Tag Archives: Chris Drury

Down the Frozen River Podcast #118- Bad Puns

The Original Trio analyze the Jeff Skinner trade, recent one year extensions, upcoming jersey retirement nights, 2018-19 Calder Memorial Trophy predictions and more.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify.

February 10 – Day 122 – Only 4 the Captain

Get ready, because there’s a whole lot of hockey coming at you today.

With the Olympics underway, the hockey festivities get an early start today. Switzerland and the unified Korean women’s hockey teams will square off in Group B play at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.

As for NHL action, the first five of nine games (Buffalo at Boston, Ottawa at Toronto [SN/TVAS], Nashville at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS], Los Angeles at Tampa Bay and New Jersey at Columbus) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time before getting underway. Next up is the three tilts (Philadelphia at Arizona, Chicago at Minnesota and Colorado at Carolina) scheduled for 8 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at San Jose (CITY/SN/SN360), tonight’s NHL nightcap. All times Eastern.

Finally, we’ll also include Finland vs. the United States’ women’s hockey team’s Group A tilt in today’s listing. That puck drop is scheduled for Sunday at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time.

Here’s just a few of the games on today’s slate that stuck out to me:

  • Switzerland vs. Korea: Let’s see if this unified Korean team can shock the sixth-ranked women’s side in the world.
  • Buffalo at Boston: It’s rivalry night in New England!
  • Ottawa at Toronto: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario rages on in the Queen City tonight.
  • Nashville at Montréal: Another former Canadiens defenseman moved to Nashville this offseason. This year, it was Alexei Emelin.
  • Los Angeles at Tampa Bay: C Vincent Lecavalier‘s sweater is being sent where it belongs tonight: hanging above the Amalie Arena ice.
  • Chicago at Minnesota: Saturdays are apparently for rivalries, because every game between the Blackhawks and Wild is a good one.
  • Edmonton at San Jose: This tilt may not be a rivalry, but it is a rematch of one of last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals.
  • Finland vs. USA: Every game in Group A of the women’s Olympic tournament is a big deal. This one is no exception.

A sweater can only be retired once, so it looks like we’re headed to Florida!

 

 

 

 

 

Lecavalier’s outstanding story of an NHL career began on June 27, 1998. It was a beautiful 78 degree day in Buffalo (that’s 25.5 degrees to you Canadians) outside Marine Midland Arena, but that didn’t interest the 18-year-old L’Île-Bizard, Quebec native all that much, as he was the top-overall pick in that year’s NHL Entry Draft –  the Bolts’ second such pick in six years.

With only two years of play under his belt with QMJHL side Rimouski, Lecavalier immediately joined a Tampa Bay team that had posted a horrendous 17-55-10 record the year before to finish dead last in the league standings, 19 points behind second-worst Florida.

The rookie didn’t exactly put up stellar numbers, finishing with 13-15-28 marks, but he did play all 82 games of his first regular season to help the Lightning improve, albeit moderately, to 19-54-9. Lecavalier finished 14th in Calder Trophy voting, well behind winner C Chris Drury, the 22-year-old center of the Colorado Avalanche.

Considering then-new Lightning owner Art Williams had dubbed Lecavalier “the Michael Jordan of hockey,” his rookie season must have been a disappointment. However, real champions are those that learn and grow from their struggles.

That’s exactly what Lecavalier did over the summer, and he reaped the benefits during his sophomore season. The still teen-aged youngster exploded during the 1999-’00 season, more than doubling his rookie production with 25-42-67 totals in two fewer games played- far and away the best marks on the team. Though the Bolts held firm in fourth place in the Southeast Division, Lecavalier was starting to show that he was worth the top-overall pick.

After stumbling a bit and continuing to grow into the NHL game over his next two seasons (not to mention assuming captaincy of the Lighting for the 2000-’01 season), Lecavalier’s next breakthrough came during the 2002-’03 campaign. In 80 games played, he posted a then career-best 33-45-78 score line, barely missing out on averaging a point-per-game for the first time since his dominant 44-71-115 effort during his final year in the QMJHL. Additionally, he posted his first non-negative season goal-differential, which is just as much a testament to his improved play as it is to the improvement of the squad around him.

This improved team effort earned Tampa Bay a 36-25-16-5 record, good enough for its first-ever division title and second-ever playoff berth. Lecavalier and the Lightning performed well in the postseason, advancing to the Eastern Semifinals before falling to the mighty Devils in five games.

That sparked a run of four-consecutive postseason appearances for the Bolts (ignoring, of course, the locked-out 2004-’05 season), which included what is probably the pinnacle of Lecavalier’s NHL career: hoisting the 2004 Stanley Cup after a seven-game war against the Calgary Flames.

