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

2ITB Conference Finals predictions

With the Conference Finals poised to begin, my somewhat successful prediction rate plummeted in the second round. With Phoenix, Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York advancing, I will try my hand at picking the two teams that will face off for the Stanley Cup.

Phoenix Coyotes vs. Los Angeles Kings

This is the matchup that all of zero people penciled in for the Western Conference Final back in October. Both teams had to scratch and claw over the final weeks of the regular season just to cement their respective playoff berths and each team has received tremendous goaltending.

Mike Smith is doing a fine job backing up the argument that a franchise goaltender in un-necessary, while Jonathon Quick (and Marty Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne etc.) have done plenty to prove that a legitimate 1A goaltender is a key for playoff success.

Both teams play a pretty boring style of collapsing and blocking shots whenever possible. Each club has a defensive style that chokes out their opponents. They rely on their goaltenders to do the heavy lifting when necessary but typically limit as many shots and chances as possible. Continue reading

Double Minors: Just what they needed

The Buffalo Sabres are facing a daunting task, needing to win nearly every game down the stretch to sneak into the playoffs. It is going to be that much harder with games against Pittburgh and last night’s victory over the Rangers.

However, the Sabres kept scoring goals and cruised to a 4-1 victory over the East’s best team and the odds-on favorite for the Vezina. Even though Buffalo didn’t get the help they needed in Washington, they remained tied with the Caps.

The Foligno, Ennis, Stafford line was on fire yet again, scoring three of the four Buffalo goals. The Regulators combined for three goals and eight points. However, the Vanek, Hodgson, Tropp line was effective yet again, despite not finding the scoreboard. I really like the makeup of both of those lines. Combining the scoring skill of players like Ennis, Stafford, Hodgson and Vanek with muckers like Foligno and Tropp has been paying dividends. It would seem like Darcy Regier’s commitment to size in recent drafts has begun to pay dividends.

Ryan Miller had a very strong showing yet again, he stopped 26 shots and made a number of big saves to keep the Rangers attack quiet. The Sabres had a strong game all around, there wasn’t much to frown about across the board. Maybe I don’t like the fact that they gave up 13 shots in the third period, but they managed to turn the Rangers aggressive push into a pair of odd-man goals to seal the game.

  • Great to see Travis Turnbull score his first NHL goal last night. It was greasy, but all that matters is that it counts. He was a great depth signing back in 2009, not sure if he is a guy who can be an NHL regular, however.
  • No minuses on the sheet for Buffalo, the only goal against was a lost coverage in front and was a very preventable tally.
  • One game after registering eight hits, Buffalo threw 22. Not sure if that was a scorekeeper issue, but good to know the Sabres are willing to toss the body around when necessary.
  • Not sure if Lindy Ruff will want to continue riding Ryan Miller against Minnesota, they have entered “get every point” mode and that probably means you won’t see much of Jhonas Enroth.
  • Sixth defenseman watch: Alex Sulzer played just under 20 minutes, was even and had two blocks. I’m curious to know when Ruff decides to rotate Weber back into the lineup. That will be a tough call considering the way this particular roster is playing.
  • For those watching the scoreboard, be equally concerned with the Capitals, Senators and Jets as you are with the Penguins and Rangers. It would be a bad thing to see the Penguins in the first round. If the Sabres are to make the playoffs, hope that they face the Rangers.

Game Summary/Event Summary

 

The Morning Skate: Eighth place on the line in NYC

The Philadelphia Flyers did just about all the Sabres could have asked them to do last night. Granted, it took a shooutout to topple Washington, but the Capitals were denied two points. The Sabres can now take a full share of eighth with two points this evening.

Of course, they are playing the East’s best team on their home ice. Buffalo has yet to win a game against the Rangers this season, but have taken the Blueshirts to overtime twice. Tonight will once again be described as the biggest game of the year for the Sabres. Just as Wednesday’s game was and tomorrow’s game against Minnesota. Considering every game is the next biggest one, just know the Sabres need two points every evening.

Buffalo has been able to get offensive contributions on a regular basis from their top three lines. Against a strong defensive team, it will be time for those scorers to kick into high gear. The Sabres cannot afford to hope for another 2-1 win.

