Tag Archives: Ristolainen

2018 Offseason Preview: Buffalo Sabres

With the most coveted trophy in sports being handed out Thursday night in Sin City, the 2017-18 season came to a bittersweet end. However, before the Washington Capitals had even finished taking their victory laps around T-Mobile Arena, Down the Frozen River was already taking a look ahead at all the exciting possibilities this summer.

Welcome to the 2018 NHL offseason.

Stay tuned to DtFR for the next 10 days, as we’ll be breaking down each and every team’s needs, wants, holes and excesses and how they might address them before training camps commence in September.

We’ll be tackling this series in the same order as the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, so that means the Buffalo Sabres are first up!

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Forgive me for making too many assumptions, but I think this might be the most clear-cut decision of the offseason for any of the 31 clubs in the NHL. The first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 22, and it might as well start with D Rasmus Dahlin standing next to Commissioner Gary Bettman already wearing blue and gold.

Whether or not the 18-year-old Swede will be able to play the high-level defense demanded of this league right out of the gate is irrelevant, as Dahlin is clearly the most talented option available in this year’s crop of prospects.

Assuming they select him like everyone believes they will, the Sabres are hoping Dahlin develops into the two-way defenseman of any coach’s dreams: one cut from the same mold as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, but potentially even better.

If the 2017-18 season in his domestic league is any indicator, Dahlin will only continue to impress. His 19:02 time on ice per game was third on his team (Frölunda HC in the SHL) behind two players at least nine years his senior, and his .49 points per game was 13th-best in the league among all defensemen that played at least 35 games (another group in which every other player was at least four years older than him).

Of course, what truly sets Dahlin apart is his scoring touch. In only 41 games played this season, the young blueliner buried seven goals for .17 goals per game. Among defensemen that played at least eight games, that was second-best in the SHL.

Seven goals may not sound like a lot, but the number grows much more impressive when we acknowledge that he managed one more marker than the Sabres’ current No. 1 defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, who had the benefit of 32 more games played this season.

In other words, Dahlin should slot in nicely as a bottom-four defenseman for Buffalo in his debut season.

Pending free agents

With a touch over $19 million in projected cap space, the Sabres – who finished the season with a league-worst 25-45-12 record – have only nine NHL contracts that expired when the campaign came to a close, split as evenly as possible among the three positions and between the restricted and unrestricted varieties.

F Jordan Nolan and LW Benoit Pouliot are Buffalo’s only forwards that could become UFAs come July 1, and it has rights to F Sam Reinhart and F Scott Wilson due to them being RFAs since they are under 27-years-old.

Of those, 22-year-old Reinhart is clearly the most valuable, as his (t)team-leading 25 goals and .61 points per game from the 2017-18 season easily dwarf the efforts of Wilson (six goals, .29 point per game), Pouliot (13 goals, .26 points per game) and Nolan (four goals, .12 points per game).

It would certainly not be unexpected for General Manager Jason Botterill and Reinhart to hammer out a four-year deal that saw the forward receive an increase in pay from the $3.5 million per year he’s been receiving from his entry-level contract, as a signing of that length would allow the player to test free agency at its completion. I’d estimate a pay increase to at least $4 million per year, likely more.

There is always the possibility that Buffalo could trade the natural center, who spent a lot of the season on the wing due to the Sabres’ plethora of talent at that position, but I’m led to believe the rumors that F Ryan O’Reilly could be on the move sooner than Reinhart, who has yet post a season worse than the one before it. That would free up $7.5 million and a center position for Reinhart, which would allow W Alexander Nylander to compete for a full-time roster spot of his own.

Defensively, D Victor Antipin is Buffalo’s only RFA, while both D Justin Falk and D Josh Gorges are slated to test free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Falk in new colors come September, but the Sabres would be silly not to keep Antipin – who averaged .21 points per game in 47 showings this season, the fourth-best of any Buffalo defenseman with at least 38 appearances – in the organization.

Oh, he said he’s going to head back to the KHL next season? Dang… Well, the league’s (t)ninth-worst defense in terms of shots against just took another step back. All eyes are truly on you Dahlin, though D Brendan Guhle – Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft – will likely have intentions of earning a full-time role with the Sabres instead of the Rochester Americans.

Where things are undoubtedly going to look different in the 2018-19 season for Buffalo is its goaltending depth chart, as G Jonas Johansson and G Linus Ullmark are the only two netminders with contracts in the Sabres’ system. Botterill has indicated that Ullmark will be one of Buffalo’s two goalies, which doesn’t look good for 31-year-old UFA G Chad Johnson‘s chances of returning to Upstate New York.

Sporting a .908 save percentage in 50 starts this season, RFA G Robin Lehner is also unlikely to get much attention from the Sabres this offseason. Since he made $4 million this season, Buffalo would have to offer him another one-year contract at the same price unless it took him to arbitration, which would only bring the deal down to $3.4 million. Instead of the club going through all that, I think Botterill will try to attract the services of a free agent from outside the organization or package Lehner’s rights in a deal for a more established netminder.

If free agency is the route the Sabres elect to take, one of the most attractive free agent goaltenders this summer is going to be G Carter Hutton. Though he is 32-years-old, it’s hard to knock Hutton’s .931 save percentage and 17-7-3 record in a season that saw him take home only $1 million. Hutton will likely earn himself a pay raise on what should be his last major contract, but he will likely still fall within Botterill’s budget.

March 21 – Day 161 – Fallin’ for Dahlin

It’s a Wednesday, so the NHL doesn’t have too many games on today’s schedule.

Like most nights, this evening’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Arizona at Buffalo and Montréal at Pittsburgh [RDS/SN]), followed an hour later by Boston at St. Louis (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Anaheim at Calgary (SN360) closes the night out with their fixture at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Throughout the season, I’ve jotted down some notes about a couple of tonight’s games.

  • Montréal at Pittsburgh: It’s rare that a player can be so remembered in only three games with a club, but every Pens fan can tell you about G Antti Niemi‘s short three-game tenure with the squad to start the season.
  • Anaheim at Calgary: Playoff rematches from a year ago aren’t so important at this point in the season, but this is the Flames’ last chance to exact any revenge against the Ducks this campaign.

Now, there’s certainly important games in terms of playoff implications being played tonight (looking at you St. Louis and, to a lesser extent, Calgary). However, for the last few days, my eyes have been drawn to the bottom of the league standings to what should be a better game between the Coyotes and Sabres than meets the eye, even if both clubs have a good chance at snagging the first-overall draft pick.