After taking a back seat in Tampa’s five-game victory over the Isles in the Eastern Quarterfinals, Lecavalier absolutely dominated his hometown Canadiens in the semifinals (growing up a Red Wings fan, he probably brought some Original Six bad blood into the matchup). In only four games, he posted unbelievable 5-2-7 totals to have a hand in half of the Bolts’ goals.

Lecavalier continued his scoring ways in the Conference Finals against third-seeded Philadelphia, nearly managing a point per match with 4-2-6 totals in the seven-game series.

Though not to the extreme of his 0-0-0 performance against New York, Lecavalier struggled to find much traction in the Stanley Cup Finals against Calgary – the West’s sixth-seeded team – and its dominant defense. He posted only 0-3-3 totals in the seven-game series, but one of those assists proved to be the primary helper on LW Ruslan Fedotenko‘s Cup-clinching goal.

But Lord Stanley’s Cup is not the only piece of hardware associated with Lecavalier. The same year he was named to the Second All-Star Team (not the group that competes during the break in late January, but the arguably more important season-ending honor), he took home the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for his career-best 52-56-108 performance in 2006-’07, beating Ottawa’s LW Dany Heatley by two tallies.

In addition to being a stellar hockey player, Lecavalier was – and undoubtedly still is – an incredible human being. Only a year after winning one of the most prestigious awards for achievements in the rink (and finishing in fourth place for the Hart Memorial Trophy as well), Lecavalier was bestowed the 2008 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for pledging $3 million to build the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital (now Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital).

As for Lecavalier on the ice, things started to decline following his respective 108 and 92-point seasons in 2006-’07 and 2007-’08. Though he came close in 2012-’13 with his 10-22-32 totals in 39 games played, never again would Lecavalier reach the illustrious point-per-game mark that all forwards strive for.

As such, the Lightning were forced to buyout the remaining seven years of Lecavalier’s contract on June 27, 2013 – 15 years to the day after being drafted by the club.

However, that didn’t mark the end of Lecavalier’s career. He would go on to play three more seasons in the NHL, including 42 regular season games in the 2015-’16 campaign with tonight’s opponent: the Los Angeles Kings. After five postseason games with the Kings, in which he managed 1-1-2 totals before being eliminated by San Jose, Lecavalier retired from the league on June 21, 2016, six days before the 18th anniversary of an 18-year-old boy from L’Île-Bizard being drafted first overall.

It was a beautiful 89 degrees that day in Los Angeles, but that didn’t interest Lecavalier all that much.

Made known by his Richard Trophy, there’s nothing Lecavalier loved more than scoring. Though he won’t be lacing up the skates this evening, he would certainly fit in with his would-be teammates on the league-leading 37-14-3 Lightning, as they’ve posted a 6-2-0 record since January 22 with an imposing 3.75 goals per game, the third-best mark in the league in that time.

If the leaders of an offense during a run like this are those that average at least a point per game, Tampa has had three stars in its past eight tilts: F Yanni Gourde (6-4-10 points over this run, 20-20-40 overall), C Steven Stamkos (3-5-8 over this run, 20-42-62 overall) and sophomore LW Adam Erne (1-0-1 in his one NHL game of the season so far, Thursday’s 5-2 victory against the Canucks).

In all seriousness, the Lightning’s top line – which currently consists of Gourde, Stamkos and F Tyler Johnson – has been playing lights out over the past 19 days. Whether it’s been on the power play or at even-strength (Tampa’s 24.1 percent power play success rate on the season is [t]second-best in the league), the Bolts have been an imposing threat every time they have the puck on their sticks.

Of course, it would be wildly irresponsible to discuss Tampa Bay’s offense without bringing up RW Nikita Kucherov. The Russian has been unstoppable all season, as his 68 points on the year is the most in the league, followed by his (t)sixth-most 28 goals. Stamkos has also been the consistent threat everyone expects him to be, as his 62 points on the year is (t)seventh-most in the NHL and his 42 assists (t)eighth-most.

Of course, the Lighting aren’t just all offense. They dominate the defensive end too, allowing a ninth-fewest 2.63 goals against per game since January 22.

Considering Tampa’s defense has allowed an abysmal 36.25 shots against per game over its past eight games (third-worst since January 22), no one but 32-10-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves any credit for that success. Vasilevskiy has posted a dominant .938 save percentage and 2.29 GAA over his past six starts to improve his season marks to .929 and 2.27, and he’s all but certain to be in net this evening.

