Tag Archives: Robin Lehner

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.

October 25 – Day 22 – The former Foligno face-off

It’s been a slow hockey week in terms of games played, hasn’t it? There was only one game Sunday, two Monday and now only two today. Thank goodness for yesterday’s 11-game slate.

Both of tonight’s contests are scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time, but only one game will be broadcast in either Canada or the USA. Via SN360, Canadians will have the opportunity to watch Calgary at St. Louis, while NBCSN will televise Buffalo at Columbus to those of us in the 50 States.

Unfortunately, there’s no major draw to either of these games (dang that soft tissue for landing RW Jaromir Jagr on injured reserve), so we’re just going to go with the matchup that features the teams separated by fewer points in the standings.

 

According to my highly scientific decision-making process, Central Ohio is the spot to be tonight.

But before we go any further, I need to clear the air about this tilt. Though NBCSN is advertising this game as a part of its “Wednesday Night Rivalry” series, Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill ruined any sense of a rivalry this offseason.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How does a GM ruin a rivalry? Surely the teams would continue disliking each other even after an individual player is gone.”

In truth, ‘rivalry’ might be a strong word for the relationship between these clubs. But, if one existed, it started in the 2013′-14 season, a year after the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season. It was in that lockout campaign that F Nick Foligno, now captain of the Blue Jackets, began his tenure in Columbus and younger brother LW Marcus Foligno earned a permanent spot on the Sabres’ roster.

Since the lockout forced the schedule to be restricted to only intra-conference play and the Blue Jackets were then a member of the Western Conference, the brothers did not compete against each other for the first time as members of their respective clubs until October 10, 2013.

While we’re on subject, the Foligno Brothers are, of course, the sons of former Sabre RW Mike Foligno. The senior Foligno, undoubtedly the best of the trio, enjoyed 10 seasons in Buffalo, scoring 247 of his 355 career goals in a blue-and-gold sweater to help the franchise to seven playoff appearances in his tenure (eight if you count the 1990-’91 season when he was traded to Toronto in December).

But all that history doesn’t matter anymore thanks to the move Botterill made on June 30. In a trade with the Minnesota Wild, Marcus and teammate F Tyler Ennis were exchanged for D Marco Scandella and former Sabre RW Jason Pominville.

None of this is a knock on Botterill’s decision making. GMs can’t concern themselves with things as petty as media storylines, and he certainly hasn’t. In fact, his offseason efforts are finally starting to show results, as his Sabres team that started the season 1-5-2 has now won it’s last two games.

During this little run, it’s been the offense that has stood out most to me. Though far from pretty (Buffalo has fired 74 shots in its past two games, the second-most by any team since Saturday), it’s been effective as the Sabres have averaged three goals-per-game during this run, well above their 2.6 goals-per-game average for the season.

What all these shots have created is a wildly unpredictable attack, and there’s nothing a defense and goaltender (G Sergei Bobrovsky in this case) like less than unpredictability. In fact, all eight players on the Sabres’ roster to have fired the puck at least four times in the past two games has registered a minimum of one point.

Among that group of eight, none have been more accurate than F Benoit Pouliot. Though only a lowly fourth-liner, Pouliot has found the back of the net on a quarter of his shots during this run to take credit for his first two goals of the season, including last night’s game-winner against the Red Wings.

Of course, no matter how accurate Pouliot has been, there’s no replacing Buffalo’s top-line as the primary source of offense. Both C Jack Eichel (four goals) and LW Evander Kane (six goals) have registered 11 points in 10 games played this season, managing four and six goals, respectively, apiece.

Before discussing what the Blue Jackets bring to the table, a major hat tip is due to G Robin Lehner, who has allowed only four goals in the past two games even though he’s faced a total of 63 shots (.936 save percentage). Since he shutout the Red Wings last night, I expect 1-2-1 G Chad Johnson, who’s sporting a .881 save percentage and 3.84 GAA, to be in net this evening.

While the Sabres enter tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak, Columbus’ two-game losing skid is the negative inverse of that.

Of course, you can’t blame them after going through the gauntlet of hosting Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, the top-two teams in the league right now, in the span of three days.

When things are going the Jackets’ way, they have the incredible talent of absolutely shutting down opposing offenses. Whether it’s by a defense headlined by Jack Johnson, Seth Jones and David Savard‘s combined 6.5 blocks-per-game or Bobrovsky and his 2.16 GAA that’s fourth-best in the NHL, only three offenses have come away from games against Columbus with three or more goals.