The Sabres’ biggest issue against New York this year has been containing the big guns. Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan have had their way with the Sabres, tonight needs to be the game in which Buffalo locks these guys down. The Rangers aren’t a team that has three dangerous lines like you see in Philly or Vancouver. The Rangers are a steady team that plays such a steady game that they don’t necessarily need nine effective scoring forwards. It makes them a very difficult team to match up against.

Buffalo will need a great night from their back end. Lindy Ruff will be able to match his lines to a certain extent, but there isn’t a single shutdown line on the Buffalo roster at this moment. So it will be up to the six defensemen to shut off the Rangers guns.

Highlighted Matchup

Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan vs. Regehr and Sekera. The Sabres won’t be able to match lines due to the last change, but Buffalo’s shutdown pair will see plenty of ice against the Rangers top players. As stated above, if the Sabres can keep these guns quiet, they will have a good look at two points.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NYR: Henrik Lundqvist

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Rangers 3 OT, Madison Square Garden, 2/25/2012

 

Double Minors: Point slips away as Sabres prepare for the deadline

Two different one-goal leads escaped the Sabres last night as did a precious point for their playoff run. Ryan Callahan scored the deciding goal against the Sabres for the third time this season, this time in OT.

Pat Kaleta had a pretty rough night, getting beaten on Marian Gaborik’s game tying tally and then being undressed by Callahan on the winner. For the first time in a number of games, the Sabres allowed their opponents dangerous scorers in alone on their goalie. For the first time in  number of games they paid dearly.

Ryan Miller certainly wasn’t the goalie who has ran up sparkling numbers since January 1, he also received less support than he has recently. Without Miller’s dazzling play in the first period, the game had great potential to be a blowout. Miller made 14 of his 25 saves in the opening stanza.

Another ugly trait reared its head last night. While the Sabres got a pair of goals from a forward, they only managed a handful of shots on goal. Drew Stafford potted two goals, but the Sabres only managed to direct 17 more shots towards Henrik Lundqvist. The last time Buffalo had a shooting effort that was so poor, Miller bailed them out with a shootout win against New Jersey. For the record, the Sabres only manged 14 shots that night.

With the deadline coming tomorrow afternoon, Darcy Regier still needs to address the fact that his forwards are incapable of performing on a consistent basis. It would seem that Miller has truly settled into a groove and the top-six defensemen are performing admirably. However, the forwards have been out to lunch for a good portion of the season. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are the only two who have been consistently effective all season. Tyler Ennis has turned the corner in his new role at center, but still isn’t going to have fantastic numbers. Ville Leino has shown flashes of brilliance, but still hasn’t come around and the other scorers – Derek Roy, Stafford and even Nathan Gerbe – have been largely invisible this season.

If changes are made to the top six, there could still be a legitimate chance at creating enough offense to turn this season around. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Sabres final skate prior to deadline

The Buffalo Sabres have been able to roll together an impressive run of hockey as of late. Looking back to early January, they were on a major skid, couldn’t score goals and weren’t supporting their goaltenders. But as the All-Star break approached they began turning things around. A couple sets of five-game stretches have kept the playoffs within reach and the Sabres can take another step forward tonight in New York.

Well, maybe it will be a lateral step.

Each team the Sabres are chasing are in action this evening. A pair (Toronto and Washington) play each other. Since Buffalo won’t be able to get too much help in terms of gaining ground, they will need to be content with keeping their head above water.

Getting wins last night and Tuesday all but guarantee the Sabres won’t be selling at the deadline. Consider Paul Gaustad safe from any suitors that may come calling. Derek Roy and Drew Stafford probably fall into the same category. Darcy Regier is in a position where he needs to make a few significant moves, but his team is in a position where those moves could potentially be detrimental.

The Sabres will not only see one of the league’s best teams tonight, they will also need to deal with one of the best goaltenders. I won’t be surprised if Ryan Miller is in net to face Henrik Lundqvist, but Lindy Ruff should know Miller needs to rest prior to next week’s road trip. Continue reading

Double Minors: Scoring changes everything

Even a clean sheet from Ryan Miller couldn’t get the job done against the Rangers. Miller certainly helped steal a point for the Sabres, but his counterpart stole a pair.

Miller and Henrik Lundqvist put on a clinic all evening as both the Sabres and Rangers traded blows through a scoreless regulation and overtime. It took a five-round shootout for the Rangers to nab the bonus point and the 1-0 decision.