As for the visiting 30-19-5 Kings, it’s been an up-and-down season so far. However, Los Angeles seems to be experiencing one of its ups lately, as it’s posted a 5-1-0 record in its past six games to jump into second place in the Pacific Division.

The person behind these recent winning ways is none other than 9-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper. He’s started four of the past six games for an undefeated record, sporting an almost unbreakable .973 save percentage and .74 GAA to improve his season marks to .942 and 1.78. With 21-18-2 G Jonathan Quick dominating the crease to a 3-1 victory in Sunrise last night, it seems probable that Kuemper will be in net this evening

Of course, Kuemper has also had the luxury of the league’s (t)ninth-best defense since January 24 playing in front of him. Led by the efforts of LW Kyle Clifford (2.5 hits per game since January 24), F Alex Iafallo (four takeaways over this run) and D Alec Martinez (4.5 blocks per game in his past four appearances), the Kings have allowed an average of only 30.83 shots against to help Kuemper earn these victories.

For the icing on the cake, Los Angeles has also been able to turn Kuemper’s confidence in the crease into goals on the other end. With C Anze Kopitar (3-5-8 totals since January 24, 22-36-58 overall) and D Drew Doughty (1-5-6 totals in his past six games, 8-31-39 overall) leading the way, the Kings have scored an impressive 3.17 goals per game over their past six tilts – the 10th-best effort in that time.

Back on November 9, the Lightning made their annual trip to Tinseltown and found much success, beating the Kings 5-2. Kucherov took home First Star honors from that tilt with his one-goal, three-point effort.

Two teams come into this game playing with confidence, but only one can earn two points. Considering the Kings had to travel to Tampa last night, it’s hard to pick against the Bolts. However, considering how well Kuemper has been playing of late, the Lightning just might need more than 60 minutes to get enough pucks past him.


With three goals in the second period, the St. Louis Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bell MTS Centre.

Before the Jets even got on their own scoreboard, St. Louis had already earned found its game-winner. First Star of the Game RW Vladimir Tarasenko (Third Star F Alex Steen) scored the first goal of the game with a wrist shot 24:18 into the contest.

Once that opening tally was out of the way, the Blues were able to score seemingly at will. With 9:47 remaining in the second frame, F Patrik Berglund (D Robert Bortuzzo and F Jaden Schwartz) doubled St. Louis’ advantage, followed only 1:26 later by Steen’s (D Alex Pietrangelo) game-winning snap shot.

Though Pietrangelo technically goes down as providing the only helper on Steen’s tally, he should really receive the secondary assist while handing the primary honors over to G Connor Hellebuyck. Pietrangelo fired a low wrister from the right face-off circle that the netminder easily deflected with his pads, but that save ended up right on Steen’s stick. Having scored 11 goals on the season before this one, the forward knew exactly what to do with the opportunity, burying a snapper in Hellebuyck’s wide open net before he could figure out what was going on.

Second Star LW Kyle Connor (F Jack Roslovic) made sure the period didn’t totally belong to the visitors, as he pulled the Jets back within a 3-1 deficit with 2:27 remaining in the frame.

Winnipeg’s comeback attempt continued in the third period, as W Patrik Laine (Connor and RW Blake Wheeler) took advantage of F Vladimir Sobotka hooking him only 39 seconds before to score a power play slap shot with 8:21 remaining in regulation. With Winnipeg now only a goal away from tying the game, Tarasenko (C Paul Stastny and D Jay Bouwmeester) set the score at 4-2 with an insurance snapper 66 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Laine. Finally Schwartz tacked on another insurance tally with three seconds remaining on the clock, scoring a shorthanded wrister on an empty net.

G Jake Allen earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

With points in three-straight games, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are trying to do all they can to get back into the season series. With the Notes’ victory in white sweaters, the roadies are now 24 points behind the series’ 67-40-15 hosts.

January 6 – Day 91 – Hej baby

With the NHL’s bye weeks starting up tomorrow, there’s lots of action for us to take in today!

Making today even more amazing, the league has scheduled two matinee games for our enjoyment. The first involves St. Louis at Philadelphia (SN) at 1 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at Dallas. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. has three contests for us (Carolina at Boston, Vancouver at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/SN] and Tampa Bay at Ottawa [CITY/SN1/TVAS]), while the New York Rangers at Arizona waits until 8 p.m. to drop the puck. Minnesota visits Colorado at 9 p.m., with Anaheim at Calgary (CBC/SN) trailing an hour later and Nashville at Los Angeles closing the evening off at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Though there’s more than a few stellar matchups on tap today, three caught my eye before even the first puck was dropped on the season.

