Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sabres should be set in goal

The Sabres signed goalie Jhonas Enroth out of the Swedish league. While not good enough to be a starter, he could easily be the Sabres backup in this upcoming season. With Thibault not expected to be resigned, having a promising rookie in the number two position would be a good fir for the team.

Enroth was a finalist for rookie of the year last year in Sweden, and despite not being on that great of a team, had a pretty good year himself. He is only 19 and could very well take over the starting position if he is still here in six or so years.

At the very least having a possible future backing up in goal is much preferable to having a veteran on a one year contract.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Penguins take one

Apparently Osgood can be beat. The Penguins scored three goals to Detroit's two to win game three of the Stanley Cup finals. If Pittsburgh is going to win any more they will end up looking like this game, with the Pens scoring just enough to outpace the Red Wings. The real question is if they can do it in three of the remaining four games. Pittsburgh has a good team, but they are running out of time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Detroit Dominates in the early going

Detroit has been rather dominate so far in the finals. With 4-0 and 3-0 wins it is starting to look as if Pittsburgh doesn't have a chance. This is all despite that the Penguins looked like the better team coming in.

Chris Osgood has a two game shutout now, and while he is helped by the leagues best defense the fact that he can shutout players like Crosby, Malkin, and Hossa is impressive.

Penguins on their end really need to step it up. Dallas, and even Nashville did much better against Detroit then Pittsburgh is doing, and there is really no excuse for that. It's not as if the Red Wings are without flaws, but you need to get some goals if you ever want to be able to win the cup.

Game three of the Stanley Cup finals is Wednesday night.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Beyond Lindstrom versus Crosby

The Stanley Cup Final is looking more and more to be a test of the Penguin's offense (lead by Crosby (and Malkin and Hossa)) against the Red Wings' defense (lead by Lindstrom). While their is also a difference in age in that comparison as well, the fact that this offensive and defensive match up will be happening again and again in this series makes it an entertaining dynamic.

However the just as much of the game will be played on the other end of the ice, and it's just as important how things go there. Will Crosby and Malkin be able to play solid two way hockey? Can they keep Lindstrom from not only playing good defense, but from playing good offense as well? And what about Pittsburgh's blueline? Are they capable of shutting down Detroit's forwards? Is Detroit even any good up front?

This secondary match up of Detroit's offense versus the Pen's defense is just as critical to the outcome of this series, and why I have picked the Penguins to win this year. The Red Wings no longer have Shanahan and while they greatly outshot the Stars, they will actually be forced to spend some time in their own end of the rink in this series giving them less opportunities. Furthermore, while Marc-Andre Fleury is not as good as Turco, he is solid enough to worry Detroit, and even steal a game for his team. Unlike Turco he will not have to do so alone, so he will have a real chance at getting his needed four wins. The Pen's blog has indicated that Pittsburgh is better defensively then anyone else thinks. If that is indeed the case, then the Cup is Pittsburgh's to lose.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Final Predictions for the Final Round

Once again my predictions for the last round were split, and once again the Stars tripped by up. However this time it was for picking them. After Dallas played so well in rounds one and two, I was fairly certain that they were going to come out better then the Red Wings. Of course that never happened, and while they fought back to force a game six, Detroit got themselves into the final round.

In the finals though I am going with Pittsburgh. Not only do I want the Penguins to win, I actually think that they will. The Penguins have the advantage in goal, and on offense, and while the Red Wings' defense is solid, I still have my doubts about Detroit's goaltending.

I'm thinking Crosby will get his cup.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Detroit moves on to the finals

Apparently Turco can only do so much. The Stars lost game six of their series to the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 and were eliminated from the playoffs. Red Wings net minder Osgood had a very solid game in his end.

We have more or less known that Detroit and Pittsburgh would face each other in the finals for around a week now, but because it took so long to become official, we still have almost another week to go before the finals start.

Overall I really don't think anyone is complaining that the Penguins and the Red Wings are not the top two teams in the league this season. Unlike the last round, the finals at least look to be good.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pens move on and Afinogenov wins the worlds

The Pittsburgh Penguins moved on to the NHL finals with a decisive 6-0 victory over the Flyers. The win only proved what everyone already knew in that game four was just an exception. I feel a bit bad for former Sabre Biron, but in all honesty nobody was going to be able to stop the Penguins from winning the East this season.

