Tag: northeast division

Paul Gaustad, Andrew Ference

Trendy Sabres vs. defending champion Bruins: Who’s the favorite in the Northeast?


When it comes to making playoff predictions or choosing players in fantasy hockey, it’s just so much more fun to side with a trendy pick. Sure, it was probably the right move to select Ray Rice in the first round in fantasy football, but it didn’t provide the visceral thrill of a riskier move.

Many hockey pundits are locked in debates regarding the Northeast Division favorite: is it wiser to side with the defending champion Boston Bruins or the Buffalo Sabres (the champions of splashy off-season moves)? From what I gathered, a startling amount are going chic with the Sabres. (A few might even lean toward the Montreal Canadiens, which is batty if you consider their defense but intriguing when you ponder their easier schedule.)

It’s tough to figure out why people are discounting the Bruins after they won the 2011 Stanley Cup. Maybe it’s because the focus of that championship round shifted toward Roberto Luongo’s meltdowns rather than Tim Thomas’ brilliance. Perhaps the problem is that the Bruins were good during the 2010-11 season, but they weren’t overwhelming favorites like the last three champions. The Bruins’ biggest stars are a huge defenseman and an unorthodox goalie, so maybe the hunger for marquee offensive talent has something to do with it.

Either way, it is a tough race to call.

The case for the champs

The Bruins feature the best defenseman in Zdeno Chara. You can generate hours of debate about which team has the better American star in net, but the Bruins’ combined duo gets the nod because Tuukka Rask is more proven than Jhonas Enroth. Boston’s group of centers is impressive even with Marc Savard hurtling toward retirement; one assumes that the hockey world will give Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci more respect sooner or later. Derek Roy should be outstanding if he is 100 percent, but the Sabres’ pivots don’t seem quite as sturdy – especially if Ville Leino ends up being their second line center, as many expect. (That’s not to say that Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe lack talent if they’re in center spots this season – it’s just that they’re likely to get pushed around defensively.)

Depth is the key in Buffalo

That’s not to say that Buffalo goes into this battle without any weapons, though. Their advantage can be summarized with one word: depth. Their defense is much more versatile now that they added Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. Leino complements an offense that has a plethora of dangerous wingers, from Thomas Vanek to Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford.

The depth argument does make some sense in the regular season, but it’s still surprising to see so many people brush off the Bruins’ hardware – mainly because people usually follow champions like lemmings.

In a way, this is battle between change and stability. The Sabres seem radically different while the Bruins only made minor alterations to a team that won three seven-game series and their first Cup since the days of Bobby Orr. Picking Boston isn’t as fun as siding with Buffalo, but if you ask me, it’s the best bet.

To break playoff curse, Maple Leafs must make best of an uneven schedule

James Reimer

With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Toronto Maple Leafs schedule analysis

Total mileage: 32,239 (second least in the NHL, lowest total in the Northeast Division)

Back-to-back games: 17

Toughest stretches

After a nice homestand to begin the season, the Leafs will play four straight games on the road, one home game against the Penguins and then three more away contests. (To clarify, that means they’ll play seven of eight away from Toronto.)

Late November represents the next significant test, as Brian Burke’s team will play on the road six times in a seven-game stretch.

Aside from a relatively reasonable four consecutive away games to end 2011 and an easy January, the Maple Leafs face their next challenge with five of six games on the road in February.

Their last rough run of the season comes from Feb. 29 to Mar. 19, when the Leafs play eight out of 10 games in hostile territories. That run ends with five straight away games.

Easiest periods

Naturally, the Maple Leafs will have opportunities to put runs together at home as well.

They begin 2011-12 with a five game homestand, including three games against Canadian teams. There’s one span of four out of five home games in the month of November and December each, but if the team makes the playoffs, it could be on the back of an incredible January.

They begin 2012 with four home games in a row, then visit the Sabres in Buffalo. After that skirmish in what can often seem like a home game away from home, the Maple Leafs will play five consecutive contests in Toronto. That’s nine out of 10 home games, but again, there will be plenty of Maple Leafs fans in Buffalo on Jan. 13.

