The Sabres and Flyers get their series started tonight and many members of the media see this as one of the most even series of the entire first round. I’m not so confident in the Sabres ability to get past Philly. I certainly believe that they have the tools capable of pulling the upset. Of course, there is a reason the Philly was the second best team in the NHL for most of the season.
Why buffalo will win:
Ryan Miller. He has vastly improved his play from the beginning of the year. I feel that a great deal of that has to do with his workload and his health. He has played his best hockey since Jhonas Enroth has come up from Portland. If his extra rest has given him an edge then the Sabres will be in good shape.
Big guns running strong. Thomas Vanek has truly assumed the role of “Atlas Vanek” by putting this team on his back since Derek Roy went down. His line with Connolly and Jason Pominville has been highly potent and Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford have been equally effective. If Brad Boyes can be moved back to the wing the Sabres will gain valuable scoring depth. Gaustad, Nathan Gerbe and Mark Mancari have been great too, giving the Sabres a three-line attack that almost rivals the Flyers.
Penalty kill. Buffalo’s penalty kill has been fantastic lately. It has been a hallmark of Lindy Ruff’s tenure. Tim Connolly has shown there is more to his game then perimeter offensive play and Buffalo’s other forwards have shown similar play. Mike Grier, Paul Gaustad, Pat Kaleta, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Rob Niedermayer have shown the ability to kill penalties. Tyler Myers, Chris Butler, Steve Montador and Mike Weber have been great on the back-end when down a man.
Why the Sabres will lose:
Power play. Buffalo’s power play has been shoddy all season. They have had streaks of brilliance and streaks of ineptitude. Against Boston last season the power play disappeared, that can’t happen this year. Peter Laviolette seems to know that playing the Sabres PP aggressively brings results for the penalty kill. If the Sabres power play goes away and continues to give up shorties, it will be a short series.
Blue line stability. Buffalo’s blue line has been up and down this season. Tyler Myers has led a strong turnaround but the Sabres’ top six doesn’t exactly instill confidence. If they can lock down the Flyers, Buffalo will have a chance. If they are nothing more than average, the Flyers will score in bunches.
Why the flyers will win:
Scoring depth. Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Ville Leino…you get the point. The Flyers have two full lines capable of scoring while their third line is potent as well. Philly can get scoring from the backend from Chris Pronger (if healthy), Matt Carle and Kimmo Timonen.
Physical presence. The Flyers are a much more physical team than the Sabres. The Bruins succeeded last season is rubbing out the Sabres and taking them out of their comfort level. Philly has plenty of players capable of pushing around the Sabres, if that is the case Philly might be able to keep the Sabres big guns from making an impact on the series.
Special teams. Based on the final meeting between these two teams, it seems as if the Sabres will struggle to establish chances on the man advantage. The Flyers also created numerous chances with their penalty kill. If that is to continue the Sabres will have a hell of a time staying competitive.
why the flyers will lose:
Goaltending. This is the hot button issue for the series. Most people think that Sergei Bobrovsky won’t be able to get the job done and the Brian Boucher pretty much falls into the same category. Since Philly has used approximately 24 goalies in the past ten years, it is an easy call to make. Don’t underestimate “Bob’s” ability, but if he isn’t fantastic the Flyers won’t last long.
Injuries. Well, injury. If Chris Pronger can’t come back until game three, or later, the Flyers could be in a little trouble. If he isn’t back to normal – or he struggles to establish his style of play – the Flyers could be in even more trouble. At the slim chance that he can’t get back into this series, well you get the point. Getting Pronger back into the lineup is a major factor for the Flyers.
I’m hoping that this series lasts a while. The 2009-2010 match up with the Bruins was extremely frustrating to watch. From top to bottom the Sabres didn’t measure up. This season seems to have produced a better opponent for Buffalo. I’ll stick with my previous prediction, but I will be pulling for the complete opposite.