The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Panthers

Dale Tallon went on a shopping spree this summer in an effort to get the Florida Panthers over the salary cap floor. He did so by acquiring a number of players that many would place in the “fringe” category.

The Sabres make their first stop in Florida on game three of a four-game road trip. The Sabres have played four of five games away from the First Niagara Center this season and six of the first ten games are played away from home.

After stealing two points from the struggling Canadiens on Tuesday, the Sabres will look to keep pace with Toronto atop the Northeast Division. Ryan Miller was outstanding for all 60 minutes on Tuesday and there is little reason to think he won’t get the start against the Panthers this evening.

Paul Hamilton reported that Mike Weber was seeing time with the top-six in practice while Marc-Andre Gragnani was the extra defenseman. While the potential demotion isn’t a full indictment of Gragnani’s play – he struggled mightily on Friday and Saturday last week – it may also show that Lindy Ruff wants more defensively responsible players on the ice.

With Jochen Hecht still sidelined and Gragnani in the lineup, the Sabres were a top-heavy team with offensive talent. Few players in the current lineup are ones to think defense first. Perhaps Ruff wants the added insurance that a stay-at-home defenseman offers, particularly in the defensive zone.

In addition to “please don’t boo me” Brian Campbell, the Panthers have Sabre-killer Sean Bergenheim and several other key players who wore different uniforms last season. That includes Jose Theodore who will likely get the nod in goal after Jacob Markstrom made his NHL debut earlier in the week.

Don’t think Florida is struggling due to all the new faces. The Panthers hung seven on Tampa Bay two days after topping the Lightning in a shootout. Theodore has been great to start the season and the Sabres will need a better start than they had in Montreal if they hope to escape with two points.

Highlighted Matchup

The young Panthers defense corps vs. Buffalo’s three-pronged attack. The Sabres recent line shuffle has taken a bit of potency out of their attack. Still, the Sabres boast two legitimate scoring lines plus two additional lines that will not struggle to produce. The Panthers have four defensemen under the age of 30, plus Campbell who has had an up and down run since leaving Buffalo. If the Sabres can generate a solid forecheck against these young rearguards it could mean additional scoring chances for most of the night. If Florida can weather the storm – or adjusts their lineup as the Hurricanes did – they will have plenty of success shutting down the Buffalo attack.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 4GP, 3-1-0, 2.01 GAA, .942 SV%

FLA: Jose Theodore 4GP, 3-1-0, 2.47 GAA, .920 SV%

2010-11 Season Series BUF 2-2-0

12/17/2010, Bank Atlantic Center, Sabres 2 – Panthers 6

12/23/2010, HSBC Arena, Sabres 3 – Panthers 4

2/10/2011, Bank Atlantic Center, Sabres 3 – Panthers 2 OT

3/25/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 4 – Panthers 2

2ITB NHL preview: The East

Another NHL season is upon us after a summer that was filled with more Buffalo hockey news than you could shake a stick at. The entire Eastern Conference saw a shake up over the summer and the conference could see a similar playoff race, with seeds 7-12 all within shouting distance of each other. I think the same playoff cast will return this season, but with a few minor changes: Continue reading

Sabres and Amerks to reunite?

It seems the Buffalo Sabres’ short relationship with the Portland Pirates may not last much longer.

Sources have said Sabres owner, Terry Pegula is close to buying the Rochester Americans.

This is an interesting development considering the Pirates have had moderate success since the Sabres took over, while the Amerks have floundered under their affiliation with the Florida Panthers. By purchasing the Amerks, Pegula would basically be paving the way to reunite the two franchises.

I have to say his would be an ideal situation for the Sabres. Their prospects would be 90 minutes down the road (again) and it allows the team to strengthen regional fans anywhere east of Batavia. Not to mention it would allow the Sabres to have full control over their farm system, a useful tool in player development.

Based on he timing and info provided I have to think this is very real. If that is the case we may be witnessing the beginning of Terry Pegula putting the puzzles pieces together in his master plan for the Sabres.

