© Associated Press photo
Boston Bruins' Daniel Paille celebrates after scoring in the third period against the New York Rangers Tuesday night in New York.
The NHL regular season opened earlier this week with a 16-team Eastern Conference, which has eight teams in the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions.
There are 14 teams in the Western Conference, seven in each of the Pacific and Central divisions. Here’s the Sports Prophet’s Eastern Conference preview. Next week, we’ll do the Western Conference.
1. Boston Bruins – Top goaltender in Tuukka Rask, a great nucleus plus talented Loui Eriksson acquired in the Dallas trade. The defence anchored by captain Zdeno Chara and last year’s playoff surprise Torey Krug. Bruins swing four lines and a first-place finish is likely.
2. Ottawa Senators – Should challenge for top spot with MVP-type defenceman Erik Karlsson leading a top defensive unit. Bobby Ryan is a great addition, and if captain Jason Spezza stays healthy, the Sens are a contender. In addition, the goaltending duo is among the best in the NHL.
3. Detroit Red Wings – They had Chicago on the ropes 3-1 last spring. They have a top goalie Jimmy Howard, plus stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, newcomer Stephen Weiss and a great mix of young talent. The Wings are a great skating club with a top coaching staff like Ottawa and Boston. No worse than third.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs – They are good enough to finish with at least a wild card in this conference. Newcomer Jonathan Bernier is an all-star and James Reimer is solid too. Newcomer David Clarkson and the emergence of defenceman Jake Gardiner gets the Leafs into postseason play.
5. Montreal Canadiens – It all depends on goaltender Carey Price, who was ordinary last season. They have enough young talent while newcomers Daniel Briere and tough guy George Parros will help. Could get into playoffs if Price is on top of his game.
Also rans – Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Florida.
MVP – Karlsson.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and all kinds of firepower. Top defenceman in Kris Letang but goaltending is still a matter of grave concern. Nevertheless, Penguins have too much talent to be anything but first in this division.
2. New York Islanders – Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was great last season. The Islanders almost sidelined Pittsburgh in the playoffs and John Tavares is a superstar leading a host of top young players and a solid defence corps.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets – An all-star goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky and three big trades brought the players that could elevate the Blue Jackets into the playoff picture. Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov acquired via trades from the New York Rangers and all-star-type defenceman Jack Johnson in the Jeff Carter trade with L.A. makes the Jackets a sleeper team.
4. New York Rangers – Best goaltender in this division in Henrik Lundqvist and arguably the best defense anchored by Mark Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Mike Del Zotto. If GM Glen Sather thinks Rick Nash will lead them to the promised land, he should review last spring’s playoffs. Can Brad Richards bounce back? Playoffs? Maybe.
5. Washington Capitals – Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom provide enough offense and Mike Green must rebound to all-star form on defence. If Braden Holtby plays solid goal, the Capitals can make playoffs.
Other teams – Philadelphia, Carolina and New Jersey.
MVP – Crosby or Tavares
Tonight’s 14-dash live harness racing card at the city track gets underway at 6 p.m. sharp and it brings out the region’s best two-year-old pacing colts and fillies. The $20,000 Lady Slipper for fillies and two divisions of the Joe O’Brien for colts highlight the card.
A number of the two-year-olds racing tonight and next weekend are brothers or sisters to yearlings in next Friday’s Atlantic Classic Sale at Crapaud. As in any yearling sale, tomorrow’s champions can come from anywhere regardless of price. The sale features two yearlings by the hot upcountry sire Shadow Play and two by world champion Sportswriter, whose first crop hit the yearling sales this fall.
The Shadow Plays are Hip 14, Elm Grove Jackson, a colt by Shadow Play and the first baby from the top race mare Elm Grove Camlady ($190,000). The other Shadow Play is Hip 100 Windemere Shadow, a Shadow Play brother to PH Bestman p, 1:51. I’ve seen this guy at the Earl Watts farm in Hampshire and he’s a good looking, big fella. Howmac Reba, Hip 7 is a Sportswriter-filly out of a good Western Ideal mare and I’ve seen her too, a real nice well put together mare. The other Sportswriter is a colt, Hip 24 a brother to Astronomical, who needs no introduction.
As well Ontario-based Art Colony has four in the sale, including Rockin Elvis (Hip 86), a brother to the stakes winner at two and three, Don’t Tell Cindy.
