Islanders at Sabres Picks and NHL Betting Odds
by Alan Matthews - 2/23/2013
The first head coaching casualty of this lockout-shortened NHL season arrived early this week when the struggling Buffalo Sabres fired Lindy Ruff. He had spent 16 seasons behind the Buffalo bench, the longest-active tenured NHL coach by far and the second longest in the four major American team sports behind Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Since Ruff was named Buffalo's head coach on July 21, 1997, there have been 170 coaching changes in the NHL. Now Nashville’s Barry Trotz has the longest tenure in hockey, as he was hired as the expansion team’s coach in 1998.
The last straw apparently was a 2-1 home loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday that had Buffalo in a 4-10-1 slide. It probably wasn’t a huge surprise to Ruff as since back-to-back trips to the East Finals in 2006 and ’07, the Sabres have missed the playoffs three times and were knocked out in the first round the two times they made it. Ron Rolston was promoted from the Sabres' AHL affiliate in Rochester to finish out the year as the interim coach.
Ruff is very highly thought of around the league and may not be out of work long. One team that could take a look is Buffalo’s opponent Saturday, the Islanders. It’s not that Jack Capuano has been terrible behind New York’s bench with a record of 67-75-22 (solid for this lousy franchise), but when a GM can get a veteran, respected leader like Ruff sometimes you have to make the move. The Isles haven’t made the playoff since the 2006-07 season and have finished last in the Atlantic Division every year. Islanders GM Garth Snow said this week he won't make any drastic moves just for the sake of change, but he was speaking more of the roster.
The Islanders have made some ghastly financial decisions in the past decade or so, including giving goalie Rick DiPietro a stupefying 15-year, $67.5 million deal in 2006. He has barely played the past five years due to injury and hasn’t been good the few times he has. DiPietro is 0-3 with a 4.10 GAA as Evgeni Nabokov’s backup this year. He actually was just put on waivers Friday but obviously will clear it. The team will send him to the AHL. The Isles traded for former Bruins Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas earlier this month, but he’s never going to play for the team. It essentially was a trade for Thomas’ contract and for cap reasons only so the Isles didn’t fall below the mandatory salary cap floor. Thus, between DiPietro and Thomas, the Isles will have about $9 million in cap space committed to two guys who aren’t playing for them.
Islanders at Sabres Betting Story Lines
Back on the eve of the 2011 season, Buffalo locked up young defenseman Tyler Myers, the 2009-10 Calder Trophy winner, to a seven-year, $38.5 million extension. It looked like a solid decision at the time as the 6-foot-8 Myers had 48 points and was plus-13 as a rookie. This year, however, he has three points, is minus-6 and was a healthy scratch in the first Islanders matchup as he was minus-9 at the time.
While Myers still has massive upside, another Sabres defenseman has fallen out of favor and could be traded. That would be Jordan Leopold, who was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career Tuesday and sat out Thursday with a supposed upper-body injury. He has a goal and three assists and is minus-7 this season, averaging more than 21 minutes of ice time per game. His last point came with an assist against the Islanders.
Buffalo lost Rolston’s first game Thursday, 3-1 at Toronto with Tyler Ennis scoring the Sabres’ lone goal. Thomas Vanek, tied with Sidney Crosby for the NHL’s points lead (25) and even with Pittsburgh’s James Neal for the most goals (12), was held pointless on five shots. He has been held without a point in five of the past six games, so it’s probably not surprising the team is 1-5 in those.
The Islanders suffered a big loss Monday when defenseman Brian Strait broke his ankle in a 7-0 loss to the Flyers. He will miss anywhere from 6-8 weeks, which likely means the rest of the season since the Isles don’t look like a playoff team. Strait was claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh in January and had played well enough to get a three-year extension. He had four points and was plus-3 in more than 17 minutes of ice time per game.
New York ended Montreal’s six-game winning streak, 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night. Thomas Hickey, claimed off waivers in training camp, scored the winner for his first goal. John Tavares had an assist on that goal and another, and the No. 1 overall pick from the 2009 draft is having a big season with 22 points, tied for fourth in the league. The 22-year-old center is clearly the centerpiece building block of the franchise. Before his two-game stretch without a point prior to Thursday, Tavares had registered nine points in the previous five games.
This is the second of three meetings. Buffalo won 3-2 on Long Island on Feb. 9. Ryan Miller made 41 saves, and Alexander Sulzer scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period. New York rallied twice from a goal down and outshot Buffalo a whopping 43-15. The Isles’ Tavares missed a penalty shot late in the third.
Islanders at Sabres NHL Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, Buffalo has been opened at -120 and NYI even with the total at 5.5. The Islanders are 11-6 “over/under” (6-3 on road) and have won two of their past three as a dog. They were -115 favorites in the first meeting with Buffalo. The Sabres are 10-8 O/U (6-3 at home). They have lost two of the past three as a favorite.
New York is 1-5 in its past six Saturday games and has lost five straight to teams with a losing record. Buffalo is 1-6 in its past seven vs. teams with a losing record. The Sabres are 1-7 in their past eight after scoring two goals or fewer in their previous game. The over is 4-0 in the Isles’ past four games playing on one day of rest. The under is 4-1 in Buffalo’s past five playing on one day of rest. The road team has won six of the past eight meetings.
Islanders at Sabres Picks and Betting Predictions
We have two teams on exact 3-7-0 runs in the past 10 games. I tend to lean toward Buffalo here because of Miller, but he’s not really an elite goalie any longer with a 2.87 GAA. However, that’s better than Nabokov, who has given up at least three goals in six of his past seven games. Lean the home team if it’s mostly even, so Buffalo and the over it is.
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