Their remaining home streaks are pretty modest: a four-game stand in February and five out of six games in Toronto to close out March.

Overall outlook

Ultimately, the Maple Leafs need to keep their heads above water in the first three months of the season, take advantage of a huge set of opportunities in January and then hold on during some difficult spans in February and March.

Only the Devils enjoy a lighter travel schedule than the Leafs, although that might be counter-balanced a bit by 17 back-to-back games. The Leafs face a remarkably up and down schedule that is right up there with Buffalo’s bi-polar 2011-12 and the Rangers’ highs and lows. Hopefully the team will recognize how imbalanced their schedule is and ignore knee-jerk reactions from fans and the press during inevitable slumps.

It’s tough to say if this is “the year” for Toronto because their schedule will make things very unpredictable. If nothing else, one might reason that they’ll probably avoid the cellar in the Northeast but might not be a legitimate division title contender either. Making the playoffs should ultimately come down to managing the more arduous obstacles and taking advantage of some significant opportunities.


Two brutal early stretches might doom Senators in 2011-12

Daniel Alfredsson
1 Comment

With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Ottawa Senators schedule analysis

Total mileage: 33,915 (sixth lowest in NHL, third overall in Northeast Division)

Back-to-back games: 17

Toughest stretches

After a neutral October, things could unravel during a rough span from mid-November to early December. They’ll play six straight road games beginning in Buffalo on Nov. 11 followed by one home contest against Carolina and then three more away contests. That represents a scary stretch in which nine of their 10 games are away from Ottawa.

The rest of December and the first two games in January could provide a reprieve, but things start getting ugly again beginning with a home-and-home against the Flyers (at Philly on Jan. 7; home on Jan. 8). They’ll play 10 of 12 games on the road, including six-straight away contests to close out the first month of 2012.

It’s nothing compared to those two brutal spans, but they’ll also play four of five road games in late March and early April.

Easiest periods

After starting the season with two games on the road, the Senators will play five of six at home to kick off October. A favorable run in December could provide them a strong bounce back opportunity after that brutal November stretch with 10 out of 12 games at home.

February provides some solid opportunities, with a five-game and three-game homestand (although they’ll also have a three-game road swing). March isn’t half-bad either, as they’ll play five of six in Ottawa during one period of time.

Overall outlook

Sure, the Senators get a few nice homestands to work with, but two early (and brutal) road runs could place them a bit too firmly in the Northeast Division’s cellar. Naturally, if Ottawa can scrap their way through those formidable away streaks, they might have a chance to do a little damage.

Overall, it seems like their schedule isn’t doing them many favors, although a light amount of travel could be a godsend for aging captain Daniel Alfredsson. Then again, if the plan is to continue rebuilding, a bad beginning could help justify another fire sale (and maybe a run toward probable 2012 top pick Nail Yakupov).

Montreal’s favorable schedule could give them a shot to win the Northeast Division

Carey Price

With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Montreal Canadiens schedule analysis

Total mileage: 39,174 (13th lowest in the NHL, most in Northeast Division)

Back-to-back games: 13

Toughest stretches

The Habs don’t really have many especially brutal runs of road games, but there are a few spans that are a little more challenging than others.

Beginning with a home-and-home against the Bruins (in Boston on Oct. 27; at home on Oct. 29), the Habs play five of seven games away from Montreal. November ends in a difficult way, as well, as they play two away games, host the Penguins and then make a tour of California in three straight away games.

The second half of December contains a season-high six-game road trip. Aside from that, it’s pretty smooth sailing. (The only other noteworthy span involves five of six away games in mid-March.)

Easiest stretches

Don’t be shocked if Montreal starts the season with a hot run. After two road games, they’ll have two three-game homestands with an away contest in Pittsburgh sandwiched in between. (In other words, they’ll play six of seven games at home.)

