Sports Outside the Beltway

Coming apart?- Buffalo routs Phoenix 7-2

The Sabres have beaten the Coyotes the last four times the teams have met. From AP-

Jason Pominville scored his 12th and 13th goals of the season and the Buffalo Sabres routed the Phoenix Coyotes 7-2 on Monday night to move into a tie with Washington atop the Eastern Conference standings.Buff-Phe

Thomas Vanek had a goal and two assists as the Sabres improved to 8-0-3 in their last 11 games, 2-0-1 on their season-high, seven-game road trip.

The Sabres scored three goals on 13 shots before Phoenix coach Dave Tippett lifted goalie Ilya Bryzgalov 4:01 into the second period. Bryzgalov has allowed 26 goals in his last seven starts.

Buffalo and Washington each have 66 points, but the Sabres have played one fewer game.

It was a season high in goals scored for Buffalo and allowed by Phoenix.


The Coyotes had only four shots in the first period.

Butler’s shot dribbled off Bryzgalov into the net 2:24 into the second period. The shot from the middle of the left circle came after a brilliant pass from Vanek, who spun around and with his back to the net sent the puck across the ice to Butler.

A few weeks ago, I was pessimistic about Phoenix staying in the Western Conference playoff picture. I know better than to read too much into short streaks of games, but Bryzgalov’s play of late is troubling. Phoenix doesn’t have a chance unless this Goalie overacheives like he did early in the season.

Note- The Coyotes are in 5th place in the Western Conference. It is hardly panic time for the team’s fans.

On the other hand, Buffalo is riding Goalie Ryan Miller to the top in the East. Miller’s Goal against average is 2.01 and he has a .936 save percentage. No individual Sabre scares you offensively, but almost make good contributions. Other than Miller, Buffalo has no stars. If Washington doesn’t win the Eastern Conference, Buffalo would be my next choice.

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NHL Eastern Conference at the mid point of the 2009-10 season

Due to the Winter Olympics, the NHL season is being being played at a more accelerated rate than normal. For instance, prior to Christmas week the Florida Panthers had four games in a week, five straight weeks in a row.

A NHL season is 82 games in length. Half of 82 is 41. Most teams are at 41 games or more

New Jersey 39 games 28 wins 10 losses 1 overtime loss 57 points
Buffalo 40 25 11 4 54
Washington 40 24 10 6 54
Pittsburgh 42 26 15 1 53
Boston 40 21 12 7 49
Ottawa 41 21 16 4 46
Montreal 43 21 19 3 45
NY Rangers 41 19 17 5 43

Tampa Bay 41 16 15 10 42
Philadelphia 40 19 18 3 41
Atlanta 40 18 17 5 41
NY Islanders 42 16 18 8 40
Florida 41 16 18 7 39
Toronto 41 14 18 9 37
Carolina 41 11 23 7 29

Bold denotes all teams who would make the playoffs as of this minute.
The above standings are as of 6 p.m. on Saturday January 2nd.

Teams all but certain to make the playoffs- Buffalo, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Washington
Team that won’t make the playoffs- Carolina

That’s hardly rocket science based on the above.

I will be greatly surprised if Florida, NY Islanders, or Toronto are playing in the post season. The Panthers haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years and this will be no exception. How is a team that hasn’t won more than 3 games in a row since March 2008 supposed to get the momentum up for a playoff run?

Tampa Bay and Atlanta have been pleasant surprises this year. I’m still not convinced either team can make the playoffs. Particularly so in the case of the Lightning who are most impotent offensive teams in the league,(28th of 30 teams)

Honestly I think the teams who are currently 1-8 will all make the playoffs. There will be reshuffling but I think the 7 other teams each have enough liabililites that it will keep them out of the postseason.