  • St. Louis at Philadelphia: The Blues and Flyers swapped C Jori Lehtera and F Brayden Schenn this summer. Considering Schenn has posted 17-25-42 totals this season compared to Lehtera’s 0-2-2, I’d say the winner of the trade is self-evident.
  • Minnesota at Colorado: Tonight at the Pepsi Center, RW Milan Hejduk‘s 23 is being lifted to the rafters to reside with five other Avalanche greats.
  • Anaheim at Calgary: There’s no love lost here: this is a rematch from the Western Conference’s first round that the Flames would rather forget.

It might surprise you, but one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now is actually the Colorado Avalanche. Let’s see if they can keep this positive energy rolling for Hejduk’s special night.

 

What an exciting day for the Avalanche franchise. There are few former members of the Avs more deserving of this honor, to the point that your favorite humble hockey blog predicted tonight’s festivities over two years ago.

Selected by Québec in the fourth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft from the Czech Republic, Hejduk made his NHL debut on opening day of the 1998-’99 season. It wasn’t an overly impressive rookie season for Hejduk (though he was named to the All-Rookie Team), posting only 14-34-48 totals and finishing a distant third behind teammate C Chris Drury in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but Hejduk would have the last laugh of a far superior career.

Some players experience a sophomore slump, but Hejduk was quite the opposite. He started the 1999-’00 season with a bang by scoring the first goal in the history of the Pepsi Center, and that campaign ended up being the fourth-best of his career, as he posted 36-36-72 totals that became his baseline for almost every season until 2007-’08.

Hejduk’s third season is probably the one he remembers the fondest, as that’s the year Colorado hoisted the Stanley Cup. The Czech continued his growth at the professional level to reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time en route to his second-consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game (which the Avalanche hosted), and he earned 79 points to help the Avs to a 52-16-10-4 record good enough for the Presidents’ Trophy. He followed that effort up with a 7-16-23 performance in the postseason – second-best behind C Joe Sakic – that included the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Quarterfinals in a 2-1 victory over the Canucks.

Short of the Stanley Cup, the biggest achievement of Hejduk’s career was winning the 2003 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy after scoring a career-high 50 goals. He had a two-goal advantage on runner-up LW Markus Naslund, and a whopping 21 more that the Avs’ second-best goalscorer that season, C Peter Forsberg, with whom he shared the now discontinued NHL Plus-Minus Award that season after they both posted a franchise-best +52.

Hejduk is far and away the longest tenured player in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, as he played 1020 regular season games over 14 seasons with the burgundy and blue, not to mention another 112 playoff contests. Over those 1020 games, he registered 375 goals and 805 points – both the fourth-most in in team history – and a fifth-most 430 assists.

Hejduk’s 23 will be Colorado’s first retired number since D Adam Foote‘s 52 was raised to the rafters on November 2, 2013. Hejduk joins D Ray Bourque, Foote, Forsberg, G Patrick Roy and Sakic – and I guess technically C Wayne Gretzky too, though the closest he came to playing in Denver was his 18 games with St. Louis in 1996.

For those that believe these types of trends can predict the future, Colorado has a 4-1-0 record and a +7 total goal differential in games when it retires a number, so Minnesota should be worried about its chances tonight.

Of course, this Avs team – which has a 21-16-3 record that is good enough for 10th in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota in the second wildcard spot – is nowhere near the caliber of those Hejduk played for in years past. However, that’s not to say this squad can’t find success. In fact, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak and having earned a 6-1-1 record over its past eight games, which is the third-best mark in the NHL since December 18.

How have the Avs been finding this success? Where to start?

Let’s start with the offense, which has scored 27 goals since December 18 to rank (t)fifth-best in the NHL in that time. The first line has been nigh unstoppable during this run, as both F Nathan MacKinnon (2-9-11 totals) and RW Mikko Rantanen (5-6-11) are headlining the teams scoring, and LW Gabriel Landeskog is only a step behind with his 3-4-7 effort.

But Colorado hasn’t only successful on the offensive end; the defense – even with G Semyon Varlamov nursing a lower-body injury – has played exceptionally, allowing only 15 goals against, the (t)fifth-fewest since December 18.

Varlamov was playing well before he went down on January 2, as he’d posted a .931 save percentage and 2.14 GAA in his six last starts. But G Jonathan Bernier has been even better, earning an incredible .965 save percentage and 1.2 GAA since starting New Year’s Eve’s game against the Islanders. Bernier is coming off a 34-save shutout against the Blue Jackets Thursday.