Current Sabre Maxim Afinogenov's Russian team beat Derek Roy's Canadians for the world championships. The Canadians had been favored to win the tournament from the beginning, but Russia was known to have a solid program as well helped out heavily by the Capitals' Ovechkin, Semin and Fedorov. The Americans had been eliminated after losing to Finland earlier in the elimination round.

The Stanly Cup finals take place whenever either Dallas or Detroit decides to win their round. The Sabres foremost concern needs to be getting Gaustad under a long term contract.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Stars may be for real

The Dallas Stars have won their second straight game against the Detroit Red Wings with a 2-1 victory on Saturday afternoon. Detroit is still up in the series 3-2, but Dallas actually has a realistic chance at this point.

As is usual when Dallas wins Marty Turco had an excellent game. Turco finished the game with 38 saves, and even had an assist on the game winning goal.

Detroit got their one goal on the powerplay, but had a limited number of opportunities with the man advantage throughout the game. The Red Wings had almost twice as many shots on goal as the Stars did at 39 to 21 for the game. Still Turco is the best goalie remaining in the playoffs at this point, and as a result has a greater amount of control over how his team does then anyone else.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Put the brooms back in the closet

Apparently nobody is interested in the sweep. Instead both series will go to at least a game five (and possibly even longer). The Flyers finally won a game, but started to fall apart in the third, and don't appear to be poised to seriously challenge the Penguins for this series.

The Flyers were really carried by their powerplay in this game and scored on two of their five chances (not counting the million plus penalty minutes that were awarded in the final half minute of the game). Meanwhile the Penguins came up empty on their opportunities.

For the Penguins, their star of the game was Jordan Stall, who scored both of Pittsburgh's goals after only getting twelve all season. Both of his goals came in the third period from Tyler Kennedy. At one point it appeared as if the Penguins were going to pull of the comeback and give their team the win, but Malkin, Hossa, and Crosby ended up being pretty quiet for the rest of the night, leaving then one line to do all of the team's work.

While a close series is more fun to watch, neither of these really qualify quite yet. Lets just get onto the finals already (That applies to Hillary as well).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Turco and the Stars win one

Detroit's winning streak stops at nine, after the Stars finally won a game against the Red Wings. Dallas' 3-1 win ensures that the semi-finals will go on to at least Saturday, but there is still no reason to think that Detroit isn't going to be moving on regardless.

The Penguins (currently on a four game win streak) have the ability to sweep the Flyers on Thursday night. Like the western series, this one is also a done deal.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Time to break out the brooms

The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their nearly perfect post season with a 4-1 win over the Flyers on Tuesday night. This gives their third 3-0 series lead in this year's playoffs. While the Rangers did manage to force a game five, the Penguins have been pretty close to perfect in this post season and have put up an impressive 11-1 record.

Out west Detroit is doing the same thing. The Red Wings have given themselves a 3-0 series lead over Dallas, and after sweeping the Avalanche in the last round, have won nine straight games.

The entire third round of the playoffs could easily be done by Thursday May 15th which would almost ensure that playoff hockey doesn't even make it to June this year. After a very exciting first round to the playoffs, rounds two and three have been very straight forward, and over rather quickly. Fortunately the good side to this is that the finals between Pittsburgh and Detroit promise to be exciting. With these two teams clearly a full step ahead of the rest, watching the young offensive team take on the older defensive team will be quite the exciting match up.

Until then it's just time to bust out the brooms and get this second round over with.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Osgood improves to 9-0

With the Red Wings 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars Chris Osgood has improved to an impressive 9-0 record in this post season. The win gives Detroit a 3-0 lead in a series that is effectively over.

Dallas has a solid team, but they are not able to pull off a 4-0 run against a team that is this good. Turco may steal one or two, but without any offense, he won't be able to do more than that.

Turco has actually had a bit of a let down in this series, and while he hasn't gotten any help, neither has he been over the top outstanding like he usually is. The Red Wings scored five goals on only 21 shots last game. Dallas is the type of team that needs their goalie to be saving around 98% every night so .761 save percentage is not going to come close to cutting it.