Outdueled- Florida Panthers beat Buffalo 6-2

The NHL’s hottest goalie(1.77 GAA) Ryan Miller this season looked very ordinary tonight. From AP-

Michael Frolik scored twice, Dominic Moore and Rostislav Olesz had a goal and an assist each, and Tomas Vokoun made 26 saves in the surging Florida Panthers’ 6-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.Frolik

Stephen Weiss and Cory Stillman also scored for the Panthers (8-9-2), who have turned things around after a 2-7-1 start. Florida, which beat Buffalo for the first time in five games, is 6-2-1 in its last eight games.

Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur scored, and Ryan Miller made 18 saves for Buffalo (12-5-1), which was denied in its attempt to string together a four-game winning streak for the third time this season.

Stafford opened the scoring with his sixth goal with 5:37 left in the first period. Stafford skated toward the net from the lower portion of the right circle before lifting the puck over Vokoun, who was on his knees. Frolik tied it 4 minutes later, netting his fifth goal on a one-timer from the high slot.

Weiss gave the Panthers a 2-1 edge 1:21 into the second period. After stopping Frolik’s wrist shot, Miller swatted the puck right into Weiss, who deposited it into an empty net. Stillman upped Florida’s lead with his sixth midway through the third, converting a 2-on-1 with Steven Reinprecht, before MacArthur made it 3-2 with 5:43 to go in regulation with a power play goal.

Frolik, Olesz, and Moore iced the game with late third-period goals.

The Weiss goal was the turning point tonight. Miller made a stop and put down the puck. Weiss who was trailing on the play must have been shocked at such a opportunity handed to him.

Florida has been playing great of late with the exception of the back to back losses to Washington. No matter what I think of their goalkeeping, you can’t deny that the Capitals are among the best teams in the east.

Up next for Florida are road games against Detroit and the New York Rangers. I think the Panthers have never won in Detroit or just once. The team is playing better this year on the road(5-4-1 is their record when traveling) than at home. If they can get at least two points out of those games, I may modify my outlook on the Panthers 2009-10 season.

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Florida Panthers sign C Dominic Moore

The cats split the first two games of the 2009-10 NHL season. From AP-

The Florida Panthers on Monday signed unrestricted free-agent center Dominic Moore to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million.

The signing adds more depth down the middle for the Panthers, who also acquired Steve Reinprecht during the offseason before signing him to a three-year-deal.

Moore posted 12 goals and 29 assists in 63 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres at last season’s trade deadline. He had just three points in 18 games in Buffalo.

The 29-year-old center has 35 goals and 100 points in 305 career NHL games.

The Panthers are thin at Center. They have Gregory Campbell, Bryan Campbell, Steve Reinprecht, Kamil Kreps, and Shawn Matthias. Weiss is a good player, but his faceoff winning percentage was poor in 2008-09. Campbell is coming off his best year ever, Reinprecht I think is just a run of the mill player, Kreps has shown little in his NHL career so far, and Matthias is very green but a good prospect. Moore will help the Panthers win more faceoffs, and I think his acquisition is a good one. Who will the Panthers cut or send down to Rochester to make room on the roster? I’d keep Matthias over Kreps but I’m betting the Panthers do the reverse.


NHL player Teppo Numminen retires

He played in the NHL for 20 years with 4 different clubs and was one of the last remaining Winnipeg Jets to still be active. Enjoy your retirement Teppo.

Veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen will retire after 20 seasons in the NHL.

The 41-year-old Finn was an unrestricted free agent after playing the last four seasons in Buffalo Sabres. He also had stops in Winnipeg, Phoenix and Dallas during his career.

He made the announcement Wednesday, saying “playing hockey in the NHL and also for my country, Finland, was very enjoyable.”

The three-time All-Star had 17 points in 57 games for the Sabres last season. In 1,372 career games, he recorded 117 goals and 520 assists.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with and against the best players in the world for so many years,” Numminen said.

Numminen accumulated six medals in his international hockey career with Finland, including a silver at the 2006 Turin Olympics.


New York Islanders sign G Martin Biron

How safe does this acquisition make Rick DiPietro’s hold on the #1 Goalie job for the team?