As for Minnesota, it is quietly in the second wildcard position with a 22-16-3 record. The Wild have also been playing well lately, as they’ve won four of their past five contests.

The Wild’s offense has come alive during this run, as they’ve scored 19 goals since December 27 to rank (t)second-best in the league since then. F Mikael Granlund is finally starting to look like he did last year when he posted career-high 26-43-69 totals. He started slow in 2017 to post only 11-16-27 totals, but he’s managed a 4-4-8 effort from the second line over his last five games to lead his team’s surge. D Jared Spurgeon has also performed well, posting 1-5-6 totals over this run.

Tonight’s meeting marks the second in the four-game series between the Avalanche and Wild. Game 1 took place in St. Paul on November 24, with Minnesota winning 3-2 on a shootout.

Considering the festivities of the evening and the fact that the Avs could surge into playoff position with a victory tonight (Anaheim would need to lose in regulation to Calgary for that to happen), this should should be an excellent game. Considering how well Colorado has played of late, I think it is capable of beating the Wild.


Only a day after being shutout 4-0, the Pittsburgh Penguins used their good luck in the DtFR Game of the Day series to beat the New York Islanders 4-0 at Barclays Center yesterday.

While it was an evenly contested first period between the Pens and Isles (they combined for 21 total shots on goal), Pittsburgh absolutely dominated the Brooklynites in the second by scoring three goals.

The first belonged to Third Star of the Game RW Daniel Sprong (First Star C Sidney Crosby and F Dominik Simon), scoring his first NHL goal since November 6, 2015 with a wrist shot 41 seconds into the frame for what proved to be the game-winner.

Crosby did most of the leg work on the goal, stealing the puck off LW Andrew Ladd‘s stick along the boards in the Islanders’ offensive zone. The Captain then screamed up the ice towards G Jaroslav Halak‘s crease with Sprong to his right, setting up a two-on-one play against D Nick Leddy. Once Halak committed to saving a shot from Crosby, he crossed a pass to Sprong, allowing him to easily bury his wrister into a gaping cage.

F Evgeni Malkin (Crosby and RW Phil Kessel) doubled Pittsburgh’s advantage with a power play snap shot 2:49 later, followed by Crosby (Sprong and Simon) setting the score at 3-0 with 4:10 remaining in the frame.

Sprong’s night wasn’t through with his game-winner. He tacked on his own insurance goal (D Justin Schultz and Crosby) with 6:32 remaining in regulation to set the 4-0 final score.

Second Star G Tristan Jarry saved all 31 shots he faced to earn the second shutout victory of his young NHL career, while Halak – who saved 34-of-38 (.895 save percentage) – was forced to take the loss.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to find some mojo. They’ve earned points in three-consecutive games to pull within 22 points of the 51-29-11 hosts.

February 14 – Day 118 – Valentine’s Day rivalry

Tuesdays are usually some of the busiest days in the NHL, and today features seven games for us to take in. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. when two games drop the puck (Colorado at New Jersey and Vancouver at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]), followed half an hour later by another pair (the New York Islanders at Toronto and Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS]). A couple more games get underway at 8 p.m. (Anaheim at Minnesota and Dallas at Winnipeg), with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Edmonton – dropping the puck an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Colorado at New Jersey: Not only is it the original Coloradan franchise against the current, but Eric Gelinas also makes his first return to the Prudential Center.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres‘ second rivalry game in four days.

That’s right, we know that Gelinas is making the first return to his original home arena. We try to keep track of everything around here at Down the Frozen River.

That being said, it’s been a long time since we’ve watched the Senators. Let’s take in their game against rival Buffalo.

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Sabres fans need not watch the film above. They know what it is.

If there was ever any question of this matchup being a rivalry in the Northeast Division, this game ended that discussion. Only 15 days after Paul Gaustad had a leg tendon sliced in a game against the Senators, Ottawa‘s Chris Neil threw a shoulder at Sabres‘ co-captain Chris Drury‘s head early in the second period of their February 22, 2007 contest, drawing blood. What ensued was a melee complete with scrapping goaltenders Martin Biron and Ray Emery.

Oh yeah, and coaches Bryan Murray and Lindy Ruff were, let’s just say, not happy with each other.

One-hundred total penalty minutes were distributed, and five players – including Emery – were ejected from the game.

To complete the rivalry, the Sens are adamant they didn’t do anything wrong that night. Of course, Buffalo disagrees.

No love lost here. How fitting for a Valentine’s Day matchup.