Looking back at my conference predictions

A prognosticator I am not. My mock NFL Draft senior year was about 15% correct. When I went about predicting the NHL’s playoff picture back in October, I didn’t have high hopes. Let us see how 2ITB did:

East

Prediction – 1. WAS, 2. PIT, 3. BOS, 4. NJD, 5. BUF, 6. OTT, 7. MTL, 8. PHI, 9. NYR, 10. CAR, 11. TOR, 12. TBL, 13. NYI, 14. ATL, 15. FLA

Actual – 1. WAS, 2. PHI, 3. BOS, 4. PIT, 5. TBL, 6. MTL, 7. BUF, 8. NYR, 9. CAR, 10. TOR, 11. NJD, 12. ATL, 13. OTT, 14. NYI, 15. FLA

So I was a bit off in the middle. Not too many people would have bet on that epic collapse by New Jersey and I, admittedly put far too much stock in Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire. Philadelphia overachieved (according to my original calculation) and I vastly underestimated Tampa Bay.

Washington was a pretty easy choice to make, as was keeping Atlanta, Florida and the Islanders at the bottom. Otherwise it was a hodgepodge of close calls and near misses.

West

Prediction – 1. LA, 2. VAN, 3. CHI, 4. SJ, 5. DET, 6. NSH, 7. ANA, 8. CGY, 9. COL, 10. PHX, 11. STL, 12. DAL, 13. MIN, 14. CBJ, 15. EDM

Actual – 1. VAN, 2. SJ, 3. DET, 4. ANA, 5. NSH, 6. PHX, 7. LA, 8. CHI, 9. DAL, 10. CGY, 11. STL, 12. MIN, 13. CBJ, 14. COL, 15. EDM

Since the West is such a crap shoot it would have been pretty hard to predict either way. I gave LA too much credit and it turns out the Hawks didn’t have close to enough depth to compete at the level they did last year.

My biggest oversight was with Colorado at nine, turns out they really stink. The Western playoff picture is extremely interesting this season, with the amount of parity out there it isn’t a stretch to say that any team can advance and any team could have finished two to four places higher.

Telling weekend for Sabres

This is one of those weekends that you could bill as the biggest of the season, until the next set of back-to-back games rolls along. So I will refrain from dubbing tonight’s game against Florida and tomorrow’s against New Jersey as the two most important games of the year.

Buffalo's poor play against Florida this year needs to be put in the past entering this weekend.

However, the Sabres are in a position of power and can tighten their grip on a playoff spot if they take at least three of four this weekend. In actuality they could split the weekend and maintain the same lead they have on Carolina going in to tonight. There are so many different ways this can play out you can nail down one option and say “this is how it has to be.” Continue reading

Nathan Horton shipped to Boston

The Boston Bruins, this afternoon, acquired Gregory Campbell and Nathan Horton from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Denis Wideman and the 15th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (per Bob McKenzie’s Twitter).

Nathan Horton is on his way to Boston with Gregory Campbell.

This is quite possibly one of the most even trades I have ever seen. The immediate benefits will be seen by Boston more so than Florida. But, the Panthers can do quite a bit with the pick they received in the deal. Plus, Wideman covers up for the trade that sent Dennis Sidenberg at the deadline.

Wideman is coming off a poor year with the Bruins and will have a chance to bounce back with more minutes in Florida. Currently, monster defenseman Dylan McIlrath is rated 15th. Although, there is a good chance that the Panthers go with a forward in this spot, a guy like Nick Bjugstad or Emerson Etem could be a good fit for Florida.

Boston receives a solid power forward in Horton, plus a serviceable center in Gregory Campbell. Horton has been rumored to want out of Florida for some time, he will be put in a great situation in Boston. He, combined with Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin (depending who Edmonton goes with at #1) will more than make up for the loss of Phil Kessel last season. Boston has definitely set themselves up for a very strong run next season. Continue reading