 

While the 24-37-11 Coyotes are still a ways off of challenging Vegas for the top of the Pacific Division, they have not been playing as poorly as their position as second-to-last in the Western Conference would indicate. In fact, Arizona has posted a 6-3-1 record in its 10 games this March.

The biggest reason for the Yotes’ most recent success goes by the name 16-16-6 G Antti Raanta. Even in the face of a defense that has allowed 31.3 shots against per game this calendar month (the 14th-fewest in the league in that time), Raanta has posted an impressive .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. This solid run has improved his season marks to a .925 save percentage and 2.41 GAA.

Even with the Coyotes traveling to Raleigh after tonight’s game for a tilt against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it appears Raanta will man the pipes tonight as Joe Yerdon reported he was in the starter’s crease at this morning’s skate.

Similar to Arizona, 23-37-12 Buffalo also hasn’t been as bad as last in the league would indicate lately. Not only have the Sabres posted a 3-4-1 record since March 2, but they’ve done it in light of facing a tough schedule (at Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Calgary, vs. Vegas, vs. Toronto and vs. Nashville) that even the best of teams would struggle with.

That being said, the biggest reason Buffalo still has a losing record over this eight-game run has to be its struggling defense. Even with F Ryan O’Reilly (10 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Rasmus Ristolainen (three hits per game and 1.8 blocks per game since March 2) pouring their hearts out on the defensive end, the Sabres are still allowing 36.75 shots against per game since March 2, the third-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

As would be expected when faced with that kind of assault, the Sabres’ goaltenders have struggled to keep up. In his last three starts, 8-11-3 G Chad Johnson – tonight’s starter – has managed only a .9 save percentage and 4.11 GAA. While that save percentage is slightly better than the .897 he’s managed for the entire season, the sheer quantity of shots faced means his recent GAA is well over his 3.27 season mark.

It’s at this point where we turn this preview on its head. I’m almost always of the opinion that players have little to no interest in tanking or improving draft odds, hence my struggle with the idea of tanking. Unless they’ve given up on their teammates, players and coaches are always going to put 100 percent effort into their play.

However, I’m very certain General Managers Jason Botterill and John Chayka are keeping a close eye on this game and hoping that things go their clubs’ way… by things not going their clubs’ way. With that in mind, let’s discuss how much winning this game can do to impair either team’s chance at drafting first overall.

As things currently stand, the Sabres are 31st in the league and have the best shot at the first overall pick (in other words, they have an 18 percent chance of drafting Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov or Brady Tkachuk whomever they think is the best fit for their organization). However, it’s still a tight race at the bottom of the NHL, as the last three teams are separated by only one point. Should Buffalo win this game, it will vault Arizona and Vancouver into 29th in the league. Third-to-last has a 10.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.

Speaking of 29th-place, that is exactly where the Coyotes currently reside since they’re winning (or losing, depending on how you look at it) a games-played tiebreaker with Vancouver. Should Arizona win tonight’s tilt, it will pull within two points of 28th-place Ottawa, the team that has a 9.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.

The last time these teams squared off was November 2 at Gila River Arena, and it was an incredibly entertaining affair. Even though First Star LW Benoit Pouliot had scored two goals and tacked on another assist to give Buffalo a comfortable 5-1 lead, the Sabres allowed Arizona to score three third period goals. Buffalo was saved by the final horn and escaped the Grand Canyon State with a 5-4 victory.

Based simply on defense, it looks like the Coyotes have the upper hand in this game. Mix in the fact that their offense has averaged 2.6 goals per game in March to Buffalo’s 2.25, and it becomes a no-brainer.


In desperate need of two points, the Dallas Stars still sit on the outside of the playoff picture after losing yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day against the Washington Capitals 4-3 at Capital One Arena.

The game started exactly how the Stars would have liked, as they entered the first intermission with a 1-0 advantage. With 3:56 remaining in the first frame, F Tyler Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star of the Game D John Klingberg) took advantage of C Nicklas Backstrom getting thrown into the penalty box for tripping Klingberg to score a power play snap shot.

However, it didn’t take long after the start of the second period for the Capitals to take a lead of their own. F T.J. Oshie (C Lars Eller and Second Star W Alex Ovechkin) got Washington on the scoreboard at the 4:07 mark of the frame with a wrist shot, and D Matt Niskanen followed him with an unassisted wrister only 1:25 later to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

Scoring subsided until 8:12 remained in the period when Radulov (Klingberg and LW Jamie Benn) leveled the game with a snapper, but Ovechkin (First Star D John Carlson and Oshie) regained a one-goal advantage for the Caps on a power play slap shot only 1:53 later. Benn completed the period’s scoring with a wrister, tying the score at 3-3 1:45 before the second intermission.

As would be expected from a a tie entering the final 20 minutes of regulation, there was tons of action at both ends of the ice. In total, 21 shots on goal were registered between the two teams in the third frame – split as evenly as possible. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Capitals take credit for the remaining shot on goal, and it proved to be the game-winner.

With 4:59 remaining in regulation and the teams playing under four-on-four conditions (C Radek Faksa and D Brooks Orpik were in the penalty box for respective slashing and roughing infractions against one another), Ovechkin collected a centering pass to nobody by Eller in the left corner. After advancing towards the trapezoid, the captain returned the puck to Eller waiting in the opposite corner, who saw Carlson wide open above the right face-off circle and delivered him a perfect setup pass. The defenseman one-timed a nasty clapper over G Kari Lehtonen‘s glove shoulder to set the 4-3 final score.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

Home teams are trying to reclaim their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, the 89-52-20 hosts now have a 35-point advantage over the roadies.

January 1 – Day 86 – Selections are slim, Vol. IV

First and foremost, allow me to speak for all of us at Down the Frozen River and wish each and every one of our faithful readers a Happy New Year! May you and your favorite club find great success in 2018!

Of course, it’s become tradition for the NHL to play its biggest outdoor game of the season, the Winter Classic, on this date, and today is no exception. In addition, the importance of today’s 1 p.m. Eastern festivities at Citi Field – home of the New York Mets – between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres (NBC/SN/TVAS) is only increased by it being the lone NHL game on the schedule, making it our de facto DtFR Game of the Day.