There are a number of regionally based top stallions whose first crop appears in this sale. Top horses like Meridian Farms-based Driven to Win and All American Navajo, Immachulate, and the highly regarded trot sire Nureyev. Other sires that have been very successful and have babies in the sale are Maritime-based Western Paradise and Articulator as well as the top Ontario sire Mach Three, who is the sire of Somebeachsomewhere.
First foals are always attractive and there are a number that should draw plenty of attention.
Hip 9, a Coast to Coast Yankee filly out of the multiple stakes winner Elm Grove Dallas, and Hip 20, a Force of Life out of a good Cams Card Shark mare.
Hip 32 and 33 are fillies by Driven to Win, the winner of $990,000 including the Gold Cup and Saucer and both out of good race mares and families. Hip 34, a colt by the very underrated Force of Life, is a brother to RE’s Mary and Res Queen Virginia. Hip 37 is a Ameripan Gigolo colt brother to The Patriot ($600,000) and Kingdom Come, a stakes winner in 1:55:4 here.
Worth a long look as well is Hip 111 Windemere Jolt, an Articulator colt out of a sister to Card Trick Hanover p,1:49.1 ($775,000). These are plenty of reasons why buyers should get to the Crapaud sale early and stay late.
There are 14 trot-bred yearlings in the sale, five by the successful Northern Bailey, five by PJ’s Nabby and four by Nureyev, which are his first crop.
Hip 41 Windemere Superior is an interesting trot colt, a 4x2 cross to Super Bowl, which certainly helps and he’s a brother to New York Sires $100,000 winner Windemere Realfired Up t, 1:59h. The other trot colt that should attract attention is Hip 113, a Northern Bailey sister to Buddy Hally, a sharp Ontario sire stakes winner in 1:53.4 at Mohawk last week. There are other trot breds that could be champions too like hip 70, a Nureyev sister to the multiple stake winner here Taliesin, Hip 6, a P J’s Nabby brother to multiple ASS stakes winner Irish Lullaby, Hip 72 a P J’s Nabby colt and brother to stakes winner Money Show; and 59, a Northern Bailey sister to stakes winner Rash Statement.
Champions can come from anywhere in the sales book and I’d advise buyers to get there early. With more than 100 catalogued, this looks like a buyers’ sale. The early buys could come from: Hip 3 Elm Grove Joanette, a Driven to Win sister to the multiple stakes winner Touch of Lightning, p, 1:53h here this summer, Hip 11 Flying Filly, All American Navajo sister to a 1:50 and change winner of $250,000, Hip 12 J J Intimidator, an Articulator colt and first foal of a well-bred Betters Delight 1:54 mare and winner of $100,000 plus and Hip 13, Bardot, a Driven to Win sister to the winner of $250,000 and 1:51 pacer.
If you’re a baseball fan and you’re looking for a hunch buy, how about Hip 38 Charlie Hustle named after Pete Rose. He’s a colt of course and a Jeremes Jet brother top unbeaten Malabrigo. Looks like a great sale. See you in Crapaud next Friday.
Last week, the Sports Prophet hit three of four games on the Sunday NFL schedule.
Carolina (1-2) at Arizona (1-3) — The Panthers are coming of a bye week and face Arizona who is 2.5-point dogs. Cam Newton and the Panthers are a lot better than 1-2 and they have a tough defence. The Cards cannot protect Carson Palmer and expect Panthers to “eat ‘em alive.”
San Diego Chargers (2-2) at Oakland Raiders (1-3) — With a little luck, the Chargers could be 4-0. San Diego’s Philip Rivers is on fire and the Raiders have too many new faces to win against the much-improved Chargers. Remember the spread is just four points if you’re taking the Chargers.
Kansas City (4-0) at Tennessee (3-1) – These two teams just don’t usually turn the ball over. The key here is the Titans will be without up-and-coming quarterback Jack Locker, who is a threat to run and pass. This is a low-scoring game and I love the play calling of the Chiefs Alex Smith. The Chiefs will cover the 2.5-point spread.
Detroit Lions (3-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-2) — The Packers are another club that’s better than their record shows. Aaron Rodgers is a great QB and he’s at home. The Lions upset Chicago last week but have never played well at Green Bay. Go with the Pack.
As always, pay the mortgage first, the picks are for fun.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears every Saturday in The Guardian. To comment,