The Instigator Podcast 7.20 – Botterill Speaks, Now What?

Jason Botterill held court with the press and gave his head coach a vote of confidence. He also reinforced his previous claims of the deals he’s looking to make ahead of the deadline. We air some frustrations with Botterill’s apparent approach and break down some of the recent deals to break, including Charlie Coyle to Boston and Jakub Silfverberg’s extension in Anaheim. We also offer up a few thoughts on Jeff Skinner, trying to cool off any concerns people may have regarding whether or not he’ll be signing an extension in Buffalo.

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2ITB Conference Final predictions

Now that the NHL’s final four (and last four Cup champs) have advanced to the Conference Finals, it is time for another edition of playoff picks. While I was a respectable 6/8 in the first round, I only managed two correct picks for the four second round series. While 50% is great in baseball, it isn’t all that fantastic considering the picks I made.

The Conference Finals pretty much have the exact four teams most expected to see when the playoffs first opened and these four favorites certainly haven’t disappointed. Maybe Los Angeles wasn’t expected to advance to this point, but the other three were certainly penciled in.

So, with a score of 8/12, I look to improve my score as the 2013 NHL season continues to meander to a close. Continue reading

2ITB second round predictions

For the third-straight season I rolled up six out of eight correct playoff series predictions in the first round. I fully expect to almost completely whiff on my second round predictions for the third-straight season.

While I swung and missed on my Cup Finals prediction, I managed to guess most of the second round participants and I’ll now provide my predictions for the second round series.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators

This will be a very interesting series to follow. The main storyline is the Penguins struggles in net but this will really come down to Pittsburgh’s firepower matching up against Craig Anderson and Ottawa’s ability to defend. Pittsburgh has a deep offensive lineup that would create ugly matchup choices for an All Star team, let alone the seventh seed in the playoffs. If Paul MacLean can work his magic and Anderson stays hot, this will be a long series.

Why Pittsburgh will win: Firepower is the name of the game for the Penguins. They outscored their way to the second round with little more than average goaltending supporting their back legs. This is an offensive juggernaut which also has a pair of bottom six lines capable of mixing offense and defense quite nicely. Goaltending will obviously be an issue and the hot button issue until Tomas Vokoun proves he can carry this team.

Why Ottawa will win: The Senators have continuously proven that they’re capable of overcoming and they did a fine job of that all year. They certainly weren’t overmatched by the Canadiens but I feel they will be in many ways during this series. However, if they can find offensive success they should have little issue being very competitive against this team

Outcome: Penguins in six Continue reading

New division, same challenge face Sabres under realignment

Funny how 12 months, an intense labor debate and relatively happy returns from fans can change how things work in the NHL.

When realignment was brought up last season, the NHLPA shot down the proposal citing a number of issues surrounding travel and questions about the playoff format. After burning a major portion of the season to a lockout, the NHL and PA put through a realignment plan for next year that was nearly identical to the one that was vetoed last season.

There are some significant changes to this plan compared to the last proposal. Both Detroit and Columbus come East, leaving the league with unbalanced conferences; a wild card option has been instituted to keep a competitive balance for the playoffs; lastly, the recently approved plan ensures every team will appear in every arena over the course of the year.

The Sabres will welcome three new division rivals to their yet-to-be-named division dubbed as “Division C” in the most recent league graphic illustrating the new conferences. In addition to their current Northeast Division rivals, the Sabres will welcome Florida, Tampa Bay and Detroit to their new division.

The Bolts and Panthers ended up being the black sheep of the entire realignment as they’re geographically hamstrung compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Short of splitting them between the two divisions (an unrealistic option), the NHL had limited options with their two Sunshine State franchises. Detroit (along with Columbus) made good on the reported promise made by the league to get them into the Eastern Conference, away from 10:00 starts and into a division with relatively limited travel.

Buffalo will play five games a year against division opponents, three games a year against the other Eastern Conference teams and 28 total against the West.

While the new division alignment doesn’t stack the odds against the Sabres, it doesn’t necessarily favor them either. Finding success within their division may not be as much of a challenge for the Sabres as remaining above those teams from the other Eastern division.

Continue reading

Double Minors: Vanek powers Sabres

Tuesday night didn’t end well. Ryan Miller allowed a pair of questionable goals and there were some struggles from various players on the roster. However, Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Leafs was followed by a 7-4 win over the Bruins.

Thomas Vanek continued his Hart-worthy play with a five-point effort that was complimented by his first hat trick since 2011. Buffalo’s defensive struggles remained evident in the win, but Ryan Miller made a number of massive saves throughout the course of the evening, aiding in the Buffalo win.

Vanek was straight-up dominant on Thursday. He’s been strong all year and quickly jumped into the Hart Trophy race with a five-point game right off the bat and an incredibly impressive point streak. Vanek has registered at least one point in every game that he has played.

This is exactly the type of hockey that you need to see from Vanek. He has developed terrific chemistry with his linemates and providing him with a steady, talented center in Cody Hodgson has been playing dividends. Vanek’s line has combined for 33 points (15+18) thus far. Lindy Ruff has found lightning in a bottle with this line and I’d argue that no matter what type of slide the Sabres may hit that this line should remain untouched.

The one constant between Tuesday and Thursday’s games are the continued struggles on the defensive side for the Sabres. Tyler Myers has had an up-and-down season and Thursday was certainly a down game. His partner, Jordan Leopold, wasn’t much better in a contest where the Bruins skated freely in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Buffalo’s defensive zone lapses aren’t focused on one area either. In fact the defensemen, centers and wingers have all been culpable at times this season. Even the goaltenders have laid eggs of their own – Enroth in Carolina and Miller on Tuesday. Continue reading

Plenty of Northeast play on the horizon for the Sabres

As was illustrated last week, one loss can really be magnified with such a short schedule. Three losses can send a fan base into an absolute state of terror.

With two losses to the Canes followed by another defeat in Washington, a number of fans seem to be inching closer to the panic button as 10% of the 2013 schedule is now behind the team. Of course, that is only five games worth of a 48-game schedule.

The reactions to these losses seem to be fueled more by the way in which the games were lost more so than the actual outcome. However, there is still plenty of time to right the ship as the Sabres prepare to close out February with a pair of division games; their second and third within the Northeast Division this season. In fact, five of their next six games will be against Northeast Division rivals.

Buffalo’s win against Toronto was a practice in great goaltending and clinging on for dear life. You might say that the below average third period carried into the loss at Carolina two days later and has stayed with the team since. Ryan Miller’s stellar night against the Leafs last week was the catalyst in Buffalo’s victory; along with another great night from the team’s top line.

Tonight’s First Niagara Center debut from the Leafs is different only in that Toronto has suffered two ugly losses down in New York and are still searching for answers in the James Reimer/Ben Scrivens debate. Reimer impressed against Pittsburgh last week before getting lit up for five against the Rangers but wasn’t victimized by the Islanders as Scrivens was. I’d expect to see Reimer between the pipes tomorrow night. Continue reading