The 23-23-10 Sabres make their trip to southeastern Ontario in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference. Like I explained Saturday, Jack Eichel‘s high ankle sprain at the beginning of the season threw this team’s offense off its rhythm in a terrible way, as they’ve managed only 137 goals in 56 games – the seventh-worst scoring rate in the league.

If anything can be said for Buffalo‘s situation, it’s impressive how newcomer Kyle Okposo acclimated to his new surroundings. After signing with the Sabres on the first day of free agency this past offseason, he’s done his best to lead the offense with 37 points. The easiest way to do that is by scoring, and that’s exactly what he’s done as his 18 goals are tied with Evander Kane for most in The Nickel City.

Don’t believe for a minute, though, that the Sabres are incompetent, because that’s so far from the truth. That point is made no more apparent than when Buffalo has the man-advantage. Led by Okposo’s 19 power play points, the Sabres convert a league-leading 23.4% of opponent’s penalties into goals. Matt Moulson is responsible for most of those tallies, scoring a team-leading nine times with the extra man.

Of course, a lot of those are given back when Buffalo goes on the penalty kill themselves, as they stop only 74% of opposing power plays – the second-worst rate in the NHL. With his 25 shorthanded blocks, Josh Gorges has tried his hardest to help the Sabres, but him and Rasmus Ristolainen are the only two skaters with more 20 blocks on the kill. Perchance the Sabres trade for a long-term blueliner before the deadline? We’ll see…

Playing host this evening are the 29-18-6 Senators, winners of their past two games to go with the second-best record in the Atlantic. The key to success in the Canadian Capital is no-doubt goaltending, as the Sens have allowed only 142 goals, which ties for sixth-fewest in the NHL.

It looks like Craig Anderson will be the man in net this evening for Ottawa. When he’s been available this season, he’s been the obvious start: his .927 save percentage and 2.34 GAA are not only the best marks on the team, but also (t)seventh and 14th-best in the league, respectively, among the 57 netminders with at least 10 starts.

Anderson is a welcome sight in Ottawa, as his superior play certainly bolsters an average defense. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s team-leading (and third-most in the league) 142 shot blocks, the Sens still allow 30.2 shots to reach Anderson’s crease per game, which is only 15th-best. Just like Buffalo before, I’ll be interested to see if Pierre Dorion makes a move for a blueliner before the trade deadline.

That defense hasn’t stopped the Sens from being one of the superior teams on the penalty kill though. Led by Dion Phaneuf‘s 26 shorthanded blocks, Ottawa properly defends 83.6% of their penalties, the eighth-best rate in the league.

That defensive effort is necessary to make up for Ottawa‘s shortcomings on the power play. Even with Mike Hoffman‘s team-leading 17 power play points, the Senators only convert 16.6% of their extra-man opportunities into goals – the eighth-worst rate in the league. Regardless of how the rest of the team has performed, Hoffman has certainly been impressive: 11 of his points with the extra man have been goals, a total that not only leads the team, but ties for second-most in the NHL.

You wouldn’t know it going off each team’s respective spot in the standings, but the Sabres have already clinched their season series against Ottawa with a 3-0-1 record. Buffalo proved that dominance over the Senators only 10 days ago when the Sabres won a four-goal shutout at the KeyBank Center.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Robin Lehner (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league]) or Anders Nilsson (.922 save percentage [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (.927 save percentage [tied for second-best in the league], including four shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) and Karlsson (37 assists [fourth-most in the NHL]).

To my surprise, Ottawa is a relatively heavy favorite to win tonight’s game with a -135 line. It’s hard to pick against the Senators give how well Anderson has played since returning to the ice, but the Sabres are a confident bunch when playing against them. This could be a nail-biter to the end.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bernie Geoffrion (1931-2006) – There are good hockey players, and then there are great ones. This Hall of Fame right wing is one of the greats. Playing almost his entire 16-year career in Montréal, he won six Stanley Cups to go with his 11 All-Star nominations.
  • Petr Svoboda (1966-) – This defenseman is another player that spent most of his career with the Canadiens. In his second season after being drafted fifth-overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • Sean Hill (1970-) – Habs alumni just keep rolling in. This blueliner was drafted by Montréal in the eighth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Carolina. He was a member of the Habs‘ 1993 Stanley Cup-winning team.
  • Marian Gaborik (1982-) – This right wing was selected third-overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by Minnesota, and that’s still his longest-tenured club. That being said, he’s in his fourth season with the Kings after joining them for their 2014 Cup run.
  • Tom Pyatt (1987-) – The Rangers selected this center in the fourth-round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest-tenured club is Tampa Bay. That being said, he currently plays for Ottawa, so let’s see if he can notch his first birthday point in his third try tonight.
  • Brandon Sutter (1989-) – Although he’s playing his second season in Vancouver, this forward was selected by Carolina 11th-overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He’s scored 220 points over his nine-year career.