 

You’ll notice the Rangers are listed as the road team in today’s Winter Classic even though it is the Sabres that traveled almost 400 miles to get to Queens. It’s a load of crock, but apparently a clause in the Blueshirts’ contract with Madison Square Garden stipulates that they aren’t allowed to host any games outside The World’s Most Famous Arena. Hence our situation today.

For those wondering, this is the only time the Rangers will “travel” to take on Buffalo this campaign, as the Sabres still have yet to make two visits to Manhattan in the three-game season series. If any of this strikes you as unfair or league favoritism for a particular team or general market, welcome to the National Hockey League.

Anyways, now that I’m mostly off my soapbox, the 20-13-5 Rangers certainly enter this afternoon’s contest the hotter of the two teams. They’ve earned points in six of their last seven games, including victories over current playoff-bound clubs like Anaheim, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington.

Just as it’s been all season, it’s been 17-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist that has been the backbone of this team of late. Over its past seven games, New York’s defense has allowed a whopping 260 shots on goal (fourth-most since December 15), but Lundqvist has yielded only 13 goals for an incredible .943 save percentage that is fourth-best among goaltenders with at least four starts since the middle of the month.

Of course, it’s no surprise the netminder that has the (t)ninth-most victories and shutouts (two) on the season is performing well. This recent burst of success has only improved his season numbers to a .922 save percentage and 2.58 GAA that are the (t)seventh and (t)12th-best efforts, respectively, among the 31 netminders with at least 16 starts.

Meanwhile, life was supposed to be a lot better for the 10-20-8 Sabres this season, but they are the worst team in the Eastern Conference and only five points better than the miserable Coyotes, the worst team in the NHL. What’s worse is that what was easily the club’s best strength only a year ago – Buffalo’s offense – has been absolutely dreadful this season, averaging a league-worst 2.21 goals per game.

Considering the entire team’s inability to score, it’s hard to hold too much against C Jack Eichel (15-20-35 totals) and LW Evander Kane (15-19-34). They’re the only Sabres to be managing more than 24 points, as well as the only goalscorers with more than nine tallies to their credits.

Unfortunately, two players can’t save an entire team. D Rasmus Ristolainen (1-10-11 totals) in particular has not transitioned well into new head coach Phil Housley‘s – himself a Hall of Fame defenseman – system that requires active participation in the offensive zone by all five skaters. A year after posting solid 6-39-45 totals (a career-high in assists), he’s on pace for only a 2-25-27 effort that would be his worst since his 8-12-20 sophomore campaign in 2014-’15.

Of course, it is the Sabres that enter today’s game having won their most recent game in overtime 4-3 against a very strong Devils team. Perhaps that confidence could carry into this afternoon’s contest, but I personally doubt it. I’ll take the Rangers as a three-goal favorite in the 10th Winter Classic.


The Dallas Stars showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the San Jose Sharks 6-0 at the American Airlines Center.

Dallas scored two goals in each period to absolutely dominate this game. First Star of the Game D John Klingberg (F Mattias Janmark and RW Alexander Radulov) scored the first at the 6:19 mark with a snap shot, followed 8:48 later by Third Star F Tyler Pitlick‘s (Second Star C Radek Faksa) wrist shot to set the score at 2-0.

The second period’s goalscorers included D Stephen Johns (Janmark and Faksa) at the 4:25 mark and F Tyler Seguin (Klingberg and LW Jamie Benn) with a power play wrister 5:08 later.

The final pair of goalscorers included F Devin Shore (Benn and D Dan Hamhuis) with 8:55 remaining in the third period and Pitlick (Faksa and LW Antoine Roussel) 50 seconds later to close the book on the evening.

G Ben Bishop earned his fourth shutout of the season by saving all 26 shots he faced, leaving G Martin Jones with the loss after he saved only 18-of-22 (.818 save percentage). Jones was lifted in favor of G Aaron Dell for the third period, and the backup saved eight-of-10 (.8) for no decision.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are firing on all cylinders of late, as the Stars’ victory was the hosts’ third straight and a fourth-straight game earning points. The home clubs now have a 49-27-10 record in the series that is 24 points superior to the roadies’.

Buffalo Sabres 2017-2018 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key Additions: Viktor Antipin, Nathan BeaulieuSeth GriffithChad JohnsonJacob JosefsonJason PominvilleBenoit PouliotMarco Scandella, Phil Housley (Coach), Jason Botterill (GM)

Key Subtractions: Tyler Ennis (Traded to Minnesota), Marcus Foligno (Traded to Minnesota), Dmitry Kulikov (Signed with Winnipeg), Dan Bylsma (Fired), Tim Murray (Fired)

Unsigned: Cody Franson

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.

The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.

Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.

All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.

That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.

Offseason Grade: B+

Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.

March 17 – Day 149 – Killing two birds with one stone, even though there’s only one bird team here

In preparation for Saturday’s action there’s not too many games happening tonight – four, to be exact. Half of those contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Florida at the New York Rangers [NHLN/TVAS] and New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN360]), followed two hours later by Dallas at Calgary. Finally, Buffalo visits Anaheim at 10 p.m. to complete the night’s festivities. All times eastern.

Unfortunately, the action this evening, in addition to not being high-volume, is not expected to be exceptionally noteworthy. Since it’s been a while since we’ve featured either Anaheim or Buffalo, let’s kill two birds with one stone and catch their matchup at the Honda Center.

 

This season has not treated the 28-31-12 Sabres how they would’ve liked. Many fans came into the campaign dreaming of making the playoffs, but with the club currently sitting in 14th-place in the Eastern Conference, it seems those dreams will be dashed for the sixth year in a row.

Much of the reason for that is an offense that has managed only 177 goals in 71 games, which ties for the seventh-worst rate in the league. Of course, much of that is due to Jack Eichel‘s lower body injury suffered in a practice only a day before Buffalo‘s season got underway. Even though he’s missed 22 games this year, he still leads the team in points with 48, but Buffalonians can only dream of what he could have done playing a full 82-game season.

Another players who’s missed considerable time but has still produced is Evander Kane. He’s had to sit out a dozen contests, but his 25 goals still top the squad.

Believe it or not, the season’s injury list actually continues. In total, the top four forwards (Eichel, Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and the currently injured Kyle Okposo) have all missed a combined 41 games. With Kane and O’Reilly both playing on the top line, it’s proven difficult for the Sabres to maintain consistency and build chemistry.