Meanwhile the undefeated Chris Osgood has a solid enough team in front of him that a mediocre save percentage of .889 is more than enough.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Favorites are winning

So far in the Conference Finals, both of the favorites have come out ahead with 2-0 leads. Both teams have done very well for themselves, and at this point it almost appears as if we could just skip ahead to the final round. While I actually picked the Stars to win, and thought that the Flyers could make it close, there is little to no reason to expect either team to win four of five at this point which is what it would take to win.

Pittsburgh is having a great year in the playoffs, and has put together and increadable 10-1 record. Furthermore they are mostly injury free, and have gotten solid play from Crosby, Malkin, and Hossa. This makes it difficult to slow them down, to the point that you really can't beat the Penguins with a defensive battle.

Detroit is also doing very well with a record of 10-2 and an even better 8-0 with Osgood as a starter. Granted Detroit's first round opponents were relatively easy, but with the way they are outshooting the Stars they have been a bit dominate in the first two games of this series.

For the Flyers and Stars, they are both seeing the limitations of relying too heavily on goaltending, and can't win when the other team has far better offense. The Flyers are ok up front, but have to manage on without Kimmo Timonen and now Braydon Coburn for their defense. Playing Hatcher for 28 minutes a game isn't ever going to win you anything, let alone against the high powered offense in Pittsburgh. For Dallas, they are still doing ok in their own end, but are unable to put forward any offensive push at all. Detroit's defensemen, are shutting down Dallas, and making things easy for Osgood. As Turco proved with his three shutouts last playoffs, you need more than a really good goaltender to win. The two Martys have not been the problem, everyone else is.

Friday, May 9, 2008

USA Hockey (and other countries as well)

With the Sabres unable to make the playoffs a number of players are instead playing for their national teams. Pictured are Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville both playing soccer for team USA. However I believe the sport they were recruited to play is hockey. Besides these two Gaustad was also asked to be on the team, but dropped out to have some minor surgery, and new Sabre Nathan Gerbe was given a tryout before being cut.

A few other Sabres players are also in the tournament. Roy is playing for Canada, and Afinogenov is playing for Russia. Sekera is also playing for Slovakia. Derek Roy and his Canadian buddies are of course expected to win the tournament, but could end up getting caught by the United States who lost a close game to them in the preliminaries, or some other team.

Detroit won their first game against Dallas out west in the Stanly Cup Semi-finals. If Dallas is going to make it through this round they need Turco to be there to carry them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

End of the year player awards

With the Sabres season over, and the NHL taking a few days off from any on ice action, the time seems good to acknowledge those players who put in a really good season for the Sabres this past year. Despite not making the playoffs it wasn't all bad. Based on the categories used in the OHL coaches poll heres how the Sabres did this past year.

Most Underrated Player : Derek Roy - The success he has had on the ice with Vanek, and whoever on the other wing has been critical to the Sabres all year. However Roy get very few of the goal and little of the credit despite also being one of the top faceoff guys and a solid two way player. Gaustad and Kaleta are underrated league wide, but are well known and loved in Buffalo.

Most Improved Player : Jaroslav Spacek - He was really bad last year. While he only really moved himself up to be the team's number four defenseman before Campbell left, thats quite an improvement over last season when he was quite the defensive liability. The upside is that it appears as if last year was the exception given that he did decent back in Edmonton with Pronger. Jochen Hecht is also a candidate for being the most improved given his greatly expanded leadership role.

Smartest Player : Jochen Hecht - Ryan Miller also gets consideration for being good at constantly assessing the whole team's big picture. Hecht gets this due to his smart play, and his ability to make the players around him better.

Hardest Worker : Paul Gaustad - The Goose earns this by never giving up on any play or opportunity. Also his hard work on the powerplays resulted in the little that the team ever got out of them.

Best Playmaker : Maxim Afinogenov - Granted half the time he would just spin himself into the corner, but when his moves worked, they set up great scoring opportunities for his team. Max was willing to attempt stuff that no one else was. For more sane playmakers, Roy and Connolly are also candidates.

