Double Minors: Sabres fall in Los Angeles

The Sabres battled the Kings right from the opening faceoff last night, and were a little over two minutes from gaining at least a point for their efforts, but it wasn’t to be as they dropped their fifth straight to open the season last night in Los Angeles.

It was easily their best effort since the season opener in Montreal, but it was a few mental lapses that doomed the Sabres. The Sabres played a terrific road period in the first. They limited the Kings’ opportunities to the perimeter and were able to take a lead into the dressing room thanks to Jack Eichel. Eichel led a two on one with Zemgus Girgensons, and was able to feed Girgensons for a tap in with less than five minutes left in the period. 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

Sabres have trade chips on the wings

It’s a time of turnover in Hockey Purgatory Heaven with Lindy Ruff getting his walking papers while Jordan Leopold, Jason Pominville and Robyn Regehr each were shipped out of town before the deadline. It appears as if this summer will bring about more change via the trade market for the Sabres as they continue their rebuild.

One key for the Sabres will be finding partners as they search for options to swap out certain players. There have been specific mentions of the need to find more offense from media members in Vancouver, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Nashville. These came from either interviews or game broadcasts on the NHL Network station on XM Radio. Obviously these aren’t confirmed rumors, but the need for more established offensive weapons on certain teams isn’t a difficult conclusion to draw.

Vancouver’s second-straight first round exit have some asking if they need offensive help.

Vancouver’s sweep at the hands of the Sharks has many asking if Alain Vigneault will be back for the 2013-14 season after his team again struggled to score in a first round series defeat. The Canucks aren’t short on elite talent. The Sedins’ production has begun to tail off lately but I’d say their struggles to find talent beyond their top line has been a major issue for them. Identifying more scoring help would immediately improve the overall depth of their forward ranks.

A similar situation has been illustrated with the Kings despite the acquisition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last season. The Kings top six is very impressive, yet they were tied to a number of scoring forwards during the year. While the roster is deep, they continue to win close, low-scoring games on the strength of their goaltender and defense. While I don’t see where they would place a top-six forward, I can certainly understand the connection drawn to improve their offensive potency.

The Blues and the Predators immediately spring to mind for me when I think of offensively challenged Western Conference teams. However, the Blues roster would indicate anything but that. Oshie, Schwartz, Berglund, Tarasenko. This list goes on for a while and forms a youthful, talented core which has the potential to be lethal. The Blues just happen to play a measured, defensive style and don’t allow too many shots. Perhaps they need a certain $6m goaltender. But probably not.

The Preds are actually a curious case. They have two big money players (Rinne and Weber) and made moves at the 2012 deadline to find more offense. However the second Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov didn’t do the trick and now they have retooled a bit with the acquisition of Filip Forsberg. Finding another piece to add to their top six would be extremely helpful towards finding more offense for the Preds; especially after missing the playoffs.

There is a market out west for scoring forwards, there is no denying it. Perhaps the e4s and #CONFIRMEDD tweets and blog posts aren’t flying yet, but media members are looking at the teams they cover and are saying they’re in need of offense. 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

All the Kings Men

Jessie Cohen and The Royal Half both invited me to guest on their 30 NHL bloggers from 30 NHL teams in 30 nights mission. I was lucky enough to have them ask me to be a guest on the show and it was a fun 15-minute interview. Check it out by hitting the link.

Big market success is bringing back the NHL

This originally appeared on Buffalo Wins.com.

Slowly but surely, the NHL is making a serious comeback on the national sports landscape. Even though ESPN continues their ignorant stance of pandering to sports in which they hold the rights to, the NHL is indeed becoming more relevant by the day.

After winning the 2011 Sports League of the Year award from Sports Business Journal, the NHL has enjoyed a calendar year of exciting games and some must-see events. Wise marketing put big ticket teams in the Winter Classic in consecutive seasons and the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals saw a winner from one of the largest cities in the US.

Things could get even better this summer as the Los Angeles Kings prepare for their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1993. The Kings will never own the city of Los Angeles. That would be a foolish assumption to make. However, they’re one of two teams left playing (Dodgers) and have the opportunity to bring a championship to the city.

This is one of those things that you want to root for as a hockey fan. Not as a Sabres fan, but a hockey fan. It is the same concept as understanding that Sidney Crosby’s health and success is good for the league, no matter how much you hate him. Right now the NHL is becoming a sexy ticket in Los Angeles, celebrities are taking notice and the team has a real chance at winning a title. A great majority of the people buying seats for the Finals are likely to ditch the bandwagon pretty quick, but there is going to be some serious interest drubbed up in LA for this team and the sport. Continue reading