Our NHL East Preview 2021 sees this division as being one of the most competitive in the reconstituted COVID-19 league structure. Top teams include the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Boston Bruins. Other teams, such as the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh Penguins will be competitive. Remember that only four teams will make it into the playoffs. The two teams that appear least likely to make is are the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.
NHL East Preview – Teams
Here’s a quick look at each NHL East team. To access our detailed preview of each club, simply click on the appropriate link.
Boston Bruins – NHL East Preview Finds B’s O-line Tops
Last season, the Bruins posted the best record in the NHL. Their offense includes the best frontline in the NHL. Unfortunately, one-third of that line, David Pastrnak, will not be on the ice for some time as he recovers from hip surgery. Patrice Bergeon centers that line while David Krejci and Charlie Coyle will center the second and third lines. The blueline loses top D-man Torey Krug as well as veteran Zdeno Chara. This group is still solid, but it’s hard to tell how they will replace Krug and Chara. Goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak return. This is a premium duo. Overall, the Bruins look well-suited to return to the postseason.
Buffalo Sabres – Improved and Ready to Battle
The good news for this team is that they have improved on offense and defense. The offense welcomes top-notch forward Taylor Hall who joins superstar center Jack Eichel. Other scoring will come from Victor Olofsson, Sam Reinhart, Jeff Skinner, and new Sabre Eric Staal. The blueline, which is better than many give them credit for, is anchored by the versatile Rasmus Dahlin. This is a solid unit. The big question for the Sabres is in the area of goaltending. Last year, Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton split the goaltending chores. Ullmark performed well and will start. However, he is unproven in this role. This team could be a dark horse.
New Jersey Devils – Tough Times for NJ
The top three performers on offense for the Devils from last season return, Kyle Palmeri, Nikita Gusev, and Nico Hischier. That’s good news. However, this trio needs to make marked progress for this team to be competitive. The defense got an upgrade as former Columbus blueliner Ryan Murray joined the Devils. PK Subban, Damon Severson, and Will Butcher round out the D. Goalie Mackenzie Blackwood is sound, but the team lacks a verified backup. Scott Wedgewood, who last played in the NHL in the 2017-2018 season, takes on that role for the moment. What hurts the New Jersey Devils this season is their lack of depth.
New York Islanders – There’s Talent and Question Marks
The offense is potent and is led by their top point-maker Mathew Barzal. Brock Nelson, another important contributor, returns. They are a premium tandem on the first line. Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, and Jordan Eberle also project to be essential performers on offense. With the Devon Toews trade to Colorado, this defense took a huge hit. Ryan Pulock does return, and that’s good for the blueline. Although this unit lacks a major player, they are very sound. Two young goalies, Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, will share the starts as Thomas Greiss departs for different ice. Both are fine tenders. However, this will be a major test for them. The D is good, the offense has some power, and there’s hope in goal. We find that this team will likely miss the playoffs, as they are in a very tough division.
New York Rangers – There’s Talent Here
Being completely upfront, the biggest challenge for this team will be replacing long-time goalie Henrik Lundvist. Two, young Russian netminders, Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev, get the nod. Last season, both performed well. They could be the solution to this transitional problem. On offense, top 2020 draft pick Alexis Lafreniere joins the team. He’s expected to be an instant and prolific goal scorer. Star forward Artemi Panarin returns. He’s a major scoring threat. This team’s blueline is talented but young. Essential D-men include Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox, and Ryan Lindgren. The Rangers certainly have some fine talent. We think that they have a real shot at the playoffs. But they will have to beat out the Sabres to get there.
Philadelphia Flyers – Gritty Team Looks Good
This Flyers team has a lot going for it. Their offense includes a plethora of scorers. This deep unit includes four front men who has 20 or more goals each last season and six who tallied 40 or more points. Included are top performer Travis Konecny as well as Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, and Claude Giroux. The defensive line is led by star blueliner Ivan Provorov, a top two-way player. The retirement of Matt Niskanen was a big hit. The Flyers need to find someone to replace his output. Philadelphia has one of the top, young netminders in the NHL, Carter Hart. Hart will be joined by serviceable backup Brian Elliott. We like this team to finish first in the NHL East.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Missing What They Need to Succeed
The Penguin offense includes two veterans, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who can still deliver. On defense, the ‘Quins don’t look very impressive. However, this is a sound unit that includes Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and John Marion. Last season, Letang accumulated 44 points. Dumoulin and Marino were both +17 last season. Goalies Tristian Jarry and Casey DeSmith anchor the net. Last season, Jarry, who replaces two-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray, who was traded to the Senators, posted fine stats. DeSmith, who’s been called up to the NHL a few times, spent last season with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He posted respectable numbers. Despite the fact that this is overall a good team, we think they will be overwhelmed by some of the better teams. They don’t have quite enough to make it into the playoffs.
Washington Capitals – NHL East Preview Likes This Offense
Alex Ovechkin leads what is a very dangerous offense. Other major contributors include Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and TJ Oshie. On defense, John Carlson, who was second in Norris Trophy voting last season, compiled 75 points. Justin Schultz and Zdeno Chara join this quality defense. Washington’s starting goal Braden Holtby is gone, which means that Ilya Samsonov will be the main netminder. He looked fine last year, which was his rookie season. If he cannot handle the top spot, rookie Vitek Vanecek may get a chance. Despite the fact that goaltending is a question mark, this team is strong on offense and defense and should make the postseason.
NHL East – Final Order of Finish
Here’s our NHL East Preview 2021 projected order of finish:
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Washington Capitals
- Boston Bruins
- New York Rangers
- Buffalo Sabres
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- New York Islanders
- New Jersey Devils
NHL East Preview – Final Word
This NHL East Preview 2021 finds that both the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals look very strong. We’d be very surprised if both teams did not make it into the Stanley Cup playoffs. After that, there are four teams that have a shot. We like the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers in the three and four spots. Still, in the NHL East, the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins are both dangerous.