A two-goal third period is just what the doctor ordered for the Rangers, as they were able to beat Columbus 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the opening frame, and it belonged to the home Jackets. Third Star of the Game Brandon Dubinsky (Brandon Saad and Seth Jones) is the guilty party, burying his wrister 8:12 after the initial puck drop.

Only 12 seconds into the second period, the score read 1-1 thanks to a shorthanded wrister from Dan Girardi (Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller), and that’s the mark that stayed on the scoreboard the remaining 19:48 of the frame to set up an exciting third period.

Only 4:49 into the third, Hayes broke the tie with an unassisted wrister, but the contest was once again knotted 7:04 later when Nick Foligno (David Savard) potted a wrister of his own. First Star Jimmy Vesey (Derek Stepan and Nick Holden) provided the game-winner, scoring his wrister with 6:32 remaining in regulation.

Second Star Antti Raanta earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), leaving the loss to Sergei Bobrovsky, who saved 20-of-23 (87%).

Thanks to New York‘s victory, only six points separate the roadies from the 62-40-18 homers in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

Colby’s Corner: Buffalo Sabres from #EmbraceTheTank to Playoff Contenders?

In the final edition of Colby’s Corner for the 2014-2015 season- and unofficial first edition of Colby’s Corner for the 2015-2016 season- Colby Kephart takes a look into the future of the Buffalo Sabres based on their offseason moves. Don’t fret, Colby’s Corner will return next season on an even more regular basis!

#EmbraceTheTank –> #2016StanleyCupPlayoffs?

By: Colby Kephart

I have been holding back on writing about the rumor that the Sabres might be playoff-bound next year. I may not have that answer, but I do know that this might be one of the most controlled rebuilds I have ever seen.

Sabres fans were excited going into this year’s draft, knowing that they would almost definitely be drafting Jack Eichel. However, the day turned out even better as Sabres general manager, Tim Murray, the mastermind that he is, pulled off his first trade on draft day- acquiring goaltender, Robin Lehner, and center, David Legwand, from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the 21st overall pick in the draft.

Robin Lehner has a chance to become a number 1 goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015-2016 season. Photo via QMI Agency
Robin Lehner has a chance to become a number 1 goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015-2016 season. Photo via QMI Agency

Robin Lehner is 6’4”, 23 years old and has experience in the NHL, having started in 86 games as the backup for the Senators for nearly 3 seasons. Lehner has a career save percentage of .914. With Lehner only being 23 years old and having a chance as the Sabres’ number 1 goalie, the big Swede has an opportunity to continue to improve, and for Sabres fans’ sake, he will become their new franchise goalie.

Also part of the deal was David Legwand, a veteran center at 34 years old, who according to Tim Murray, was “part of the deal, a take it or leave it situation”. Most people write him off and do not think he will have an impact on the team. As for me, I believe that his impact will be big off the ice.

He has more than a thousand games in the NHL under his belt. With young centers like Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, Eichel, and Johan Larsson, Legwand will be able to give little tips and tricks, as well as show guys like Reinhart and Eichel that they don’t have to be center stage to be successful. Legwand was in Nashville for years racking up points, but still the average fan wouldn’t even know his name.

So at this point, the Sabres have their goalie, and I finally was able to breathe knowing Buffalo’s future. Then the mastermind, Tim Murray, struck again with the man everyone in the league wanted: Mr. Ryan O’Reilly. Murray traded defenseman Nikita Zadorov and forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher, as well as the No. 31 pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn.

O’Reilly, a 24 year old center, is a high-caliber player who might turn out to be the Sabres’ first truly number one center in years, dating back to the days of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. O’Reilly comes with a year remaining on his $6 million AAV contract.

However, Tim Murray didn’t waste much time on locking him up longterm, giving O’Reilly a 7 year, $7.5 million AAV contract extension. Critics believe he was overpaid, as he received a front loaded contract, noting that when the contract kicks in beginning in the 2016-2017 season, O’Reilly will receive 11 million dollars (without a bonus).

Also included in the deal was 3rd/4th liner Jamie McGinn, a power forward with a scoring touch and is only 26 years old. In the 2013-2014 season, McGinn had a great total of 38 points (19 goals and 19 assists). He can provide some offense to 3rd or 4th lines, and could also be played with Marcus Folgino, as they have a similar style of play.

Or he could be put on the 4th line and hold his own with the big guys of the league and become a spark plug for the Sabres’ offense in games where they start off slow.

