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

NHL risking oversaturation with more outdoor games

With news breaking that the 2013-14 schedule may have upwards of four outdoor games, my wheels again began to turn at the thought of the diminishing spectacle that is outdoor hockey.

The lockout prevented the 2013 Winter Classic from occurring but the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet on New Year’s Day 2014 to make up for their missed appointment this past January. In addition, rumors have indicated that the Canucks will play host to the Heritage Classic with additional whispers of a Kings and Ducks showdown at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodger Stadium game is expected to occur on Hockey Day in America and would potentially serve as a doubleheader with another outdoor game played at Yankee Stadium featuring the Rangers. The latter three games have yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that they’re going to be part of the plans for the 2013-14 season.

While I think the Hockey Day in America doubleheader could make for some cool television, I fear that by the time those two games roll around no one will care much for the outdoor product. As it stands now, the Winter Classic makes for a fun game to watch in the elements even though the on-ice product isn’t always up to snuff. Scheduling a pair of games to come after the Winter and Heritage Classic could seriously cheapen what has otherwise become a very cool product.

I wrote this last year about the potential for watering down what these outdoor games mean. I fear that oversaturating the market will change these from unique spectacles to just another blip on the NHL radar. 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.

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The Afternoon (Morning) Skate: Road trip heats up in Detroit

Survival may be the word of the week for the Buffalo Sabres. Survival in the sense of team health and survival on the ice.

Buffalo continues a rather lengthy road trip tonight in Detroit and will have numerous trying road dates throughout this week. In addition to facing the Wings, the Sabres will be in Chicago, St. Louis and Winnipeg. They close the trip with the Devils and Canadiens. Not exactly the schedule a struggling team would want to see.

The Sabres played pretty strong hockey when they beat Toronto on Friday night. However, on Saturday, they reverted to the form which has dominated for much of the season. Another missed opportunity at building a winning streak was lost and tonight doesn’t necessarily offer a lay-up either.

The Red Wings dominated the Sabres earlier this season. It would appear that same result could occur tonight. Buffalo’s defense is wearing thin and lack their top defenders as they prepare to face one of the most dangerous offenses in the NHL.

Two points will be a tough chore for the Sabres, but it would give them  four in their last three games. At some point the Sabres need to find a foundation for a run at the playoffs. This road trip might do the trick.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo defense. When Mike Weber and MAG are looking at top-four minutes, there is a problem. Without Brayden McNabb and Robyn Regehr, the Sabres are forced to dig into the Rochester honey pot once again. Andrej Sekera is expected to play with Joe Finley as the scratch. Still, Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold will get the big minutes for Buffalo while Weber, MAG, Sekera and T.J. Brennan round out the six defensemen. This group will need plenty of help this evening against a dangerous hockey club.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF – Ryan Miller 26 GP 11-12-2, 2.97 GAA, .903 SV%

DET – Jimmy Howard 37 GP 26-10-1, 2.04 GAA, .924 SV%

Last Game

12/2/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 1 – Red Wings 4

Double Minors: Sabres outclassed in loss to Wings

The Detroit Red Wings strolled into First Niagara Center and showed the Buffalo Sabres where they stood in every facet of the game.

By the end of the game it seemed pretty clear that the Sabres are a long way from being in the same class as the Wings – at least after yesterday’s effort.

Buffalo fell behind 3-0 after 15 minutes of play and didn’t break Jimmy Howard’s shutout until the final seven minutes of the game. Once again, the Sabres only managed to score one goal, the third such occurrence in their last five games.

The primary culprit to the Sabres woes were giveaways. Buffalo tries to pride itself on being a puck possession team, as do the Wings. The Wings were the only puck possession team last night. Detroit controlled the play leading to their first goal, their power play deposited their second and a brutal giveaway by Jochen Hecht led to the third. Even the empty net goal was caused by a sloppy play in the offensive zone.

Hecht was the lone goal scorer for the second-straight game. He roofed a two-on-one chance that capped a pretty nice passing play between Ville Leino, Jason Pominville and Hecht. There wasn’t too much offense beyond that play.

Defensively the Sabres seemed outmatched by the deeper, more talented Red Wings. Jhonas Enroth had a shaky outing, although he settled in during the second and third periods. It should be interesting to see if Ryan Miller does get the start in Nashville tonight.

  • Joe Finley didn’t see too much ice – 7:51 to be exact. Pat Kaleta was the only Sabre to see fewer minutes and that was because the gritty winger re-aggravated his groin injury. Finley, touted as a strong skater, looked sluggish and a bit over his head. Obviously you can’t draw much from a single game, but Finley’s debut was less than impressive.
  • Brayden McNabb is still playing good hockey. Two more hits and 18 minutes for the youngster. He seems to be coming around just fine.
  • Enroth really started the year on a tear, he hasn’t been super human since taking over the starting role. While Ryan Miller wasn’t brilliant in the games before his injury, it will be good to get him back in net. Having a pair of reliable goalies will likely do wonders for the psyche of this team.
  • Lindy Ruff will probably be shuffling his lines soon. Scoring one goal in three of their last four games is a serious problem, he needs to find a way to get his scorers going. Roy, Stafford and Vanek have been very quiet lately and that trend needs to stop.
  • Zack Kassian wasn’t horrible. He was -1 again, but he has shown he is going to be a capable NHLer when he gets a permanent spot. All of these injuries will keep him up for the foreseeable future, but you can tell he hasn’t reached that extra gear just yet. .

Three Stars

1. Johan Franzen

2. Jimmy Howard

3. Valterri Filppula

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: The Legend of Joe Finley arrives vs. Red Wings

The Sabres have really hit the skids lately. They only seem capable of beating teams who are about to fire their head coach – save for the Blue Jackets – and can’t keep their lines together long enough to form any sort of chemistry.

Meanwhile, the juggernaut that is the Detroit Red Wings comes to town sporting a six-game winning streak, a healthy roster and a generally tall task for the Sabres this evening. Buffalo is still struggling with injuries, Big Joe Finley will make his NHL debut this evening in place of Jordan Leopold. On the bright side, Ryan Miller is back in the lineup (he will backup tonight) as are Tyler Ennis and Pat Kaleta.

I’m hoping Ennis remembers where he left his offense for the offseason, because he was fairly useless in the time before his ankle. I would imagine Ennis goes in for Matt Ellis and Kaleta replaces either Zack Kassian or potentially Ville Leino. Obviously much of this will be up in the air until game time.

The bottom line for tonight is that the Sabres need a victory. They have been horrible at home and need to buck the trend. They face a difficult matchup as the Red Wings are healthy, talented and generally difficult to beat. Still, the Sabres need to get back into the left hand column and begin climbing back toward the top of the Eastern Conference.

Highlighted Matchup

Joe Finley. The man who spawned a Twitter hashtag for the ages (see line above). I was high on Finley when he was drafted by the Caps. I became an even bigger fan when he blossomed for North Dakota leading up to 2009. Injuries derailed his development over the past two seasons and the Sabres very well may have stumbled onto a diamond in the rough with this guy. He certainly had the potential to be an effective NHL defenseman, injuries have just kept him from reaching that level.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 15GP 8-4-1, 2.27 GAA, .926 SV%

DET: Ty Conklin 4GP 1-2-0, 3.33 GAA, .880 SV%

Last Game

2/26/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Red Wings 3 SO

2ITB NHL preview: The West

Since it is a yearly occurrence for the West to have 13 teams in the playoff race and two team at least 20 points out of eighth, I struggled to find a good balance of picks this season. I made a bold choice with the Kings last year. While I don’t have them coming out of the West, I have made a similarly bold statement

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