But when Buffalo fights through the injuries and manages to put a quality roster on the ice, it’s more than proven what it’s capable of. That’s no more apparent than when the Sabres take to the power play, as their 23.4% success rate is second-best in the league. Rasmus Ristolainen, coincidentally one of the big-names on the Sabres‘ roster that hasn’t missed a game yet this year, has been at the head of that attack with his 24 man-advantage points.

Ristolainen has made a hobby of setting up linemates, as most of those are assists. Instead, it’s Matt Moulson who has scored the most power play goals on the team, with 10 to his credit.

Unfortunately, special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away. As great as the Sabres have been on the power play, they’ve been equally terrible on the penalty kill. Buffalo defends only 76.4% of its penalties, the second-worst rate in the league even though Josh Gorges has done all he can with his 34 shorthanded shot blocks (11th-most in the NHL).

Even with that effort, 19-22-8 Robin Lehner has still faced 255 shots against when his club is shorthanded, the third-most in the league. He saves a more-than-respectable .886 of those, but has not been rewarded with improved defensive play in front of him. Until Buffalo can improve on that defensive effort, it will not be a true Cup-contender. We will have to wait and see what Tim Murray has planned for the offseason.

Hosting the Sabres this evening are the 37-23-10 Ducks, winners of their past two games that currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division. Defense is the name of the game in Anaheim, as the Ducks have allowed only 173 goals against this season, which ties for the sixth-lowest total in the league.

At the core of that defense is 23-16-8 John Gibson, Anaheim‘s first-year starter. He’s done admirably in his new position, but recently suffered a lower body injury. In his stead, the Ducks are expected to start 14-7-2 Jonathan Bernier, whose .913 season save percentage and 2.62 GAA rank 29th-best in the league among the 60 netminders with at least a dozen appearances.

Randy Carlyle and Bob Murray prescribe to a decent philosophy: an under-worked good goalie becomes a great goaltender. That’s where Cam Fowler‘s group comes into play. Thanks in part to Fowler’s team-leading 118 shot blocks, the Ducks allow only 29.6 shots to reach Gibson’s (now Bernier’s) crease per game, the ninth-lowest average in the league.

The solid defensive effort continues when Anaheim is forced to defend a penalty. 85.1% of the time the Ducks are forced into a shorthanded situation, they do not yield a goal, which ties for the third-best rate in the NHL. Just like he is at even-strength, Fowler is very responsible for the Ducks‘ penalty kill success as he has a team-leading 24 shorthanded blocks.

With only 24 days remaining on the NHL calendar for the regular season, it’s not a surprise that this is the last time the Ducks and Sabres will meet this year. The Ducks visited Buffalo on February 9 and exploded for a 5-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (44 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Buffalo‘s Ristolainen (38 assists and 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

A -210 line is never a good sign for the road team, and it’s definitely discouraging me from picking against the Ducks. Not only are they on The Pond, where they’ve won all but 11 of their contests, but they also have a defense that can cover for an injured goaltender (Exhibits A and B: the last two games). Anaheim should have another two points after tonight’s game is complete.

Hockey Birthday

  • Craig Ramsay (1951-) – This longtime Sabres left wing saved his best for the last season of his career. Selected by Buffalo 19th-overall in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft, he retired immediately after winning the 1985 Frank J. Selke Trophy.
  • Andrew Ference (1979-) – Pittsburgh may have selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with Boston. He was a member of the Bruins‘ 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team, and also earned the 2014 King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
  • Ryan Parent (1987-) – It simply never panned out for this defenseman, the 18th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Nashville. He played 106 career games in the league – 102 with Philadelphia – and only had three points to show for it.
  • Bobby Ryan (1987-) – Anaheim selected this left wing second-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent the first six years of his career. Since 2013, he’s called Ottawa home, where he’s registered 182 points.
  • Ryan White (1988-) – This center was selected 66th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, and that’s where he’s spent a majority of his eight-year career. That being said, he currently plays for the Wild after being traded from the Coyotes at this season’s deadline.

If I had to guess, the best way to break the resolve of a team is by by scoring four unanswered goals in a period. The Maple Leafs did just that to best Tampa Bay with a five-goal shutout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Since Third Star of the Game Roman Polak (Tyler Bozak) was the first Leaf to score a goal – a slap shot 9:19 into the game – he gets to take credit for the game-winning tally. It’s a special statistic for a defenseman, as this is only the sixth of his 11-year career, and his first of the season.

Where Toronto truly won the game was in the second period. In the span of 13:17, Second Star Morgan Rielly (Nazem Kadri and Alexey Marchenko), Matt Martin (Matt Hunwick and Nikita Soshnikov), Connor Brown (Leo Komarov and William Nylander) and James van Riemsdyk (Rielly and Mitch Marner) all scored to set the score at the 5-0 final.

Frederik Andersen earned his First Star award in the final 40 minutes of the game. The Lightning fired a total of 26 shots in the second and third frames, but Andersen did not let a single one by to earn his fourth shutout of the season.

In all, Andersen saved all 33 shots he faced for the victory, while Andrei Vasilevskiy takes the loss after saving 11-of-15 (73.3%) shots faced. He was replaced following Brown’s power play goal (the score read 4-0 then) by Peter Budaj, who saved five-of-six (83.3%) for no decision.

For two days in a row now, the 76-53-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have scored five goals en route to a victory. Those offensive explosions has given the visitors in the series a three-point advantage on the 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.

February 11 – Day 115 – Youth explosion on the QEW

You know what one of the best things about the weekend is? All the hockey. No day is that more apparent than Saturdays, when almost the entire league is in action.

That remains true today, as we have 13 games taking place, starting with a trio (the New York Islanders at Ottawa [RDS], Vancouver at Boston [SN] and San Jose at Philadelphia [NHLN]) of 1 p.m. matinees, followed an hour later by two more (Carolina at Dallas and Florida at Nashville) and Detroit at Columbus at 5 p.m.  The usual 7 p.m. starting time marks the puck drop of four contests (Tampa Bay at Winnipeg [SN], Buffalo at Toronto [CBC], St. Louis at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/TVAS] and Colorado at the New York Rangers), with Anaheim at Washington getting underway half an hour later. Pittsburgh at Arizona gets green-lit at 8 p.m., followed by Chicago at Edmonton (CBC/SN) – this evening’s nightcap – at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Vancouver at Boston: Welcome bask to Boston Loui Eriksson!
  • Buffalo at Toronto: The third installment of the Battle of the QEW rages on tonight!