In particular, the Jackets have been pretty darn good on the penalty kill this season. Stopping 83.3 percent of opposing extra-man opportunities, the Jackets are among the 10 best teams in the league when shorthanded. Considering the Sabres bring a measly 13.9 power play success rate into tonight’s game, the Blue Jackets should have no problem snuffing out any attacks on that front.

You know what they say: defense wins championships. That’s not a Stanley Cup pick from me, but it is a pick for this game – especially since Johnson will be in net for the Sabres. Columbus should have two more points by the end of the night.


Earning the second win of his career in his first-ever NHL start, First Star of the Game G Oscar Dansk led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though his night ended the way he wanted it to, the beginning of the game was not necessarily kind to Dansk. Even though D Duncan Keith was in the penalty box for tripping W James Neal, F John Hayden was able to score an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot only 3:33 into the contest to give the visiting Hawks an early lead. That lead lasted only 26 seconds though, as C William Karlsson (D Colin Miller and D Brad Hunt) took advantage of that very power play opportunity to level the game with a deflected goal. F Tomas Nosek (D Deryk Engelland and D Brayden McNabb) completed the scoring blitz at the 5:46 mark of the period with a wrister to give the Knights a lead they would not yield for the remainder of the game.

With his first goal of the season, Second Star F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Nosek and LW William Carrier) provided Vegas’ game-winning goal with 106 seconds remaining in the second period.

This play started as a botched dump-and-chase by the Golden Knights, as Chicago’s D Jordan Oesterle was the first to reach the puck in the corner to G Corey Crawford‘s left. Unfortunately for him, he absolutely fanned on his clearing attempt, leaving the loose puck to be collected by Carrier and dumped into the trapezoid to Nosek. The forward carried the puck behind the goal line to Crawford’s right before seeing a waiting Bellemare and centering him a pass. Firing a one-timer from the slot, Bellemare directed his snap shot past Crawford’s glove.

With 9:40 remaining in regulation, F Jon Marchessault (D Nate Schmidt and D Luca Sbisa) provided an insurance tally with a power play wrister to set the score at 4-1 in favor of the Golden Knights. Though F Patrick Kane (W Brandon Saad and Oesterle) tried valiantly to pull Chicago back into the game with 65 seconds remaining, the Hawks could not alter the 4-2 score in the remaining time.

Dansk earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Crawford, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

That’s two-straight victories by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. After a solid run by the road teams over the weekend, the 12-6-4 hosts have now reclaimed a six-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

October 21 – Day 18 – Time to right the ship

In the words of Sir Elton John, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.” If there’s a lyric that better describes hockey, I have yet to hear it.

To take it a step further, Saturday afternoon must not be too bad either, as Nashville visits the New York Rangers (SN) at 12:30 p.m. and Philadelphia hosts Edmonton half an hour later. After the matinees are complete, five contests (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Columbus) find their start at the usual time of 7 p.m., followed by Florida at Washington (NBCSN) 30 minutes after. Carolina makes its yearly visit to Dallas at 8 p.m., with Chicago at Arizona waiting an hour before dropping the puck. The stroke of 10 p.m. brings with it the start of Minnesota at Calgary (CBC), half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: St. Louis at Vegas. All times Eastern.

It’s nights like these that are hard to pick just one game to focus on, as there’s a good reason to watch at least half of them. Here’s a few that stick out to me…

  • Buffalo at Boston: Rivalry night in Beantown is always a worthwhile experience.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario is another good one.
  • Chicago at Arizona: Don’t tell anybody, but D Connor Murphy played his first four NHL seasons with the Coyotes.
  • St. Louis at Vegas: W Chris Thorburn was one of Vegas’ expansion draft selections, but he ended up signing with the Blues instead.

Since we haven’t had the opportunity to feature the Bruins or the Sabres yet this season, what better way to make up for our transgression than by focusing on their rivalry tonight?

 

Let’s just put things simply: both these clubs have much higher aspirations for their seasons than the first two-and-a-half weeks have indicated.

The 1-5-2 Sabres have especially had a tough run of things, as they’re currently riding a two game losing skid after falling in overtime to Vegas on Tuesday and losing outright to Vancouver last night.

Since the Bruins don’t play for a city that starts with a ‘V’, maybe Buffalo has a chance this evening.