The New York Islanders have agreed to terms with goalie Martin Biron on a one-year deal.

Biron was 29-19-5 for the Flyers last season, with a 2.76 goals-against average, and led Philadelphia to the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh.

“Adding Marty gives us three bona fide No. 1 goalies,” general manager Garth Snow said in a statement. “We learned about the importance of stability in our lineup from last year and he now allows us to have another quality starter.”

The 6-foot-3 goalie has a career 2.59 GAA in 433 NHL games with Philadelphia and Buffalo.

Biron is a good goalie as is DiPietro. DiPietro’s problem may be high expectations. He was taken #1 overall in the 2000 entry draft. That, and the fact the Islanders are one of the worst NHL teams at present, make me believe there will be a tussle for the starting goalie job in Nassau County.

The Philadelphia Flyers have completed the task of reshuffling their goalies in the offseason. They signed Ray Emery, Martin Biron signed with the Islanders, and #2 Goalie Antero Nittymaki is now with Tampa. Overall I don’t see the Flyers better or worse off at Goalie but am still puzzled by the Washington Capitals sitting on their hands this off season when it is pretty much universal their goaltending is in need of an upgrade.


Did the NHL make a mess of the 2009-10 schedule?

The upcoming schedule was released yesterday. Right away I noticed something interesting. Florida has a home and home series with Nashville.

Nov 28 and Mar 29 are when the Panthers and Predators play next season.

What I find interesting is- Florida is playing Nashville home and home for the second straight season. In 2008-09, the Panthers and Predators played on November 1st and December 23rd.

In light of the way the NHL season is set up, namely that any Eastern or Western conference team plays only play 3 home and homes in any season, Florida and Nashville shouldn’t meet home and home more than once every five years 15 western conference teams divided by 3 home and home series equals five.

Here’s a link to the 2009-10 schedule. Anyone have theories as to what happened here or am I off base?


NY Senators oppose potential Phoenix Coyote move to Canada

National politics and the NHL. How often do these two mix? From AP-

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are opposed to the Phoenix Coyotes relocating to southern Ontario because it would have a potential “crippling” effect on the Buffalo Sabres.

In a letter sent to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday, the two Democrats sided with the league in its bid to prevent Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie from purchasing the bankrupt Coyotes and moving them to Hamilton, Ontario, located about 45 minutes west of Buffalo.

The Sabres, one of the NHL’s strongest U.S. small-market franchises, generate about 20 percent of their revenue from across the border.

The NHL has asked a bankruptcy judge to uphold the league’s right to determine who owns a franchise and where it plays.

Will the Coyotes play anywhere next year. A Ottawa Sun journalist has some serious doubts.

The judge asked the sides to report back on May 27, a week from today. I can predict with near certainty that nothing will come of that mediation. Moyes isn’t about to relinquish his apparent ownership and the NHL isn’t about to allow him to put the team into bankruptcy. Try finding middle ground there.

If it’s not bad enough that Moyes and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman have no trust in each other, the judge did say he would discuss relocation — what he called the “hot-button issue” — on June 22, more than a month from now, which was immediately followed by the NHL lawyer indicating the league would not approve the movement of a franchise for next season at such a late date.

That date all but ensures Balsillie and Hamilton are out for next season.

It could also mean the Coyotes are out for next season.

That is the difficulty the NHL must come to grips with. You can’t move the Coyotes by late June and you can’t sell tickets in Phoenix for a franchise nobody can say for certain will be there. It is a double-edged sword, with both sides stabbing at the league.

The NHL has had to step in before to keep a team afloat. It was the Ottawa Senators around 15 years ago. NHL owners will croak first before allowing Jim Balsillie, I think the same will go for keeping the franchise known as the Coyotes alive in some form or another till a suitable owner can be found.

As for Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, I understand their interest in trying to protect the Sabres. The team is a New York based business and in no way compares to this fool congressman who has a Congressional committee investigating the College bowl system.


