Atlantic: Division grades well for 2011-12

By Ian Altenbaugh

 

Photo: Veteran leaders Patrik Elias (26) and Martin Brodeur (30) upped their performance in the 2011-12 season to help the New Jersey Devils improve over their previous season (courtesy of

Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

Below are the regular season grades for all five teams in the Atlantic Division. Team grades were based on whether or not a team met the expectations that were generally expected of them in training camp, meaning a team that is rebuilding but managed to sneak into the playoffs would probably get a higher grade than an established cup-contender who underachieved for much of the season.

New Jersey Devils, 'B': Most of the success New Jersey experienced this season has been done in traditional Devils' fashion. Despite the presence of the offensively dynamic Ilya Kovalchuk, not to mention numerous other extremely talented forwards, the Devils won most of their games scoring few goals and instead relied heavily on their goaltending. This formula that has worked well for the Devils in years past did not serve the team well in more recent history, particularly with an aging, injury-prone Martin Brodeur in net. Complaints aside, the Devils had a fantastic bounce-back season, going from 38 wins and 81 points in 2010-11 to 48 wins and 102 points in 2011-12, doing so with mostly the same roster they had last season.

New York Islanders, 'C-': While the Islanders finished with four more wins and six more points this season than they did in 2010-11, they more or less treaded water in terms of progressing as a team and were guilty of underachieving for much of the season. Key offensive players such as Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner were notable underachievers, though a team-wide lack of defense and shaky goaltending should not be forgiven. It's fair to say that the Islanders were not expected to be a major contender for the playoffs prior to the season, but it should also be fair to suggest they shouldn't be competing for their sixth top-10 draft pick in the last seven years, either.

New York Rangers, 'A': The Rangers were built to win games and compete in the playoffs but they have nonetheless overachieved quite a bit this season, especially on defense, where a relatively young, unseasoned defense consisting of Dan Girardi, Ryan Mcdonagh, and Michael Del Zotto played big minutes all season long. The defensive trio's value was punctuated by the absence of defensive stalwart Marc Staal, who was out with post-concussion syndrome for the first half of the season. The Rangers have beaten teams this season in a similar fashion to the Devils, relying on good defense, goaltending, and timely offense, though Rangers have done so much more consistently. Their power play was poor all season, a phenomenon difficult to explain considering the caliber of talent there, but the Rangers have been such a good team defensively and in controlling the play that it was not a major issue.

Philadelphia Flyers, 'B+': The Flyers may have hit the reset button when they shipped out former stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but the talent they got in return – wingers Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, as well as prospects Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier – has allowed the team to not miss much of a beat. Still, other than a strong showing down the stretch by Ilya Bryzgalov, the main thing the Flyers addressed over the off-season, their goaltending, has remained something of a problem for them, though it has been at least partially offset by a deep, explosive offense. But considering the numerous long-term injuries to key players such as Chris Pronger, Andrej Meszaros, and James vanRiemsdyk, the Flyers regular season should be considered a great success. The team had to lean heavily on a young, relatively inexperienced group of forwards and finished with one of the top records in the league.

Pittsburgh Penguins, 'A-': The Penguins finished the season with the league's best offense, averaging 3.33 goals per game; the fifth best powerplay rating (19.7); and the third best penalty-killing unit in the league at 87.8 percent. They were the only team in the league to have two players to score 40 goals or more and one of three clubs to finish with 50 or more wins. They did so while missing their top player, Sidney Crosby, for 60 games as well as their top defenseman, Kris Letang, for 31. The team, however, is arrogant and occasionally guilty of underachieving, sometimes to a point where they will lose a lopsided game to a far inferior team. Still, when healthy, no team in the league is as difficult to match up against than the Pittsburgh Penguins.