Averaging .8 points-per-game after his first two seasons in the NHL, C Jack Eichel was expected to lead the Sabres to one of the best offensive efforts in the league. Instead, Buffalo’s attack has averaged a (t)fourth-worst 2.5 goals-per-game effort, forcing the Sabres to be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Arizona.

Unless we’re talking about logo and sweater designs at a franchise’s debut, it’s rarely good to be compared to the Coyotes.

Though I threw Eichel under the bus, the Sabres’ struggles are certainly no fault of their first line. In fact, if not for the production of Eichel, LW Evander Kane and RW Jason Pominville, Buffalo might as well not have an offense at all. All three are averaging at least 1.13 points-per-game this season and they combine for 12 of the Sabres’ 20 goals. While it is nice to know that one line is capable of producing 60 percent of a team’s offense, I’ll bet the house that Head Coach Phil Housley would love for F Ryan O’Reilly‘s line to find their form sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, little has gone well on the Sabres’ defensive end either. Due at least in part to Buffalo’s 49.9 face-off winning percentage (11th-worst in the league), neither G Chad Johnson nor G Robin Lehner can claim a GAA under three. Lehner has certainly been the superior of the two netminders so far with his .9 save percentage and 3.14 GAA, and he’s likely to be tonight’s starter since Johnson was responsible for last night’s 4-2 loss to the Canucks.

If anything has gone well so far for the Sabres, it’s certainly been their penalty kill. Successfully rejecting 83.3 percent of opposing power plays, Buffalo ties for eighth-best in the NHL. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe have played exceptionally when shorthanded, as both have five shot blocks to their credit in that situation. But there’s an asterisk next to Gorges’ name: he’s hit that total in only four games played as compared to McCabe’s eight.

Alright, that’s enough laying into one team. Time to take on the 3-3-0 Bruins.

There’s little to complain about on the Bruins’ offensive end. Averaging 3.33 goals-per-game, Boston is tied for the ninth-best offense in the NHL. It’s been the LW Brad Marchand show so far this season, as his 4-5-9 totals are easily among the top-25 performances in the league so far.

Then again, that was before C Patrice Bergeron returned to action from his lower body injury. In only one game played against Vancouver on Thursday, the 32-year-old managed one goal and three assists for a four-point night, tying him for sixth-most points on the team with players that have five more games played.

Regarding Bergeron, I have two guesses: (1) he’s one of those guys that’s good at his job, and (2) last season’s not-so-great 53 points could be eclipsed rather easily.

Whether it’s Bergeron or Marchand leading the charge, the Bruins’ power play is one of the most intimidating in the league. Boston has found success on eight-of-27 extra-man opportunities for a fourth-best 29.6 percent success rate, including C David Krejci‘s team-leading four power play points.

Of course, for an offense to be clicking along as well as the Bruins’ has been and the club only have a .500 record, there might be a problem on the other end of the ice.

That problem’s name is G Tuukka Rask. Though he’s certainly been one of, if not the league’s best netminder since his debut in the 2007-’08 season (his .922 career save percentage is tied for best in the NHL since then among goalies with at least 50 starts, and his 2.25 career GAA is second-best in that group), he’s struggled mightily in his four starts to open this campaign, managing an ugly .882 save percentage and 3.3 GAA.

Could it simply be that he’s getting sprayed with pucks every time he takes to the crease? Unfortunately, not really. He’s seen an average of only 25.5 shots-per-game so far this season, which is right in line with the (t)fourth-best 29.2 shots allowed by the Bruins’ defense per game.

It’s a fact Bruins fans may not want to admit, but Rask has only seen his save percentage drop since his .93 performance in the 2013-’14 season, with the lone exception of last year when he matched his .915 effort from the 2015-’16 campaign.

This drop in play began at the same time Rask started seeing 50-60 starts per season, which hearkens back to a statement I’ve made countless times about the Bruins’ goaltender: you can only work a mule so much. He’s been overworked for the past four seasons to the point that his play is suffering. Hopefully with G Anton Khudobin in the picture, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to relieve some of the pressure off his starter so he can rediscover his true form before his best playing days are behind him. If not, the Bruins are in a deeper hole than even the most dire of pessimists could have predicted.

Of course, all that writing may have been for naught with Rask currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion after a collision with rookie F Anders Bjork Wednesday. Expect Khudobin and his .927 save percentage to start this evening.

