Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Welcome to Gregsky’s Eastern Conference Notebook. Let’s take a quick look around the Northeast, now that we are creeping up on twenty games into the season, and see what signs are starting to appear that can give us some insight into what to expect for the next twenty games.

Here are a few questions to chew on:

Where have the Senators gone?

The Senators are taking up residence at the bottom of the division instead of their normal perch at the top. This is due to the fact that they lost key cogs on the blue-line over the last couple of seasons and did little to replace them. It’s not like the Sens can’t score or anything, the guys paid to put the puck in the net are doing their jobs just fine. It is the fact that they can’t stop the opposing team from scoring that trip this team up. Not that this fact should in any way excuse Nick Foligno for not working harder on his defensive game (4 points and a –11 is shameful). Just who is the anchor of this defense? Chris Phillips (-8)? Volchenkov (-4)? Jason Smith (-2)? To top it off the Sens are using a quality backup goaltender in Alex Auld as a workhorse when everyone knows that that is a recipe for disaster. Unless this team solves its leaky defense issues their view won’t change much over the course of the next twenty games.

Are we starting to see Buffalo’s true colors (3-5-2 in the last 10)?

The Sabres started the season on fire with Vanek finally living up to his paycheck. The problem for the Sabres is that it takes more than one guy to win consistently (Afinogenov this means you). Miller is doing all he can in the net to steal some games, but even that is not enough. The fast start is keeping them in the race for now, but they need to find consistent secondary scoring if they want to remain in the middle of the pack. If they don’t they will be cursed to be a .500 team over the next twenty games and perhaps loose some real estate in the conference.

Are the Bruins ready to turn the corner?

The Bruins are for real, for now. Just about every player on the roster is a plus player. They are at the crossroads at this very moment and as well as they have started, it remains to be seen if they can sustain their tough style of play. It does appear that Coach Julien has his troops fully committed to the system, which I for one never doubted his ability to do so, but the nasty injury bug usually shows up this time of year to dash the hopes of this surging team. If the “Big, Bad Black and Gold” can stay healthy through this next stretch they will indeed be for real and a real threat to challenge for the conference crown. Both goaltenders have been steady and that is a plus for this team who have worked so hard to solidify their blue-line the last couple of seasons and the payoff is on display this year. Missing Andrew Ference due to his injury is a bit of a problem for the B’s (this means that Mark Stuart has more ice time than you would like him to have and Matt Hunwick has to show that he belongs), I wouldn’t be surprised if they go shopping for another defenseman to help hold the fort. They do have a stockpile of forwards they could use as bait (Sobotka or Nokelainen come to mind since both can’t make the roster at the same time) and don’t forget that they also have Rask in the minors who could make Fernandez expendable to a team struggling at the goalie position. Right now that is a good problem to have over the injury bug and the Bruins are poised to take it to the next level, the next twenty games will be crucial to weather or not they will be able to.

What is stalling the Canadiens push for dominance?

Relax. There is nothing to worry about in Hab Land. The Canadiens had some jump right out of the gate at the start of the season and since have played like a .500 team, but in reality they have kept a nice pace and if it wasn’t for the Bruins’ superb play they would be leading the division. The scorers are scoring, the defense is steady, and goaltending for the most part have kept them in it, so there is no problem with the core of this team. The only area of their game that has been lacking and is the root cause of their recent .500 play, is they have lost the spark on the power play. It is strange to see considering that they had one of the most potent PP units in the league just last year. All in all the Canadiens are in good shape and in a good position so if they focus on getting the power play clicking over the next stretch they will ease all of the fears in Montreal. Just breath people the sky isn’t falling.

Does anyone really think that Burke can save the Maple Leafs?

Brian Burke nor anyone else can save the Leafs this season. This team isn’t rebuilding it’s imploding. The only thing anyone can do with this club now is blow it up and start over. The roster is filled with one-dimensional forwards and too many offensive minded defensemen, which translates to poor play in their own end. Goaltending hasn’t been sharp (it’s not like the team has been out-shot on most nights) and that isn’t helping the situation any. The bottom line is IF they can jump out to an early lead, and a big lead at that, they can hang on long enough to win some games, but with no commitment to defense they won’t win many. The only area they play well is the power play, and for some reason this year they are staying out of the box (good thing because they suck on the PK), so one would think that this would be something to build on, but not this team. Lack of defensive discipline will haunt this team not only over the next twenty games, but the rest of the season if major changes aren’t made to the roster. The front office can only help restructure the team, it’s not like Burke can slap a bucket on his head and help stop the bleeding on the ice. You can blame the front office and the coach, but when all is said and done it is the players that have to execute and this team has failed to execute so far and give no indication that they are even trying to turn it around.

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