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area : Thomas Vanek - Vanek was the guy whose job it was to sit in front of the goal and to bang in any pucks that came his way. While he may not have done as well as he did last year, he was still the team's leader in this regard.

Best Skater : Maxim Afinogenov - The Russian has a bit of a different style to his skating, and it seems to work for him. In terms of both pure speed, and unpredictable maneuverability he is tops for the Sabres. Mike Ryan may come close on just speed though.

Best Shot : Ales Kotalik and Jason Pominville - I couldn't choose just one, and Hecht was close as well. Most of Pominville's many goals this past season came from good shots during five on five play, and included very few rebounds and other easy shots. Kotalik had less goals, but all of the ones he did score were pretty ones. Additionally he was known to bust out his solid shot in the shootout as well.

Hardest Shot : Jaroslav Spacek - This is of course allowing for a definition that doesn't require the shot to actually be on net. From back on the blue line Spacek consistently had a shot that was harder than others such as Lydman, even if it wasn't always anywhere near the net.

Best Stickhandler : Tim Connolly - Afinogenov is a close second, but Connolly gets the top spot as it actually looks as if what he is doing is on purpose. Connolly is among the best in the league in this regard and is really good a transitioning his moves into passes or shots as well. If only he was ever healthy.

Best on Face-Offs : Paul Gaustad - He was our most reliable guy out there in this job, something that really hurt the Sabres after losing Drury in the past offseason. Stafford also did surprisingly well, but not as well as the Goose.

Best Body Checker : Pat Kaleta - Is there really any question about this one? Kaleta Collision made his way into the league mainly on his ability to put people through the boards. Furthermore the whole town loves him for it.

Best Defensive Forward : Jason Pominville - Pominville played a solid two way game all season, and was the best forward that the Sabres had in their own end. Jochen Hecht followed close behind, and would have been the clear winner here until Pominville massively picked up his game in the final two months.

Best Penalty Killer : Toni Lydman - While he might have been second behind Tallinder in pure defensive ability, he was almost always the one to be able to clear the puck and knock large amounts of time off the clock for the penalty kill. Mike Ryan also deserves a mention for his aggressive play and speed for going after the puck when its cleared and making the move much more effective.

Best Offensive Defenceman : Brian Campbell - We traded him away towards the end of the season, but while he was here, he was the go to guy for goals on the blueline. Additionally he had the speed to take the puck up the ice himself, and had that still pretty awesome spin move.

Best Defensive Defenceman : Henrik Tallinder - The number one guy for the Sabres back in their own zone, and one of the best defencemen in the league. While nowhere near the fastest or more offensive on the squad, Tallinder had to be the most important on the team, and there was quite a noticeable difference whenever he was gone.

The Conference finals start today out in the West between the Detroit Red Wings and the Dallas Stars.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sabres sign Gerbe

The Sabres have signed Nathan Gerbe to a three year contract. Gerbe will make the rookie maximum (a bit under $1 million a season). While he will not be guaranteed a spot on the team, he has a shot at making it, and will get at least a little playing time at some point in the season.

Gerbe is very good, and if he can manage to make the opening night roster has a very legitimate shot of winning the NHL's rookie of the year award. While he won't be expected to carry the team in the same way that Kane and Toews have been asked to this past season in Chicago, he could very well be one of the Sabres top offensive players next year.

This past year at Boston College, Gerbe lead his team to victory in the Frozen Four, and had five goals himself in the final two games of the tournament. In fact he made it to the finals in all three of his years at Boston College (his team took second the other two years), so this guy knows how to win, and is used to winning, which is a good thing.

I've only seen him play in three games, but he was excellent in all of them, and the only argument against him ever is his size. However, while nobody while be confusing him with Chara, Gerbe is no smaller than Roy, and his size has not been an issue. Along with players like Briere, Buffalo has never had a problem with bringing in smaller players, and has never been one of the larger teams in the league so Gerbe should have no problem fitting in.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Predictions past and present

My second round prediction didn't go too well, as I only got half of them right. I was correct in predicting that Pittsburgh and Detroit would make it through, but was let down by San Jose and Montreal.