Finally, free agency opened up with the hopes of Sabres fans centered on finding a defenseman and, more importantly, a defenseman with a left-handed shot. Looking at big names like Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin (both of whom shoot left), the bar was set high and fans might have felt let down when the only moves made on July 1st were the signings of forward Jason Akeson and defenseman Matt Donovan, to one-year deals, while Martin signed a 4-year contract with the San Jose Sharks.

Both players are depth players, but Donovan has a chance to bust into the D pairs. He has some NHL games under his belt, but I, like the rest of all the Buffalo fans, was still waiting for a bigger name to help solidify the defense. The 3rd of July saw the Sabres sign 27-year-old Bobby Sanguinetti to a one year deal, who will more than likely be playing with the Rochester Americans in the AHL.

On our nation’s birthday, the 4th of July, the Sabres announced the signings of forward Cal O’Reilly (older brother of Ryan O’Reilly) to a two year deal. This adds another depth player to the Sabres and similar to Akeson, he will spend time in the AHL.

Buffalo signed another defenseman with a lot of NHL experience, and mileage around the league, Carlo Colaiacovo. Colaiacovo spent last year with the Flyers and played 33 games, amassing 8 points during that period.

The 32-year-old signed a 1-year deal worth $900,000. Colaiacovo is a left-handed shot, and with the experience that he has, will make the team on the Sabres 3rd defensive pair.

I envision Buffalo’s first D-pair will be Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges, followed by Rasmus Ristolainen and Mike Weber, with the 3rd D-pair of Mark Pysyk, if he re-signs, (he’s a current RFA with a qualifying offer having already been tendered by the Sabres) and Colaiacovo. I would imagine other depth defensemen would be Donovan and Jake McCabe, which would be perfect with the injury issues the Sabres usually face during the season.

Obviously, all of this could change since as of July 7th Cody Franson and Johnny Oduya are both still unsigned, left-handed shot, defensemen. If either are signed by the Sabres, they would walk into their defensive plans and into the fans’ open arms. Yet, both want long-term deals, and in this off-season, Murray has only been handing out one-year deals to players.

Other defenseman that could be targets would be Matt Irwin, Tim Gleason, David Schlemko and Ryan Wilson, all left-handed shots ages 27-31 and with cap hits around $1m- $2.2m. All of them also have experience within the NHL and could be a replacement if Pysyk doesn’t sign with the Sabres.

Now to the person that’s been all over Buffalo’s media, 2015 2nd overall pick: Jack Eichel. On July 1st, the Buffalo Sabres signed Eichel, or ‘the future’, as Sabres fans will eventually start calling him, solidifying himself onto the team. My expectation would be that Eichel slides into the second line center with a chance to play on the first line if he shines and has chemistry with Evander Kane or Tyler Ennis.

Jack Eichel is ready for a big debut season as the 2nd overall pick in this year's draft behind Junior superstar, Connor McDavid. (Getty Images)
Jack Eichel is ready for a big debut season as the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft behind Junior superstar, Connor McDavid. (Getty Images)

Speaking of 2nd overall picks, Sam Reinhart (taken 2nd overall in 2014), after having an amazing World Junior Championship tournament- leading the tournament in points- has a legitimate chance at making this year’s roster, according to some. But I am not one of those people.

I believe he will get all of the preseason to prove something, and depending on how he performs in the AHL with the Amerks, he will have a chance about midway through the season to make a run at truly breaking into the lineup.

Obviously, he will be one of the first choices to be called up should the team run into injury problems, like last season.

As for all the talk about the playoffs, here are my thoughts: I feel like the Sabres are one Top-4 defenseman away- and if everyone plays as expected, the Sabres will be looking at a wildcard spot or will be just out of the playoffs. The major issue is that nobody knows exactly how well Eichel will perform alongside Evander Kane; let alone how Kane will play in a new location. Everyone should be happy if Eichel puts up 15 goals and 20 or more assists in his first season. Another player to watch will be Girgensons. If he puts up a 20-goal season, then the Sabres will be set and fans should be eyeing a playoff run and a bright future.

As for the thinking surrounding a deep playoff run, I don’t think so. They will be matched up against a high seed, and fans should hope for a deep series to stand a chance. I understand this is a lot to think about, seeing how development camps just began. But this is for the Sabres fans who are unsure about next season and the other fans who will be caught off-guard by the Sabres next season.

I will end my prediction for next season with this; I believe the Sabres will be in an end-of-the-season battle for points, and we will either miss the playoffs by 2 or 3 points, or will steal a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.