And that list doesn’t even include the five fantastic games between teams currently in the playoff hunt.

As good as Eriksson might have been in Boston, it’s been awhile since we’ve featured Buffalo in the DtFR Game of the Day series, so we’re off to Toronto!
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When two teams are separated by only 100 miles, there’s a strong chance of a rivalry. Mix in a handful of the shining young forwards in the league, and it’s almost a certainty.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always yield success. Just ask the visiting 22-22-10 Sabres who currently sit in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference. Even with Jack Eichel at it’s disposal, Buffalo has still managed only 132 goals this season, the seventh-fewest in the league.

Eichel has certainly been fantastic in his sophomore season, improving on his .69 points-per-game in his rookie campaign by a tenth of a point. Unfortunately, his high ankle sprain suffered at practice a day before the Sabres began this season effectively spoiled the rhythm from a solid 13-goal, 4-2-1 preseason. He missed two months with the injury, which is why most of the offensive numbers belong to newcomer Kyle Okposo. The right wing has 35 points so far this season, including 16 goals – both team-highs.

For those that want to breakdown the Sabres‘ offense further to find the biggest problems, I have two words of advice:

  1. Consult @kephartc.
  2. Don’t look at the power play.

Even if the overall offense has struggled, the power play has been, as the kids say, straight fire. Buffalo converts 23.3% of opponents’ penalties into goals, the second-best rate in the league. Both Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen can share equal responsibility for that dominating performance, as they both have 18 power play points, but it’s been Matt Moulson (usually a fourth-liner, but on the second power play line) with the most goals on the man-advantage, with nine on his season résumé.

Unfortunately, prosperity on one special team does not translate to the other. Stopping only 73.8% of opposing power plays, the Sabres‘ penalty kill ties for dead last in the NHL. Even though Josh Gorges ties for 25th in the league with 23 shorthanded shot blocks, both his goaltenders, Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson, are not very good against the power play. They both have only a .867 save percentage in that situation, tying for 27th in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 25-17-11 Maple Leafs, the third-best team in the Atlantic Division thanks in large part to their intimidating offense. Toronto has buried 163 goals so far this season, tied for the sixth-most in the league.

It seems like every time the Leafs are featured, someone else has the points and goals lead. And it’s always a rookie.

Tonight’s star rookie is Mitch Marner, who has an impressive 46 points to his credit, two more than second-place Auston Matthews – another rookie. That being said, there’s one thing Matthews has that Marner doesn’t: a knack for scoring. The center has buried 25 goals this season, the most among NHL rookies and tied for eighth-most in the league overall.

Just like Buffalo, the Leafs play a beyond-impressive power play. Led by William Nylander‘s (yup, another rookie) 16 power play points, Toronto has converted 23.1% of opposing penalties into goals, the third-best rate in the league. Even though he’s not a first-year player, scoring most of those tallies has been Nazem Kadri, as he has a solid 10 to his credit.

The Sabres‘ power play will be put to the test this evening, as the Leafs are one of the best teams in the two minutes following a penalty. Led by Roman Polak‘s 28 shorthanded blocks, Toronto stops 83.7% of opposing power plays – the eighth-best rate in the league.

Twice these rivals have met this season, and twice have the Maple Leafs emerged victorious. The last time they met was January 17 in Toronto, where they played to a 4-3 result in front of 19,122 fans.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.923 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league) and Matthews (25 goals [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

It’s never a good sign for the visitors when Vegas puts a negative number next to the host’s name. That’s the situation this evening, as the Maple Leafs are marked with a -158. Given the Sabres‘ abysmal penalty kill, I don’t see this one going any other way. The Leafs should win.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Eddie Shack (1937-) – This left wing played 17 seasons in the NHL, most of which in Toronto which is only 400 kilometers from his hometown of Sudbury. He was a member of four Stanley Cup-winning Leafs teams, including their most recent in 1967.
  • Jaroslav Spacek (1974-) – Florida selected this defenseman in the fifth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, but he played most of his games in a Sabres sweater. A 13-year NHL veteran, his best season was in 2005-’06 when he notched a combined 43 points and a +11 between Chicago and Edmonton.
  • Maxime Talbot (1984-) – Selected in the eighth-round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, this center spent 11 seasons in the league. His crowning achievement was being a member of the Penguins‘ 2009 Stanley Cup-winning team.
  • Mike Richards (1985-) – This center was drafted 24th-overall by Philadelphia in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he won both of his Stanley Cups as a member of the Kings.

Thanks to a three-goal third period, the Blackhawks were able to knock off the Jets 5-2 in Winnipeg in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Who else to score the lone goal of the first period than First Star of the Game Patrick Kane (Third Star Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov)? He buried his snap shot with 4:23 remaining in the opening frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

Only 1:43 after returning to the ice from intermission, Bryan Little (Toby Enstrom and Patrik Laine) pulled the Jets back even with a wrister, but Anisimov (Panarin and Kane) made sure that Chicago entered the second intermission with a lead, scoring a wrister of his own with 7:44 remaining in the frame.

Duncan Keith (Nick Schmaltz) takes credit for the game-winning tally with 2:59 remaining in regulation, but the real stick to break the camel’s back was Marian Hossa‘s (Niklas Hjalmarsson) shorthanded empty netter 68 seconds later. Adam Lowry (Joel Armia and Jacob Trouba) took advantage of the man-advantage with 71 seconds remaining in regulation to pull Winnipeg back within two goals, but Panarin (Keith) set the final 5-3 score with a wrister on an empty net.

Corey Crawford earns the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Second Star Connor Hellebuyck, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The last two road teams to win a game in the DtFR Game of the Day? Chicago and Chicago. Last night’s win pulls the visitors in the series within eight points of the 61-38-18 hosts.

December 23 – Day 72 – Kyle Okposo-ing the Isles

It’s here you guys. The last day of hockey until Tuesday. Get your tears out now.

I know, the world couldn’t get any worse. We just need to enjoy tonight while it lasts.

