Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday's action

Buffalo (1-4-1) at Atlanta (3-2-0), 7 p.m. EDT

It's folly to reach any conclusions for a hockey season on Oct. 20, but, if we were to do that, then last year is looking like more and more of a fluke for Ryan Miller and the Sabres. Miller's been OK - 2.62 GAA, .911 save percentage - but given Buffalo's pop-gun offense, he needs to be more than OK. He needs to be stellar. Vezina-like.

After an opening night win over Ottawa, Buffalo has lost its last five games. The Sabres average two goals per contest. Tim Connolly enjoyed a nice 2009-10 campaign with 65 points but was benched for much of the third period of a recent game. Tyler Myers' rookie season has become a full-fledged sophomore slump. Or rather, more like a sophomore plunge. Last year's Calder Trophy winner has just one assist in six games and is a minus-7. At no point last year was he a minus-player for the season.

Derek Roy is continuing to produce, with five goals, but no other Sabre has more than two.

The bet here is few people expected the Thrashers to have more wins than the Sabres at this point. OK, any point. Anthony Stewart has come out of nowhere to pot four goals and Chris Thorburn has provided a stunning amount of offense with three goals. The acquisitions of Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Mason have been paying nice dividends, Mason in particular.

Atlanta has won two straight.

Prediction: Atlanta 3, Buffalo 1

Anaheim (2-3-1) at Columbus (2-2-0), 7 p.m.

The Ducks are starting to resemble more of a hockey team with two wins in their last three games. The offensive capability is evident - 11 goals in those last three contests. All eight of Ryan Getzlaf's points have come in the last three games, same with Corey Perry's six points. Defenseman Cam Fowler is trying to become this year's Tyler Myers, averaging 20 minutes a game as an 18-year-old with three points.

Anaheim's problem is Fowler maybe shouldn't be playing as much as he is. But there's little else on the Anaheim blue line. The Ducks have yet to allow fewer than 33 shots in a game. Jonas Hiller fends off as many as he can but if the Ducks don't tighten things up in their own end, it will be an early finish to their season.

Speaking of possible flukes, we're all waiting on 2008 Calder winner Steve Mason to show he wasn't just a one-hit wonder, as some people of this blog believe. Mason has struggled in three games, winning one, but has allowed 10 goals. Some of the ones he's given up are goals he really should stop, a trend that cropped up frequently a year ago.

It's a good thing for the Blue Jackets that Kristian Huselius and R.J. Umberger have three goals each, because no one else has more than one, and that includes captain Rick Nash, who is a team-worst minus-3. Nash has just one goal and no assists to his name and needs to start taking over games to lead Columbus.

Anaheim 5, Columbus 3

Vancouver (2-3-1) at Chicago (4-2-1), 9 p.m., TSN

At least the Canucks can erase that 6-2 walloping from Tuesday quickly, because now they face the defending champions, who have owned Vancouver in the playoffs the last two years. This is becoming quite a heated rivalry but it has a little less sting now that Dustin Byfuglien is in Atlanta.

The big question in this one is who will start for Vancouver? Will it be Luongo, fresh off a six-goal outing last night and pulled after two periods, or Cory Schneider, who played very well in his first start?

Also, if the NHL really wants to punish Vancouver for Rick Rypien's actions, they should make the Canucks play that thug 16 minutes a night. That'll cripple them.

Chicago's early troubles are fading slowly from memory as the Blackhawks have won three straight games. Patrick Sharp has been stellar with six goals and eight points and Marian Hossa has been even better, leading the league with seven goals and 11 points. So it's a scary thing when Patrick Kane ("only" six points) and Jonathan Toews (four) get going.

Marty Turco appears to have established himself as Chicago's top goalie but it might not take much for Joel Quenneville to give Corey Crawford another look.

Chicago 4, Vancouver 2

Carolina (3-2-0) at Los Angeles (3-1-0), 10:30 p.m.

Behind Cam Ward, the Hurricanes reversed a two-game losing streak with an emphatic 5-2 win at San Jose. Ward stopped 41 shots, an excellent recovery after giving up five goals to Vancouver on Sunday.

No one, and I mean no one, has emerged as Carolina's go-to talent on offense - though it shouldn't take Eric Staal long - but 11 different Hurricanes have scored goals. A total of 17 different Hurricanes have registered points.

The Kings are another team that hasn't been scoring much but they might be showing signs of awakening. Los Angeles has won its last two games, scoring seven goals. In direct contrast to Carolina, only four different Kings have goals (Dustin Brown with three and Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll with two each.) Everyone's favorite for the Norris Trophy, Drew Doughty, has been held to one assist.

But thanks mainly to Jonathan Quick, the Kings haven't needed to score much. Quick has allowed only three goals in three games with a .963 save percentage, responding to the challenge the coaching staff and management gave him when they announced Jonathan Bernier would receive a good look in goal.

Los Angeles 2, Carolina 1

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