Perhaps I should have been more worried by the fact that the Habs had to go all the way to game seven with the Bruins, but Philly also went to seven games in the first round, and were only the sixth seed. Biron though continued to play very well, and Price fell apart (even getting pulled for one game). If Montreal had held onto Huet, perhaps this series would have gone in their favour. Still the Flyers look very beatable, and I'm expecting the Penguins to have very little trouble against this team.

Out west I'm predicting that the Stars keep on winning with the upsets. Turco has looked very good, and this season seems to have the perfect team around him to fit his style of play. Meanwhile Detroit has had it relatively easy in the first two rounds, and has still really not needed to prove itself in this post season. The Sharks had played much better in round one against Calgary, and had they kept up that intensity, probably would have won round two as well.

For the finals, I'm thinking Crosby gets his first Cup and the Penguins beat the Stars after Pittsburgh gets enough good shots off that Turco's save percentage doesn't matter anymore.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Finishing the series in overtime

The Penguins finally finished off the Rangers. While New York fought back from a 2-0 deficit to get to overtime and make things interesting it was not enough, and resulted in Pittsburgh moving on to the next round, and an Eastern Conference final taking place solely in Pennsylvania.

Out west the Sharks tried to hang on against the Dallas Stars, but ultimately lost during the fourth overtime. Dallas was (as always) carried by Turco who had 61 saves on 62 shots, and had a shutout for the final 87:27 of the game. Former Sabre and Sharks defenseman Brian Campbell lead all players (besides goalies) in ice time, playing 56:23 during the game. However he was partially to blame for both of the goals for Dallas, as he was on the ice for the first one, and in the penalty box for the second.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Campbell helps the Sharks hang on

The San Jose Sharks pushed off elimination once again, with an overtime win against the Dallas Stars. This is the third game of the series to go to overtime, but the first one that the Sharks won. Former Sabres Brian Campbell had a very nice looking goal in regulation to help the Sharks earn the win.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Detroit scores 8 to sweep

Detroit got one goal, for every leg of their octopuses in their final game of a four game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche. The Red Wings had been dominate the entire series, but this game wasn't even close, and Detroit didn't even prop up their goal total on empty netters. The Avalanche entered the third period down 0-3 in the series, and 1-7 in the game. Going into those final twenty minutes they knew that they didn't really have anything to play for.

The Penguins on the other hand, were unable to remain undefeated in the post season, and where shutout by the Rangers. Still, they should be the favorites to move on out of that series, and this single loss should do little to slow them down.

Dallas and San Jose have the only game on Friday night.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sharks hold on, Avery losses his spleen, Montreal is doomed

The Sharks held on to their very slim chances, and got a win against Dallas, but are still down three games to one. Because the games have been close, they have a better chance at coming back than any of the other teams do. Still, that said it remains incredibly unlikely. Turco is good enough that he can win one of three pretty consistently.

Unlike San Jose, Montreal is absolutely falling apart. In game four, they choose not to start rookie goaltender Caret Price, and instead went with Jaroslav Halak who has even less experience. The experiment obviously didn't work, and the Habs lost to the Flyers 4-2. Many still feel that it was a mistake to give up Huet, but if you are going to go with Price, you really need to commit 100% to him. Now Montreal's "goaltender of the future" is suddenly no longer wanted and the team is without any solid player in net at all. When Calgary pulled their starter in favour of Curtis Joseph it at least had the result of changing the pace of the game, and inserting a very experienced veteran. In Montreal, starting Halak over Price, does nothing to motivate the team, and gives you a goaltender with zero career playoff starts. Regardless there is no way that Montreal comes back from their current 3-1 hole, so it doesn't really matter what they try next game.

Furthermore it is a tad bit depressing seeing former Sabres Biron and Briere, get the first and second stars in the past game. Marty has had a very good string of games in the playoffs, and Briere has actually put forth some effort in the post season this year for some unknown reason.

Rangers forward Sean Avery is out for the rest of the season with a blown spleen. The New York Rangers only realistically have a single game remaining in their schedule, so it won't make much of a difference on the ice. He is expected to make a full recovery, but we can still hope that it won't happen. I'm not mean enough to hope that it's fatal, but if this ends his hockey career that would make me happy.