for failing to intercede when Montreal's Steve Martinson took several swings at Coffey during an exhibition game.
As usual, the New York Islanders have enviable depth at center with Pat Lafontaine. Brent Sutter and Bryan Trottier. But defenseman Denis Potvin has retired and sniper Mike Bossy is all but retired with a bad back. Can the Islanders' young defensemen—Dean Chynoweth, Gerald Diduck, Jeff Finley and Jeff Norton—keep the crease clear? The muscleless Islanders are still in the rebuilding stage.
It looks as if Viacheslav Fetisov, the Bobby Orr of the U.S.S.R., won't be suiting up for the New Jersey Devils anytime soon. Still, with goalie Sean Burke, the Ken Dryden of East Rutherford, and the emergence of such good forwards as Pat Verbeek (46 goals last season) and Aaron Broten (26 goals, 83 points) the Devils' dog days are over.
The problem in Philadelphia a year ago was that the Flyers weren't big and bad often enough, which meant that goaltender Ron Hextall saw more rubber than he could handle. So, general manager Bob Clarke took measures to upgrade the team's surliness, acquiring two gnarly defensemen: ex-Nordique Terry Carkner, who had a 10-game suspension for fighting last season, and ex-King Jay Wells, who in nine NHL seasons has 34 goals and 1,446 penalty minutes. Something tells us these guys are going to go over big in the Spectrum.