January and February should represent their second wave of strong runs. They start 2012 with another six of seven games at home (with a road game against Boston replacing Pittsburgh as the “meat” between two three-game home runs). January stretches into February with five of six home games. That set is interrupted by two straight road games and then four of five in Montreal before things get tougher.

Overall outlook

In the grand scheme of things, this schedule could make Montreal a dark horse candidate to take the Northeast Division crown. On paper, they aren’t as deep or dangerous as Buffalo or Boston, but they play strong defense and won’t have to worry about over-working Carey Price too often with just 13 back-to-backs.

Topping their division in mileage isn’t so bad since their longest road streak is a reasonable six games and going just under 40,000 miles isn’t too bad relatively speaking (although they’ll fly almost 6,000 more miles than in 2010-11).

Montreal’s schedule is blandly inoffensive, which one must assume is exactly how head coach Jacques Martin likes it. The results might not be bland or offensive for Habs fans, either.

Dramatic highs and lows dominate Buffalo’s difficult schedule

Ryan Miller
1 Comment

With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Buffalo Sabres schedule analysis

Total mileage: 35,911 (eight lowest total in NHL, second highest in Northeast)

Back-to-back games: 21

Toughest stretches

The first thing that pops out about the Sabres’ schedule is that they’ll play an astounding 21 back-to-back games. Let’s see if that makes for some especially brutal stretches, then.

Buffalo starts the season with back-to-back games in Helsinki, Finland (Oct. 7 against Anaheim; Oct. 8 vs. Los Angeles). After one home game against Carolina on Oct. 15, they’ll begin a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh the next night. Luckily, things get awfully friendly to close that first month, but it’s a challenging start for a team with high expectations.

Things run smoothly until mid-December, when the Sabres will face two tough runs very close together. They play three away games (Pittsburgh on Dec. 17, Ottawa on Dec. 20 and Toronto on Dec. 22), with a home game against Washington wedged between two more road contests.

That’s nothing compared to the doom and gloom in the first month of 2012, though:

Jan. 3: home vs. Edmonton
Jan. 6: at Carolina
Jan. 7: home vs. Winnipeg
Jan. 10: at Toronto
Jan. 13: home vs. Toronto
Jan. 14: at Islanders
Jan. 16: at Detroit
Jan. 18: at Chicago
Jan. 19: at Winnipeg
Jan. 21: at St. Louis
Jan. 24: at New Jersey
Jan. 31: at Montreal

Wow, that’s harsh – nine of 12 games away from Buffalo, with three sets of back-to-back games. Things start off acceptably on paper, but if the Blues and Islanders end up improved as many expect, that’s a cruel seven-game road trip. At least the Sabres get a week between the Devils and Canadiens’ games, though.

Things look nice in February until March approaches. They’ll play seven of eight games on the road from Feb. 25 to March 10. The rest of March is neutral with rotating home and away games, not really doing them any favors. Fittingly, three of their final four contests are on the road.

Easiest stretches

Things aren’t all bad for Buffalo, though. They’ll play eight of nine games at home from Oct. 22 to Nov. 11. November is solid overall, with nine of 14 in Buffalo (including some of that aforementioned stretch).

November bleeds into a positive December, as well. They’ll play an impressive 10 of 12 games at home from Nov. 19 to Dec. 16. So, in summation, the Sabres should see some nice gains from mid-October to mid-December.

The last great month of this remarkably up-and-down schedule comes in February. The Sabres play nine of 11 games in the first chunk of games that month, with two four-game home swings.

Overall outlook

While the New York Rangers make an excellent case of their own, the Sabres’ 2011-12 schedule ranks among the most manic depressive in the NHL. Buffalo must be a little worried about that trip to Finland, especially considering their league-leading run of back-to-back contests.

For all the negatives, they have plenty of opportunities to rack up points, especially in the first half of the season. If you’re narrowing down your Northeast Division champion between the last two title winners (Boston and Buffalo), then schedules shouldn’t help much because they both face difficult ones.

Given the choice, I’d take Boston’s, though.