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NHL preview: Eastern Conference questions

Sidney Crosby's health and Boston's chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions are among the biggest questions heading into the 2011-12 season.

October 04, 2011|By Helene Elliott
  • Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby hasn't played since suffering a concussion in January.
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby hasn't played since suffering… (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)

1. Can the Bruins become the first team to win two straight Stanley Cup titles since the Detroit Red Wings of 1997 and 1998?

It's possible. They have the same core, including all-world goaltender Tim Thomas, and they've learned how to thrive under pressure. They'll miss veteran forward Mark Recchi, who retired, but Brad Marchand had a great playoff and late-season acquisition Rich Peverley should shine.

2. How is Sidney Crosby's head?

The Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar center had 66 points in the first 41 games last season before a concussion knocked him out of the lineup. Lingering problems limited his off-season workouts, though he was able to skate and scrimmage lightly during training camp. It's unclear when he will return. The news is better after knee surgery for burly winger Evgeni Malkin, whose solid training camp was a huge boost for the Penguins.

3. Will the Flyers' locker room be more harmonious after they traded Jeff Carter to Columbus and Mike Richards to the Kings?

The atmosphere reportedly is more relaxed with Chris Pronger as the Flyers' captain. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, signed to a nine-year, $51-million contract, is good for laughs, but two mediocre playoff performances with Phoenix leave doubts about his ability to solve the team's long-standing goaltending problems. The return of Jaromir Jagr after three seasons in Russia should provide many interesting plot lines, if not hair lines.

4. Can the Capitals get over the hump and deep into the playoffs?

They've won four straight Southeast Division titles but haven't gotten past the second round of the playoffs. It's time for Alexander Ovechkin and Co. to make some noise or Coach Bruce Boudreau, though a star in last season's HBO "24/7" series, will be gone.

5. Can that really be the Sabres spending money?

New owner Terry Pegula has loosened the tight purse strings, signing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff for $40 million over 10 years and center Ville Leino for $27.5 million over six years, besides giving defenseman Tyler Myers a seven-year, $38.5-million extension. They have a solid defense and good goaltending in Ryan Miller, so Pegula hasn't thrown his money down the drain.

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