Both teams had their chances. The Sabres carried the play late, fueled by a raucous crowd – a rarity this season. New York also had their fair share of chances. The Blueshirts had some glorious chances early in the game, before the Sabres turned the territorial tables.

The Sabres gave a great effort, their third-straight. It is no mistake that three strong efforts have given this team five out of six points. It seems as if their win in New Jersey instilled some confidence which has shown as of late. Buffalo has been desperate for some positive play, they got some more last night. Unfortunately, the scoring wasn’t there. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: East leading Blueshirts come to town

The Sabres finally have strung together a pair of wins. Now they begin one of the league’s toughest schedules to close the season (couldn’t find the Tweet).

Tonight the New York Blueshits Rangers are in town fresh off a shootout loss in New Jersey last night. Henrik Lundqvist is expected to be in goal tonight and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Ryan Miller back in for the Sabres. Miller has put together a string of solid outings and the rest he received during the All-Star break will likely sway Lindy Ruff to start him. As for any other lineup changes, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Luke Adam given a chance to right his recent wrongs; but Ruff hates to alter a winning lineup.

Tonight will be a difficult test for the Sabres. Their last two wins were low scoring affairs as the offense is still struggling to find their way. In addition, Thomas Vanek is expected to miss time after being injured last night. That is probably for the best, I feel that he has been nursing a few injuries over the past few weeks.

Buffalo will also need to contend with the East’s best, a team that embarrassed them during their last visit. The Sabres have finally found some good mojo, it will be important to keep that rolling. Continue reading

Double Minors: Special teams fall flat against Rangers

Horrendous special teams doomed the Sabres last night against the Rangers. A pair of shorthanded goals put the Sabres behind and a late power play goal nailed the coffin shut.

All around the Sabres were average last night. They didn’t get the goaltending they needed, their shot selection was average and they missed the net on nearly every scoring chance they generated. Considering the way they played on Friday, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Sabres will a little extra gas in their tank. Unfortunately they had none.

Obviously the injury bug has bitten this team hard. While many will say that is no excuse, at some point there starts to be a significant drop off. With Mike Weber and Tyler Myers on the shelf, Marc-Andre Gragnani is forced into big minutes. Without a chunk of their forwards, nearly a third of the Rochester Americans are skating with the big club. Sure, Zack Kassian, Brayden McNabb and Corey Tropp have shown some ability to play on a regular basis at the NHL level. Yet, when Paul Szczechura is centering Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, obviously something is off.

Perhaps the most disappointing portion of the loss – aside from the soft goals – was Buffalo’s inability to finish. This is a team that has struggled to put pucks in the net as of late and they showed exactly why. Twice Vanek put a chance high and wide, Tyler Ennis did a fine job marking up the crest of Marty Biron’s jersey and numerous other chances weren’t cashed. You can’t win games when you don’t score goals, it is a simple concept.

Buffalo has two games left on a homestand that is looking uglier by the day.

  • Jhonas Enroth needed to be better than he was last night, he said as much. Enroth’s numbers have regressed in a hurry since he took over when Ryan Miller was injured. He needs to reassert his confidence as it is fairly clear he is falling victim to the home woes too.
  • The Sabres special teams are horrendous. The numbers will tell a different story, but watching both units it is obvious. The penalty kill unit is missing a handful or regulars, so it makes sense that the unit has struggled recently. However, the power play couldn’t be more impotent. If a team applies any sort of pressure the passes become errant and sloppy, usually resulting in shorthanded chances against.
  • The only intact line at this point is the trio of Ennis-Roy-Stafford. Three players who appear disjointed on the ice. All three have struggled this season – save for Roy’s point streak in November – and haven’t produced the necessary secondary punch the team needs.
  • It is amazing that Marty Biron can continue to own the Sabres. Aside from his first trip with the Islanders, Biron has been stellar against his old team. Buffalo didn’t give him too much work last night, but Biron made the saves he needed to make. That is all you can really ask for from your goalie.
  • This team certainly looks tentative at times, almost as if they’re waiting for someone else to step in to make a play. It is safe to assume if they ever get healthy, the Sabres will easily right the ship. However, they need to take a few more points in the interim.

Three Stars

1. Carl Hagelin

2. Martin Biron

3. Ryan Callahan

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary