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

At long last, the Coyotes are saved

While no official deal has been reached, it would appear that Greg Jamison will spearhead a group that has been endorsed by the league to purchase and save the Coyotes.

Jamison is the former CEO of the San Jose Sharks who is famous for making them profitable. Due, in part, to Jamison’s leadership, the Sharks are now a very stable club – despite being located in a non-traditional market. With Jamison at the helm, the league (and Coyotes), Glendale and Jamison are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

There has not been an official deal reached, just an announcement that an agreement has been reached to dot the Is and cross the Ts in this deal. There is still the looming specter of the Goldwater Institute, the watchdog group that destroyed the last bid for the team. That isn’t to say they were out of line. There is no doubt that they will comb through the final agreement and there is even a chance that they will attempt to put this deal to an end.

What could derail the Jamison deal is the portion of the agreement that will see the new figurehead (if you will) run Jobing.com Arena. If Goldwater determines the agreement to violate whatever silly law they referenced last year, things could get complicated. With no true knowledge of what Goldwater gets all knotted up about, I can’t truly say if this deal will catch any snags. After all, Gary Bettman even noted that they expect to structure the deal properly as to not raise any red flags.

Based on my knowledge of the history of this scenario, I do think that the city paying one of the new owners may upset a group that stopped a previous sale based on the city paying the owner to buy the team. Of course that is a wildly broad way of putting it, but the former deal saw Glendale selling bonds as a way to supplement the sale. Jamison’s group surely has found a way around such an issue, but I do wonder if Goldwater will take them to task over the owner being paid by the city.

Ultimately, I see this deal going through and the Coyotes finally getting some solid ownership. The team has been in Phoenix for 15 years and has yet to make money. That is a pretty terrifying piece of information. I suppose if there was anyone to turn the team around, it would be Jamison. Acting as the ringleader, he will be the one to guide the spending of the investment group he compiled. His experience with the Sharks speaks for itself and bodes well for the Coyotes franchise. Continue reading

Double Minors: Sabres 2 – Coyotes 4

Last night was a game the Sabres should have won. Plain and simple, the Sabres outplayed the Coyotes in nearly every aspect of the game. The bounces just didn’t go their way.

Buffalo’s opening salvo alone should have produced at least three goals and probably contained double the scoring chances. Mike Smith had a little luck on his side as the Sabres found two posts and whiffed on a few open nets. Shane Doan took the air right out of the building with a rocket from the right boards that found the top corner behind Jhonas Enroth.

While the second period was where things got away from the Sabres – outscored 2-1 and outshot 15-14 – the story of the game was a lack of finish. Ville Leino did a marvelous job creating a pair of opportunities, Thomas Vanek had a handful of great chances, none of them went in.

Special teams were a moot point in a game that featured only three minors and neither goaltender looked particularly sharp. Smith made 43 saves to get the win, many of them point-blank, but he was fighting the puck in the early going. Enroth himself looked more like the goaltender from Wednesday, rather than the one that stoned the Hurricanes on Friday. He was kicking out bad rebounds, and looked very uncomfortable for most of the game. Hi struggles, just like Buffalo’s inability to finish, showed on the scoreboard. All three Phoenix goals fall into the questionable category. The first being particularly egregious while the other two had plenty of defensive lapses before the goalie was ultimately beaten for a softie.

Either way, Enroth needs to be sharp when his team outshoots the opponent the way Buffalo has recently. Twice this week the Sabres have held possession and the shot advantage and twice they have lost the game. The forwards need to start finding the net, they have had plenty of chances but haven’t cashed in and the goaltenders need to make a few more saves for the team in front of them.

  • Obviously the home woes haven’t been solved yet. They need to soon, the Sabres play 10 of their next 12 at First Niagara Center. A strong showing on this run will open up a gap between the Sabres and those giving chase.
  • Tyler Myers looked as if he injured his right arm/shoulder/wrist on Buffalo’s second period penalty kill. He was protecting it quite a bit in the corner before heading off the ice. Losing him will be a major blow to this team. Losing your number six man is one thing, losing a top three guy is a totally different monster.
  • Credit where its due, the Leino/Boyes/Stafford line is dynamic. They move well with the puck and all three compliment each other well. If anyone doesn’t fit it may just be Stafford. Regardless, good job by Lindy Ruff putting those three together.
  • Luke Adam was rewarded by the hockey gods after he found iron in the first. His tip-in goal was a big boost for a young kid who was recently demoted to the third/fourth line. While Adam may be best suited to play between Vanek and Pominville, his line with Nathan Gerbe and Corey Tropp was involved offensively and looked far more dangerous than the Ellis/Gaustad/Kaleta line.
  • Christian Ehrhoff looked foolish on Phoenix’s second goal. However, his last two games have been impressive. While his offense hasn’t shown up yet, he has been involved in the defensive zone. He has even begun to play with a physical edge, something he was missing for games one through seventeen.
  • I was disappointed BizNasty didn’t have a better celey planned for last night. I’m sure the last thing he thought he would do is score a goal. But still, I was really hoping to see a one-of-a-kind celebration from the NHL’s best Twitter feed.

Three Stars

1. Mike Smith

2. Radim Vrbata

3. Luke Adam

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: BizNasty and the ‘Yotes roll into Buffalo

Paul Bissonnette’s mother will get to see him play in an NHL game for the first time. This is a great moment for the Welland native who is often in and out of the lineup due to his role as an enforcer.

BizNasty will be in the lineup for Phoenix tonight, how much ice time he gets is anybody’s guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see his line rolled out first as a treat to the pugilist and his family. In other news, former Sabre Taylor Pyatt will play his 700th NHL game this evening. Girls seem to think he is dreamy, I always thought he played soft for a guy his size.

Buffalo is playing the second half of their sixth set of back-to-back games this evening. According to that same TBN report, the Sabres have taken a few precautions to make sure they have plenty of energy heading into this evening’s contest.

Lindy Ruff will certainly go right back with Jhonas Enroth this evening as the rookie pitched a 34-save shutout last night and looked strong in doing so. The Sabres did a great job protecting the house last night and make Enroth’s work pretty easy. Still, the youngster made some huge saves and deserves to be ridden til he bucks this team.

The Sabres will likely ice the same line up as last night, why change the winning combination? Most reports have Jochen Hecht close to a return along with Tyler Ennis. It will be interesting to see who Hecht replaces (guessing Matt Ellis) once he comes back full time. While Hecht is pretty much the NHL leader in bad angle shots, he will offer a stable force for the Sabres in the defensive zone. The last thing I want to see if Luke Adam sent to Rochester in order to make room for Hecht.

Highlighted Matchup

The Sabres at home. Yep, the whole team is under the spotlight tonight. The Sabres are beasts on the road but are just .500 at home this season. Both Enroth and Ryan Miller have been victimized by lazy play in front of them on the First Niagara Center ice and it is high time the Sabres find a way to put out a solid home effort. Even some of their home victories (Winnipeg) came despite a brutal team effort. This issue needs to be solved now so it doesn’t crop up in the spring.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 10GP, 7-1-0, 1.95 GAA, .935 SV%

PHO: Mike Smith 14GP, 8-3-3, 2.17 GAA, .934 SV%

Last Game

1/8/2011. Jobing.com Arena, Sabres 2 – Coyotes 1 OT

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

Continue reading

Flyers acquire rights for Bryz

The Philadelphia Flyers made a bold move in attempting to shore up their goaltending woes yesterday. They traded a 2012 third-round pick, prospect Matt Clackson and future considerations to the Phoenix Coyotes for the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov.

I like the decision by the Flyers to be proactive, rather that wait until July 1. They barley gave up anything to get the exclusive negotiating rights leading up to UFA Day and there is a good chance they lock him up with a long-term deal.

What I don’t understand is the stance Phoenix is taking. Obviously they couldn’t afford to resign Bryzgalov, so they went out and got something for him. However, they were terribly thin at goaltender before he left. Now they are even worse. For a team asking to be saved they are doing much more than setting up for failure. Continue reading

Thrash on the move? Atlanta in talks with True North

The eyes of Winnipeg are affixed firmly on the Atlanta Thrashers. After the City of Glendale dropped an additional $25 million to keep the Coyotes for another season, the Winnipeg spotlight turned east.

The Coyotes are safe for another season and the Thrashers are drowning in debt. So much so that their owner is looking high and low for prospective buyers. However, most sources have identified True North Sports and Entertainment as the group that will step in to purchase the Thrashers. Now it appears as if it is only a matter of time before hockey returns to Winnipeg.

This entire situation is tough to digest. On one hand I thought the poetic justice would have been perfect had Phoenix gone back north. Not to mention the fact that the Coyotes are struggling so much in the desert. I also have  a similar opinion on the Thrashers. They have no fan support and are just draining money from the league, it is time for a change. However, you hate to see any of the 30 teams struggling, no matter how silly their location is.

So, as Winnipeg prepares to embrace the return of the NHL I feel at ease with the situation. It is a city that should never have lost their team to begin with and well suited to support an NHL franchise (at least from a fan perspective). The lack of corporate sponsors is an issue, but I hope it is something that can be overcome. If hockey is to return to Manitoba, I am ready to applaud the move. The next question is, who fills the vacant spot in the east? Continue reading