Fortunately, there’s a dozen games for us to choose from for our last night of hockey for the next 6810 minutes. The action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Minnesota at the New York Rangers, New Jersey at Pittsburgh [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Washington [SN1] and Montréal at Columbus [RDS]), followed half an hour later by another pair of games (Detroit at Florida and Boston at Carolina). 8:30 p.m. brings with it the puck drop of two more games (Colorado at Chicago and Los Angeles at Dallas), with another duo of matches waiting until the top of the hour (Vancouver at Calgary and Toronto at Arizona). Finally, Edmonton at San Jose, acting as this evening’s nightcap, gets green lit at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at New York: Kyle Okposo played nine seasons wearing blue and orange, but he traded the orange for gold this offseason.
  • Boston at Carolina: Both John-Michael Liles and Riley Nash used to call PNC Arena home, combining for almost 400 games for the Hurricanes.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: No notable returns here. Just a good, old-fashioned rivalry.

Since Okposo has had such an impact on both his clubs, we’ll take in his warm reception this evening at the Barclays Center.

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Okposo’s time with New York began in as the seventh-overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and by 2008 he was consistently earning regular playing time.

Although he notched 52 points in his 2009-’10 campaign, Okposo’s career really took off in 2013-’14. He buried 27 goals that year en route to a 69 point season – both career-highs (the 42 assists he notched that season, also a career high, was tied last season) – for the best point-mark on the club.

His next season was derailed by a detached retina (yes, like the retina in your eyeball) and its associated surgery. In 2015-’16, he got right back on track, equaling that 42 assist-mark from 2013-14 and scoring the puck on his own 22 times, the third-most on the squad.

This offseason, Okposo took advantage of his recent success to test the free agency market, and ended up in Buffalo on a seven-year, $42 million contract. He’s had an immediate impact, as his nine tallies are tops on the team.

Although he was one of many to leave the Islanders in a tough spot, New Yorkers should provide a warm welcome to their old friend.

Okposo’s new club enters tonight’s game with a 12-12-8 record, good enough for only seventh-place in the Atlantic Division. Although the defense and goaltending has been phenomenal, the offense has not done enough to earn the Sabres more victories.

That offense has managed only 69 goals so far this season, the second-fewest in the NHL. Although defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen leading the team with 23 points is not entirely a bad thing, it must be alarming for general manager Tim Murray given that 60.16% of his salary cap is being spent on forwards. As stated before, Okposo has lit the lamp the most on the team, scoring nine times.

Although the offense as a whole has struggled, the power play has certainly not. Scoring 22.8% of the time, the Sabres are the fourth-best team in the league with the man-advantage. Ristolainen has taken the lead in this department as well with 13 power play points to his credit, but it has been Matt Moulson who has finished many of those plays, scoring seven times.

Just as good as Buffalo is at scoring with the extra man, they are equally as unimpressive when defending against it. The Sabres have stopped only 74.7% of opposing power plays, the second-worst rate in the league. Although Josh Gorges (16) and Ristolainen (14) both have decent amounts of shorthanded blocks to their credit, they are the only two skaters with more than eight. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but the penalty kill needs to be more of a priority for the Sabres if they want to take the next step towards returning to the playoffs.

Playing host this evening are the 12-14-6 Islanders, the worst team in the Eastern Conference. It is my opinion that the reason they haven’t found success yet is due to their struggles on the defensive end, as their 99 goals allowed ends up being the third-highest scoring-against average (3.09) in the NHL.

Three goalies have taken their try at New York‘s crease this season, but most of the time it is 5-8-5 Jaroslav Halak. Through 19 appearances, he’s earned a .907 save percentage and 3.13 GAA, the (t)31st and 43rd-best effort among the 49 goalies with nine or more appearances this season.

While this is no doubt one of Halak’s worst performances of his career, he can’t shoulder all the blame. His defense is not doing him any favors by allowing 33.3 shots-per-game to reach his crease per night, the second-highest average in the NHL. While Calvin de Haan has certainly been impressive with his team-leading 95 shot blocks, he is the only skater with more than 70 to his credit.  Just like I said for Buffalo, this is an aspect of New York‘s game that needs to change immediately if they want any hope of saving their quickly disappearing season.

As would be expected, those struggles have sneaked into the penalty kill, where the Islanders rank sixth-worst after neutralizing only 78.7% of opposing power plays. Once again, de Haan has been very productive with his 19 shorthanded blocks, but the rest of the club needs to step up to take pressure off Halak.

Unfortunately, the bad news continues on the power play, where New York‘s 13.5% success rate is the third-worst mark in the league. Both Nick Leddy and John Tavares have six man-advantage points to their credit, and the power play goal scoring title is currently shared between Anders Lee and Tavares, both with three tallies on their resume.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Buffalo‘s Anders Nilsson (.933 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league]), should he play, and New York‘s Dennis Seidenberg (+11 [leads the team]).

Vegas has marked the Islanders a -133 favorite to win tonight’s game, but I’m not so certain the spread should be even that large. I’ll side with the Isles simply because they’re playing at home and the Sabres played last night in Buffalo while tonight’s hosts were resting.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vadim Sharifijanov (1975-) – Last Saturday, we talked about draft picks that don’t pan out. Let’s revisit that real quick. This right wing was the 25th-overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, but he ended up playing only 92 games in the league.
  • Scott Gomez (1979) – Another Devils draft pick, this center was selected 27th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Although he spent most of his 16 seasons in Jersey, Gomez played with seven different clubs en route to two All Star selections, two Stanley Cups and the 2000 Calder Trophy.
  • T.J. Oshie (1986-) – The 24th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by St. Louis, he played seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to Washington before last season. Of course, he’s most known for his six shootout attempts at the 2014 Winter Olympics to give Team USA a 3-2 victory over Russia.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a blowout like yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Columbus whipped the Penguins 7-1 at Nationwide Arena.

It looked like Pittsburgh was off to a good start, as Sidney Crosby (Ian Cole and Conor Sheary) buried a snap shot only 2:39 into the contest, but that lead lasted only 10:22 before Cam Atkinson (Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg) scored a power play snap shot. That one-all tie held into the second period.

William Karlsson (Sam Gagner and Josh Anderson) takes credit for the winning tally with 9:45 remaining in the second frame, and 2:05 seconds later First Star of the Game Scott Hartnell buried the first of six insurance goals. The Jackets took their 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

It was the third period where things really went awry for Pittsbrugh. Starting only 2:44 after returning to the ice, Hartnell (Gagner and Jack Johnson), Second Star Brandon Saad (Wennberg), Boone Jenner (Brandon Dubinsky and Seth Jones) and Hartnell again (Dubinsky and Saad) combined for the Columbus onslaught to ensure their 11th-straight victory.

Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 25-of-26 shots faced (96.2%), while Matthew Murray managed to save only 17-of-23 (73.9%) in the loss. He was replaced following Jenner’s goal by Marc-Andre Fleury, who saved four-of-five (80%) for no decision.

Columbus‘ victory is the third straight by a home team, setting the DtFR Game of the Day series at 40-23-11 in favor of the hosts, who lead the visitors by nine points.

December 20 – Day 69 – Getting Kul in Florida

As usual, you’d better have your remote ready for tonight’s onslaught of games, because there’s a bunch of good ones. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four games (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN], Nashville at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at Pittsburgh and Los Angeles at Columbus), followed half an hour later by another trio of contests (Anaheim at Montréal [RDS], Detroit at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Buffalo at Florida). Colorado at Minnesota drops the puck at the top of the hour, and a pair of games (Ottawa at Chicago [RDS2] and St. Louis at Dallas) wait until 8:30 p.m. Winnipeg at Vancouver gets the West Coast involved at 10 p.m., with our nightcap – Calgary at San Jose – waiting 30 minutes before getting underway.

Short list:

  • New York at Boston: Dennis Seidenberg called the TD Garden home for seven seasons, but he’s gotten a new start in Brooklyn.
  • New York at Pittsburgh: An important duel in the Metropolitan Division is also a rematch of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: Another Eastern Quarterfinals rematch, but last season’s success is still eluding both these clubs.
  • Buffalo at Florida: Dmitry Kulikov is in the same homecoming boat as Seidenberg. He returns to his old stomping grounds of seven years with his new club.
  • St. Louis at Dallas: Yet another rematch, but this matchup occurred in the Western Semifinals.

I’m torn between featuring Kulikov or Seidenberg, as both spent considerable portions of their careers in the building they’ll be playing in this evening. Since the game in the Sunshine State will probably be much more competitive, we’ll focus on Kulikov.

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With the 14th-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers selected Dmitry Kulikov from Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

That was the last the Voltigeurs saw of the defenseman, as he signed a contract with the Panthers the following September to begin play in the NHL only a month later.

Barring the 2012-13 lockout season, Kulikov has played at least 58 games in each of the remaining six seasons of his career. While he’s been unable to fully maintain his scoring reputation from his junior days (his 138 points are 75th-most among the 603 defensemen to appear in a game since he’s joined the league), he’s still been very effective for his club as the second-highest points earner among Panthers blueliners.

Leading that group of defensemen from 2009-’16 was Brian Campbell, whose 175 points were 37 more than the Russian’s in 84 fewer games (he joined Florida before the 2011-’12 season). Both skaters notched 28 goals during their tenure with the Panthers.

Kulikov began making his way to the KeyBank Center during this season’s draft. He and Vancouver‘s second round pick that was in the Panthers‘ possession was exchanged with Buffalo for Mark Pysyk, Buffalo‘s second round pick and St. Louis‘ third round pick then in possession of the Sabres.

It’s proven to be a tough transition for Kulikov. He has yet to even notch an assist this season, much less a goal, due in part to injuring his back during the preseason. He played 12 games before taking a leave of absence that left him out of the lineup for a month. Tonight’s game is only his fifth contest back in the lineup, and he’ll certainly want to score on the team that didn’t value him enough to keep him off the trading block.

The Sabres enter tonight’s game with a 12-11-7 record to sit in last place in the Atlantic Division. They’ve gotten in that position by playing some very poor offense that has scored only 65 goals – tying with Colorado for fewest in the NHL.

Hurling insults at the Sabres offense is a difficult thing to do given Jack Eichel was injured for nearly two months. That being said, the offense did not gel without him and has put the Sabres in a tough spot to start the season. Kyle Okposo, with his 22 points to lead the team, and Rasmus Ristolainen effectively carried the team on their backs, as they are the only two skaters with more than 18 points to their credit. Okposo especially deserves credit, as his nine tallies are the most on the team.

One part of Buffalo‘s game where they did not suffer during Eichel’s absence was their man-advantage. Led by Okposo and Ristolainen’s dozen power play points, the Sabres have converted 22.9% of their advantageous opportunities, the third-best rate in the league.

As good as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been the reverse. Even with Josh Gorges‘ 14 shorthanded shot blocks (which ties him for 22nd-most in the league), the Sabres have prevented their opposition from scoring only 73.6% of the time, the worst effort in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 14-13-5 Panthers, the fifth-best team in the Atlantic Division. Just like Buffalo, their struggles are found on the offensive end of the ice, where their 75 total goals are sixth-fewest in the NHL.

The similarities between tonight’s clubs continue. Just like the Sabres, Florida has two players who have stood out among a mediocre offense. Aleksander Barkov (22) and Jon Marchessault (20) are the only two players with more than 17 points to their credit so far this season. Marchessault has been especially impressive, as his 10 goals are also the best on the squad.

The power play has really suffered during this season’s scoring slump. Florida has only potted 14.8% of their man-advantage opportunities, the seventh-worst rate in the NHL. Marchessault has been active in this situation too. His seven power play points are most on the team.

Before we go any further, there’s one more matter we need to address: Marchessault, as great has he’s been, is currently listed on the Panthers’ injury report. He’s missed the last two games with a lower body injury, and hasn’t played since last Tuesday in Minnesota.

If anything has gone right for Florida, it’s been their defense – specifically their penalty kill. Successful on 86% of attempts, the Panthers are the fifth-best team when down a man, led by Michael Matheson‘s seven shorthanded blocks.

These squads have already met up once this season at the KeyBank Center. It was a very successful night for the Sabres, as they kept the Panthers off the board, compliments of Anders Nilsson, en route to a 3-0 victory. Johan Larsson‘s first goal of the season was the winner.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Nilsson (.933 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) and Florida‘s Barkov (15 assists among 22 points [both lead the team]).

Florida has a -150 next to their name, which is bad news for the Sabres. It’s tough not to side with the Panthers given the fact that they’re at home. Regardless of who wins, you can certainly assume it will be a low-scoring affair.

Hockey Birthday

  • Cory Stillman (1973-) – The sixth-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, this left wing played 1025 games over 16 seasons. He spent most of his days with the club that drafted him but won a Stanley Cup with both Tampa Bay (2004) and Carolina (2006).
  • Andrei Markov (1978-) – This defenseman was selected by Montréal in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s played with the Canadiens ever since. Tonight could mark his 960th career game, provided his lower body injury sustained Sunday in Washington isn’t too severe.