The Sabres are just waiting for a breakout game, but they have yet to earn it. I truly do believe in their offense, but I have concerns about the defense going up against an elite scoring club in Boston. Though the TD Garden hasn’t exactly been friendly to its residents for the past few years, I expect the Bruins to win this game by dominating the scoreboard.


For the second-straight night, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. This time, it was First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin scoring the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.

Featuring four total goals, the third period was absolutely wild. It was set up by a two-goal second period, as both F Darren Helm and W Andre Burakovsky (D Dmitry Orlov and W Tom Wilson) found goals to set the score at one-all. Helm’s wrist shot at the 4:31 mark of the frame was particularly noteworthy, as it was his first shorthanded goal since April 9, 2015.

Eighty-five seconds after the second intermission ended, the flurry of third period goals began when F Jay Beagle (RW Alex Chiasson) scored a shorthanded wrister to give the Capitals the lead. It was a lead that lasted only 3:59 though, as Second Star F Tomas Tatar (F Dylan Larkin and D Mike Green) leveled the contest with a tip-in. Scoring subsided until Tatar (F Henrik Zetterberg and D Niklas Kronwall) buried his second of the game, a power play snap shot, with 7:15 remaining in regulation to take a 3-2 lead for the Red Wings.

Detroit almost managed to earn the victory, but Larkin’s delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass set up a power play opportunity for the Capitals. Held off the scorecard in his last game played, F T.J. Oshie (Burakovsky and C Evgeny Kuznetsov) was sure to take advantage, scoring his wrister with 61 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game at three-all.

The Red Wings apparently didn’t learn their lesson when Oshie forced overtime. 68 seconds into three-on-three play, D Trevor Daley earned himself a seat in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin. Ovi didn’t seem to like that very much, as he ended the game only 48 later with a game-winning slap shot from his usual spot in the face-off circle to Third Star G Petr Mrazek‘s right, assisted by C Nicklas Backstrom and D John Carlson.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 34-of-37 shots faced (.919 save percentage), forcing Mrazek to take the overtime loss, saving 37-of-41 (.902).

Not only was this the second-straight overtime game, but it was also a second-straight victory for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the 10-5-3 home teams by only five points.

Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Protected Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To recap, here’s all of the protected players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender: John Gibson

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn

Goaltender: Chad Johnson

Boston Bruins

Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller

Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo

Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen

Goaltender: Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan

Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton

Goaltender: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen

Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy

Goaltender: Scott Darling

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews

Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto

Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza

Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen

Goaltender: Jimmy Howard

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

Goaltender: Cam Talbot

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle

Goaltender: James Reimer

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker

Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw

Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber

Goaltender: Carey Price

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen

Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban

Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

New York Islanders

Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

New York Rangers

Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris

Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf

Goaltender: Craig Anderson

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning

Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz

Goaltender: Matt Murray

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Goaltender: Martin Jones

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko

Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo

Goaltender: Jake Allen

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos

Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk

Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly

Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter

Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson

Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

April 3 – Day 166 – One more! For Queen Elizabeth!

Seven more days of the regular season remain, making this the last Monday of the NHL year. I know it’s difficult, but enjoy it as best as you can.

To help you do that, there’s three games on the schedule tonight. A pair of those (Toronto at Buffalo [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Detroit [RDS2]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Montréal at Florida (RDS) – tonight’s early nightcap. All times eastern.

Since none of these games are matchups of playoff teams, what better contest to watch than the Battle for the Queen Elizabeth Way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though divided by a national border, the fact that these towns are separated by only 89 miles/145 kilometers has yielded quite the rivalry. That hatred has only increased this season as both the Maple Leafs and Sabres are returning to form and promise to be strong clubs next season and for years to come.

The future has come early in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs have a 38-24-15 record that is good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. Winners of their past three games, the Leafs have been especially good since March 16, as they’ve gone 7-1-1 since then, which ties for the fourth-best run in the league in that time.

Just like it’s been all season, the reason for Toronto‘s success over this run has been its incredible offense. The Leafs have scored 32 goals since mid-March, a total that ties for second-most in the league in that time.

The man behind this attack? Exactly who it’s been all year: rookie phenom Auston Matthews. Not only has the kid scored seven goals for 11 points in the last nine games, but he’s also tied at 38 with Nikita Kucherov for third-most tallies all season.

It goes without saying, but this Leaf is absolutely special. He is the number one reason Toronto is currently in playoff position going to be in the playoffs, and potentially could be reasons two and three as well.