Florida Panthers and the Eastern NHL Conference at the half way mark

The Florida Panthers played their 41st game of the NHL season last night. A 4-2 win over division rival Carolina Panthers. Before I make some comments, here are the standings

1 Boston Bruins Games played- 41 Record- 30-7-4 Points- 64
2 Washington Capitals 41, 27-11-3, 57
3 Philadelphia Flyers 41, 22-10-9, 53
4 Montréal Canadiens 40, 24-10-6, 54
5 New York Rangers 42, 24-15-3, 51
6 New Jersey Devils 40, 23-14-3, 49
7 Carolina Hurricanes 42, 21-16-5, 47
8 Buffalo Sabres 40, 20-15-5, 45
9 Florida Panthers 41, 19-16-6, 44
10 Pittsburgh Penguins 42, 20-18-4, 44
11 Toronto Maple Leafs 41, 16-19-6, 38
12 Atlanta Thrashers 42, 14-23-5, 33
13 Ottawa Senators 39, 13-20-6, 32
14 Tampa Bay Lightning 40, 11-19-10, 32
15 New York Islanders 42, 12-26-4, 28

First I can safely conclude the NY Islanders, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, and Atlanta are out of the playoff picture. Toronto faces a uphill battle, but I won’t count them out yet.

Look where Pittsburgh is only one year after making the Stanley Cup finals. What is going on up there? They recently had a five-game losing streak at home.

They aren’t the only recent memory Stanley Cup final team fallen on hard times. Ottawa who made it in the 06-07 looks to be re-building. How did anyone in Senator management think Alex Doug Auld and Martin Gerber were playoff quality goalies?

Tampa Bay has gotten out of the cellar. Two wins against Florida in late December helped. Will Rick Tocchet still be coaching next season?

Florida has its best record at the half way since the 1999-2000 season, or the last time they went to the playoffs. I had high hopes for Florida last year only to see them dashed. Could they make it this year?

Definitely. The teams immediately ahead of them are beatable. If Florida sneaks in as the 7th or 8th seed, they are most likely to get buzz sawed by Boston or Montreal.(Though Florida does have a good record against Goalie Tim Thomas and are the only NHL team with a lifetime winning record against the Canadians. )

Some miscellaneous Florida notes-

Their defensemen have scored more goals than any other team in the Eastern Conference

Florida has gained at least 1 pt in every game Gregory Campbell has scored in.

Yesterday’s game marked just the 3rd time ever Florida went without a penalty in a game.

Tomas Vokoun now has 201 career wins as a goalie.

Florida has a very good goalie at Rochester that the name eludes me. Would Florida consider a deal for Craig Anderson and bring up the rookie before the season ends? Anderson is a free agent at the end of the year and not expected to be back.

Florida signed a multi-year agreement with Fox Sports Florida which as a result have more Panther games on television.(I got NHL Center Ice too, so I rarely miss a game unless there is no television at all) That’s good news. Now I would like FSN to stop showing upcoming programming promos while play is happening on ice. Those idiotic spinning pucks fill 1/8th of the television screen and often interfere with watching play. Every time I see this crap I feel like screaming at the television.


Ottawa Senator Jarkko Ruutu suspended two games for bite

It is not known if his victim will need a rabies shot. From AP-

The NHL acted swiftly after what happened in the first period of Buffalo’s 4-2 home win. Peters started the skirmish by shoving the palm of his glove into Ruutu’s face and pushing him into the boards at the Senators’ bench.

Ruutu responded by chomping down on Peters’ glove, catching his teeth on the player’s thumb, which is not padded. The force of Ruutu’s bite broke the skin and drew blood on the Peters’ right thumb. As Peters pulled away in pain, his glove was ripped off by Ruutu’s bite.

Peters was penalized for sparking the skirmish. Ruutu was not penalized.

Biting isn’t some kind of penalty? Only in the NHL.

Here’s the video of the incident

To be honest two games is a slap on the wrist, even with the lost salary. Suspend him for a couple of months. This behavior doesn’t belong in pro sports.


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