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Penguins hope to reload // NORTHEAST DIVISION

BOSTON BRUINS

Last season: 27-18-3, sixth overall.

Playoffs: Lost to Devils in first round.

Coach: Steve Kasper (first season).

Scouting report: The Bruins should make the playoffs for the 29th consecutive season _ the longest such streak in North American professional sports. But don't expect them to advance very far in the playoffs unless GM Harry Sinden can acquire more depth. ... Sinden did add some help to their scoring attack with three Penguins _ Kevin Stevens, Shawn McEachern and Joe Mullen. The three combined for 44 goals last season and should take some of the burden off Adam Oates and Cam Neely. ... Boston is set in goal if Blaine Lacher (2.41 goals-against average) proves he's more than a one-season wonder. Veteran Craig Billington is an adequate backup. ... The defense features one of the all-time best in Ray Bourque. The team hopes hard-hitting Al Iafrate will be back, but so far his knees aren't cooperating. ... The big Bruins no longer will play in the friendly confines of Boston Garden, the smallest rink in the league (191 by 83 feet). The new FleetCenter features a regulation size (200 by 85) rink.

BUFFALO SABRES

Last season: 22-19-7, 11th overall.

Playoffs: Lost to Flyers in first round.

Coach: Ted Nolan (first season).

Scouting report: Nolan has shown he can develop young players, and he will need to after the Sabres' fire sale in the off-season to cut their $24-million payroll by $4-million. The big payrolls of past years produced only one playoff series victory in 11 seasons. ... Gone are high-priced veterans Alexander Mogilny, Wayne Presley and Dale Hawerchuk. There are now only 11 players left from the team of two seasons ago. ... Buffalo still features Dominik Hasek, the Vezina Trophy winner the past two seasons. He had a .930 save percentage. Free-agent signee Andrei Trefilov appears to have won the backup job from Robb Stauber. ... Buffalo's offense, which scored the eighth fewest goals last season, is likely to be worse. The bright spot is center Pat LaFontaine, who missed most of the past two seasons with knee problems. He should be healthy. Donald Audette also will be counted on to score more _ he had 24 goals last season. ... The defense's bright spot is Alexei Zhitnik, whom the Sabres stole in a deal with Los Angeles for goalie Grant Fuhr.

HARTFORD WHALERS

Last season: 19-24-5, 16th overall.

Playoffs: None.

Coach: Paul Holmgren (second season).

Scouting report: Hartford climbed from 24th in standings in 1993-94 to 16th last season. But if the Whalers (who lost $11.5-million last season) are going to remain in Hartford, the team needs to start winning in a hurry. ... Can new captain Brendan Shanahan, who was traded out of Mike Keenan's St. Louis doghouse, be the savior needed to lead them to the playoffs? He will have to play well at both ends. The Whalers' goal production was seventh worst in the league last season. Geoff Sanderson needs to contribute more than last season (32 points). The team also could use more production from Steven Rice, Andrew Cassels and Paul Ranheim. ... Sean Burke doesn't get the press, but he's one of the best goalies in the league. His .912 save percentage was 10th best last season. Jeff Reese is a solid backup. ... To get Shanahan, the Whalers gave up on defenseman Chris Pronger, the No. 2 pick overall in the 1993 entry draft. That leaves the Whalers with no offensive-minded defenseman. Frantisek Kucera was their highest-scoring defenseman last season with three goals and 20 points.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Last season: 18-23-7, 17th overall.

Playoffs: None.

Coach: Jacques Demers (fourth season).

Scouting report: The proud franchise was in disarray last season, missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. Several key players were traded, including captain Guy Carbonneau, and new captain Kirk Muller. Montreal is hockey's Mecca, and if the team doesn't rebound this year, expect more changes that include management and Demers (he's in the last year of his contract). ... To avoid becoming the first Canadiens team since 1921-22 to miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Montreal will have to greatly improve on its league-worst road record of 3-18-3. ... Mark Recchi and Pierre Turgeon were traded to Montreal last season. With a chance to play together, the two have the ability to form a lethal scoring attack. ... Brian Bellows, since traded to the Lightning, took most of the heat for the lack of offense. But where was Vincent Damphousse (10 goals)? ... In the era of bigger is better, the Canadiens lack size up front. Recchi, Valeri Bure (Pavel's brother) and Saku Koivu, who led Finland in the World Championships last season, are small. Turgeon is big, but doesn't play physical. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Turner Stevenson will help. ... Patrick Roy had an off-year last season, finishing 29th with a 2.97 goals-against average. But he still is in the upper echelon. Expect him to rebound. The problem: no capable backup.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Last season: 9-34-5, 26th overall.

Playoffs: None.

Coach: Rick Bowness (fourth season).

Scouting report: Can you say worst team in the league for four years in a row? Star center Alexei Yashin said he would rather sit out "five or six years" than play for the Senators. First-round pick Bryan Berard didn't think he was ready for the NHL and returned to his junior team in Detroit. ... Who does that leave? Well, feel sorry for Don Beaupre, a 15-year veteran who provides the Senators with consistent goaltending. The regular defensemen include Chris Dahlquist, Sean Hill, Kerry Huffman, Dan Laperriere and Dennis Vial _ minor-leaguers on most teams. Even Steve Duchesne, acquired in a trade from St. Louis, won't be able to do much to help keep the goals-against down. ... The forwards aren't in much better shape. Alexandre Daigle still hasn't lived up to expectations, but could have a breakthrough year. Radek Bonk will have to wake up, too. He went from 42 goals in the IHL to three in 42 games with Ottawa. Sylvain Turgeon, the team's first-ever player and third-leading scorer last season, was sent to the minors.

PITTSBURGH PENGIUNS

Last season: 29-16-3, third overall.

Playoffs: Lost to Devils in second round.

Coach: Eddie Johnston (third season).

Scouting report: To help the bottom line _ or as owner Harold Baldwin said, "To get younger and faster" _ the Penguins dealt or let loose Kevin Stevens, Shawn McEachern, Luc Robitaille, John Cullen (now with the Lightning) and Larry Murphy. Those five accounted for 93 goals (more than half the Penguins' 181 total). The Penguins also lost both Samuelssons, Ulf and Kjell, the team's top defensive pairing. Even Mario Lemieux can't make up for those losses. ... Lemieux will be helped by new acquisitions Glen Murray, Bryan Smolinski, Sergei Zubov and underachieving defenseman Dmitri Mironov. Together, they scored 38 goals last season. ... Pittsburgh still returns a lethal attack that includes Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Tomas Sandstrom. This could be the season Markus Naslund lives up to his first-round selection in 1993. ... The problems come at the other end. The defensemen are younger and faster this season, but also inexperienced and less skilled. Of course, a healthy Tom Barrasso in goal can make up for many bad defensive plays. Ken Wregget proved last season he's more than a backup, with a league-high 25 victories.

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