In the offseason the Detroit Red Wings got their wish as the NHL realigned them into the Eastern Conference. The Wings, who’ve now made the playoffs in twenty-two straight seasons, get their first taste of the East as they host the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow night. Detroit is hoping that their experience will top Buffalo’s youth in a battle of the second oldest and second youngest teams in the league.
The Hot versus the Not
As per usual, goaltending will play a large factor for both teams. The Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard has put together two straight top notch seasons and is seen by many as the most underrated goaltender in the NHL.
Howard finished last year on fire. Over the last seven regular season games he went 5-2 with a 0.99 GAA and a .946 save percentage. Oh, and Detroit needed all five of those wins to sneak into the playoffs.
It’s a different story in Buffalo as their veteran goaltender Ryan Miller is trying to find his game. After an outstanding 2010 campaign (2.22 GAA, .929 save percentage), Miller was poised to enter into ‘elite’ goaltender status.
Last year however, was the worst statistical season of his career and the word in Buffalo is that Miller may be on the way out. On a positive note, Miller had a very good preseason but you can’t put too much weight into that.
Oh Captain! My Captain!
The Sabres enter the 2013-14 season in complete a rebuild. Last year they traded away their captain Jason Pominville and only today named his replacements. Yes, replacements.
Forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott will split captaincy duties, which is interesting because both will become free agents this year. In addition Vanek has publicly stated that he wants no part in a rebuild.
Detroit added more leadership in the offseason with free agent acquisitions, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. Weiss was the assistant captain of the Florida Panthers, and led them in scoring in five of the last six seasons.
Alfredsson meanwhile, was the captain of the Ottawa Senators for fourteen years. He brings with him a host of Eastern Conference experience that Detroit will use to their advantage.
Buffalo Looks to Erase Bad Times at the Joe
Buffalo and Detroit didn’t meet last year due to a lockout shortened regular season. It was probably for the best for the Sabres, as they’d lost six of their last seven games against the Wings. In those seven meetings, Detroit outscored Buffalo 24 to 12. Also, Buffalo hasn’t won in Detroit since October of 2006, which was in pre-Justin Bieber days!
Fights, Young D, and Miller Time: a glimmer of hope for the Sabres
Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement two years ago left a hole in Detroit’s defence, and they still haven’t quite recovered. Buffalo has some talent up front (see: Vanek and Cody Hodgson) that could take advantage of inexperienced defensemen like Danny DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl, and Brendan Smith.
Last season, the Sabres were near the top of the league in fights, while the Wings were at the bottom. Buffalo’s agitators like Patrick Kaleta, Steve Ott, and John Scott will attempt to welcome Detroit to an increasingly violent Eastern Conference.
Finally Ryan Miller, though not the same player that he was several years ago, can still steal a game. If Buffalo can somehow manage jump out in front, it could be ‘Miller Time’ at the Joe.
Betting-wise, the public is going to be all over Detroit for obvious reasons. The line opened with Buffalo at +165 which make sense, but weird things happen at the beginning of the season. Buffalo is liable to get no respect from bettors so watch the line as they may end up a huge underdog.