It took a two-goal third period for the Ducks to knock-off the Maple Leafs, winning 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took 27:27 before Third Star of the Game Auston Matthews (Nikita Zaitsev and Zach Hyman) scored a tip-in goal to give Toronto a 1-0 advantage, but Anaheim was able to level with 1:59 remaining in the frame. Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Sami Vatanen and First Star Cam Fowler) snapper was aided by the fact that Zaitsev was serving two minutes in the penalty box for roughing.

The Ducks when right back to work upon returning from the second intermission. 1:21 after taking the ice for the third period, Nick Ritchie (Ondrej Kase) fired a wrister to give Anaheim a 2-1 lead. It lasted 10:21 before Nazem Kadri (Matt Hunwick) scored a wrister of his own to once again level the contest. With 6:52 remaining in regulation, Fowler (Ryan Kesler) buried a power play snapper to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead they would not yield.

Second Star John Gibson saved 33-of-35 (94.3%) shots faced for the victory, leaving the loss to Frederik Andersen, saving 25-of-28 (89.3%) in the loss.

Anaheim’s victory pulls the road teams within five points of the hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series, who have a 37-23-11 record.

November 7 – Day 26 – Buffalo-Boston bout

We’ve got three games on the schedule this evening, and they’ll all be played at almost the same time. Two games drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Buffalo at Boston [SN/TVAS] and Vancouver at the New York Islanders (NHLN]), with Tampa Bay at Florida going underway half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Boston: Over 40 years this rivalry has been waged, including eight playoff series. Not only does it rage in the TD Garden this evening, but also at DtFR headquarters.
  • Tampa Bay at Florida: Round two of the Governor’s Cup goes down tonight.

Given that Boston and Buffalo are tied on points, we’ll catch their game in the City on a Hill.

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The Sabres entered the league in 1970, and the rivalry has only intensified since. Boston has a 156-141-29 all-time advantage over the Sabres for a well-contested series in addition to their eight postseason meetings.

They last met in the playoffs during the 2009-’10 season in the Eastern Quarterfinals, with Boston winning the series 4-2. That victory gave the Bruins a 6-2 series record against Buffalo in the playoffs, but they were upset a round later that year by Philadelphia.

The Sabres enter tonight’s game with a 5-4-2 record. While they have had some offensive struggles with Nicolas Deslauriers, Jack Eichel and Evander Kane finding themselves on the injury report, Buffalo has stood strong on the defensive end, allowing only 24 goals against – the fourth-best mark in the league.

Robin Lehner has started eight games for Buffalo this year, accounting for a 4-3-1 record on a .929 save percentage and 2.14 GAA. Given the defense playing in front of him, those numbers are very good. The Sabres defense has allowed 334 shots to reach their goaltenders already this season, which breaks down into 30.4 shots against per game.

Should the Sabres want to continue improving (odds are good that they do), more than Josh Gorges and Rasmus Ristolainen, who have 22 and 20 blocks respectively, need to contribute to alleviate pressure on their goaltender. Zach Bogosian has blocked the third-most shots so far this season, and only has 15 to his credit.

The special team Buffalo is most proud of has been their power play, which accounts for 32% of their goals. The Sabres have been successful on 22.22% of their attempts, which ranks as the ninth-best effort in the NHL, and half of their eight power play goals have been scored by Matt Moulson.

Boston enters the night with a 6-5-0 record, a position I feel they are fortunate to be in. Defense and goaltending has been the strength of the Bruins, if you could call an end of the ice that has allowed 32 goals in 11 games a strength. The offense has been even poorer, scoring only 25 times.

Last season, Boston was home to the fifth-most potent offense in the NHL, scoring 236 goals to average 2.88 per game. Almost a month into the season, the Bruins average only 2.27 goals per game to rank fifth-worst. Brad Marchand has done a good job to lead the team with 13 points, trailed closely behind by David Pastrnak‘s 10, but the remaining Bruins have yet to break the five-point mark.

If the Bruins don’t figure their offense out, at least they can hang their caps on having the 10th best penalty kill in the league. Allowing eight extra-man tallies against, they’ve killed 83.33% of their penalties.

Some players to keep an eye on include Boston‘s Marchand (nine assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]), Pastrnak (seven goals [tied for fourth-most in the league] and a +11 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]) and Tuukka Rask (six wins [tied for fourth-most in the league], including a shutout [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) & Buffalo‘s Anders Nilsson (1.95 GAA [10th-best in the league] on a .937 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL]), Kyle Okposo (five goals [leads the team]) and Ristolainen (eight assists [leads the team]).

Boston has been marked by Vegas with a -160 advantage, but I think they’re wrong. I’m picking the upset due to Buffalo‘s defense being more than able to contain the Bruins‘ anemic offense.

Hockey Birthday

  • Michel Picard (1969-) – This left wing played 166 games over nine seasons in the NHL with six teams, 36.7% of which were in St. Louis from 1997-’99. Nowadays, he’s an amateur scour for the Blues.
  • Mike Commodore (1979-) – The 42nd overall selection in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 484 games over 11 seasons, mostly with Carolina, the team he won his lone Stanley Cup with.
  • Pascal Leclaire (1982-) – The eighth overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and first goaltender selected, Leclaire played 173 games over seven seasons to total a 61-76-15 record. Most of those games were played with the team that drafted him: the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With two goals in the second period, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 4-1 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The Ducks found the scoreboard first, and didn’t wait long to do it. 2:29 after beginning the game, First Star of the Game Clayton Stoner (Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf) scored a wrister to give Anaheim the lead. With 3:45 remaining in the period, Calgary drew even when Alex Chiasson (John Gaudreau and Sean Monahan) found the back of the net for the Flames. The one-all score held into the first intermission.

The Ducks were quick starters again in the second period, waiting only 3:18 before Second Star Ryan Kesler (Perry and Getzlaf) scored the game-winning wrister.

Andrew Cogliano (Jakob Silfverberg and Josh Manson) and Kesler (Perry and Getzlaf) scored the two insurance goals for Anaheim to secure the victory.

Third Star Jonathan Bernier earns the victory after saving 25-of-26 shots faced (96.2%), while Chad Johnson takes the loss after saving 17-of-21 (81%).

Anaheim‘s victory on the Pond pads the home squads’ lead in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the homers’ record at 15-10-3 to lead the roadies by four points.