The Instigator Podcast 6.19 – Reviewing our Season Preview at the All Star Break

Although the Sabres have enjoyed a nice stretch of play, we decided to revisit our season preview podcast and see how well we did prognosticating the NHL. As it turns out we chose…poorly. As we review our picks, and how the current standing have shaken out, we dig in on a few of the teams around the league. We take a closer look at Vegas, Chicago, Carolina and Edmonton and what’s led them to their spot in the standings.

Building a winner takes more than just top picks

As the final two weeks tick away until the Sabres make the first pick in the Tim Murray era, Tyler and I decided to team up to offer an all-encompassing analysis of how the most recent Cup winning teams were constructed. We started with the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins and went straight through this year’s Kings and Rangers rosters.

We found a number of different trends and traits on each of these teams. One trait they all shared was the possession of at least one high pick (fifth or higher) who was either drafted by the team or became a priority acquisition at one point or another. However, just as important as these players were to their respective teams, proper acquisitions via trades or free agency served as an equally important trait for each and every one of these teams.

Anze Kopitar: picked 11th overall in 2005.

Our goal was to offer a comprehensive analysis of each of these teams to illustrate exactly where the Sabres still need to improve their roster outside of simply winning the Draft Lottery.

 

Chris: The current state of the Sabres has inspired a lot of debate regarding rebuilding and the best course of action to take. One particularly incendiary stance taken by Jeremy White is that it doesn’t matter who your GM is so long as you’re picking at the top of the draft. While I’m sure his point was that anyone can pick first since you’re likely to land a surefire stud with a top-three selection, the comment has turned into a rallying cry both for White and his critics.

I know we both disagree with his premise given that hockey teams are comprised of 23 players, not one or two. Without giving away the entire argument in two paragraphs, I feel it’s important for anyone to understand that shaping a championship team takes a hell of a lot more than simply picking first a few times. It’s a perfect storm of drafting, trades, free agent signings and cap management. Comparing the state of the Sabres to other teams who have enjoyed a turnaround after picking high – Colorado comes to mind as a great example – it’s safe to say that Aaron Ekblad or one of the Sams aren’t going to turn things around by themselves, no?

Tyler: Whoever Tim Murray opts to take at 2nd overall at the end of the month will not come in, put the team on his back, and carry them to a top three finish (and automatic playoff spot) in the Atlantic Division. I’d venture to say that even if Murray were to acquire another top five pick in June (as Mike Harrington believes they should) they still would find themselves outside of the playoff picture. That is not an indictment of the skill of any of the top prospects, but of the current roster. The Sabres have a multitude of holes to fill, and while one or two of Bennett, Reinhart, or Ekblad would no doubt but the team on the right track there’s still a long way to go. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Missing 40 minutes leads to loss in Chicago

Saturday marked what may have been one of Buffalo’s most complete efforts in this young season. In skating to a 2-1 loss to Chicago, the Sabres manage to keep their opponent within reach, due in large part to Ryan Miller, before mounting the counter attack to attempt to tie the contest.

Drew Stafford tallied midway through a third period dominated by the Sabres, but Buffalo couldn’t crack the code on Corey Crawford beyond Stafford’s tally. Miller shut the door on Chicago for the entire contest, recording 38 saves on the night but came away with his third loss of the year thanks to goals from Ben Smith and Patrick Kane.

The Sabres dug themselves an early hole due to a three separate infractions in the first period and five on the night. After Smith’s deflection gave the Blackhawks a lead in the first period, Kane and the potent ‘Hawks power play made the Sabres pay for their repeated penalties. Continue reading

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

Double Minors: More of the same in Chicago

As the Sabres prepared for yesterdays game in Chicago, there had to be some mention of what happened two days earlier. Perhaps there wasn’t, maybe the team is trying to move on in any way possible. Even if the 5-0 loss to Detroit wasn’t spoken of, it had to weigh heavy on the minds of the players. Yet, there didn’t seem to be much response.

Buffalo kept things close through the first 25 minutes, but ultimately suffered another tough loss, 6-2. Through the first three games of the road trip, the Sabres have surrendered 15 goals while scoring only four. Saddle the goaltenders with as much blame as you please, but the team is not playing well enough defensively or scoring nearly enough goals to identify one singular aspect as the main problem.

Much of the focus on this loss is going to be focused on Ville Leino’s drop pass that turned out to be the secondary assist on the game-winning goal. Make no mistake, Leino made a horrible choice in dropping that puck in the faceoff circle with no real support. It was an egregious error and can’t be overlooked. However, there was actually some sound reasoning behind the choice. Leino clearly had Drew Stafford breaking to him and a successful pass would have created a 2-on-1. Unfortunately, Stafford broke to the slot rather than trailing the puck and the play went the opposite direction. So, there was a damn good reason as to Leino’s thought process and why he made that choice, it just doesn’t outweigh the fact that putting his head down and getting to the paint would have been a better choice.

The Sabres look like a team simply going through the motions. Questioning the team’s passion is quite a difficult feat when you have no first-hand experience with this particular group. But seeing certain plays and games develop, there seems to be a few missing pieces in the heart/desire department. There are a few players who are obviously going balls-out regardless of the current situation (Pominville, Vanek, Gerbe to name a few), there are just many who don’t seem to be truly sold on trying to win every game. Again, a tough opinion to form without being in the locker room, but that is what seems to be happening on a nightly basis.

  • Jhonas Enroth could have used a better night. He made some big saves early, but didn’t look sharp on many of the Chicago goals. Hossa’s breakaway showed he still has some work to do in that department (yes, it was a breakaway) and he had a few tough ones beat him later on. Obviously neither goalie is playing to the level they’re capable of, but they’re certainly not getting much help either. Once again, the issues with the Sabres go far beyond one singular aspect. Whether you want to point to management, coaching or the players; there are numerous issues at play, not just one.
  • Mike Weber continues to fumble around. He was once a promising prospect who had the potential to be a steady 4-6 defender. Now he is touching the low end of that spectrum on his best day. What makes matters worse is that Weber is sitting third on the current depth chart – more or less.
  • Luke Adam has had a few so-so efforts in recent weeks. That play led to his demotion to the third line. However, he still remains one of THREE players with double digits in the goal category. It might be time to stop worrying only about keeping every player within the system and finding some new ways to create offense. Of note, Buffalo’s best hockey came with Adam centering Vanek and Pominville.
  • No player could really say they had a good night – aside from Jason Pominville – but Tyler Myers certainly had his moments. Myers seems as if he realized that his physical presence is one of the most important parts of his overall game. When he plays with finesse, he is no different than anyone else on the ice. When he is physical, he is a dominant force that possesses a frightening two-way game.

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