Reason four just might be Toronto‘s power play. Converting 30.4% of  their opportunities of late, the Maple Leafs‘ man-advantage has been fourth-best in the NHL since March 16. While Matthews has been effective during this specific stretch (he’s scored three power play goals for four points in his last nine games), fellow rookie William Nylander has been the true stud on the man-advantage. He’s notched 25 points with the extra man all season, nine of which have been tallies off his stick, to lead all first-year players.

To complete our perfunctory list, reason number five has to be Toronto‘s penalty kill. Thanks in large part to 32-15-14 Frederik Andersen and his .897 power play save percentage (fourth best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 32 appearances), the Maple Leafs have rejected 83% of opposing man-advantages to rank eighth-best in the NHL.

Don’t tell anybody, but that lone regulation loss Toronto has suffered recently came at the hands of the 32-34-12 Sabres, the second-worst team in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, that win is one of only four the Sabres have earned in their past seven games.

You’ve got to score to win, and that’s been Buffalo‘s main struggle of late. Although Jack Eichel has averaged a point-per-game over this stretch (including three goals) to lead the team, he and Ryan O’Reilly (six points) have been the only two forwards really contributing to the attack lately.

Of course, that’s looking at the offense as a whole. When you start breaking things down, you find Buffalo‘s problem truly lies in even-strength play, as its power play has been the best in the league since mid-March.

Yes, even better than Washington‘s vaunted attack.

The Sabres have converted 46.7% of their man-advantage opportunities in the last two weeks, and it is on this assault where more of the team has participated. 15 different players have contributed at least a point on even-strength play since March 17, compared to 10 on the power play in that time.

Five more players were involved? Great! Bottom line, it means the Sabres are scoring!

True, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Buffalo has spent a combined 22:16 on the man-advantage over 15 opportunities in its past seven games. Both those totals are the lowest in the league over that stretch. That means much of the team has effectively wasted the remaining (approximately) 400 minutes they’ve played, as they’ve only scored nine goals during five-on-five play, or a goal every 44 minutes.

One goal per 44 minutes of even-strength play does not win hockey games. If that’s not apparent by Buffalo‘s recent record, I don’t know what is.

Fortunately, the Sabres have remained competitive due to performing the opposite special team as well as they execute the power play. 22-24-8 Robin Lehner deserves much of the credit for that success, as his .926 power play save percentage ranks sixth-best in the NHL among the 39 goalies with at least four appearances since March 17.

Though the Sabres will miss the postseason for the sixth-straight season, this is an important game for Buffalo. Due to their two-game winning streak against Toronto, the Sabres have tied the season series against the Maple Leafs at 2-2-0, making this contest a true rubber match.

They last squared off on March 25 at the KeyBank Center – the same site of tonight’s game – where the Sabres won 5-2 on Eichel’s two-goal, three-point night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.921 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (32 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Jake Gardiner (+26 [10th-best in the league]) and Matthews (38 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Uh oh, that’s not good for the home team. Vegas has marked this game with a +140 line, meaning the odds-makers favor the Leafs. Unfortunately for the Sabres, so do I. While both clubs are almost evenly matched on special teams, the Toronto‘s offense is far superior at even-strength, which is where they should earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ray Getliffe (1914-2008) – Though originally a Bruin, this forward spent most of his 10-year career in Montréal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, he hoisted the trophy once with both clubs.
  • Bernie Parent (1945-) – Another player to start his career in Boston, this Hall-of-Fame goaltender played most of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He was a five-time All Star and won two Conn Smythes, Vezinas and – most importantly – Stanley Cups.
  • Brent Gilchrist (1967-) – Drafted by Montréal 79th-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing  played 15 seasons in the league – most of which with the Stars organization. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 1998 with the Red Wings.
  • Shawn Bates (1975-) – The Boston-theme continues with this center, as the Bruins selected him in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He actually spent most of his 10-year career with the Islanders, with whom he notched 170 of his 198 career points.
  • Stephen Weiss (1983-) – The fourth-overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this center spent all but two of his 13 seasons with the Panthers. He notched 423 points before hanging up his skates, including 156 goals.

The Predators had the chance to not only clinch their postseason berth with a victory, but also surpass the Blues for third place in the Central Division. Instead, St. Louis beat Nashville 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

St. Louis didn’t wait long to get on the board, courtesy of a Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and First Star of the Game David Perron) wrist shot 5:22 after the initial puck drop. Ryan Johansen (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) and the Preds responded exactly six minutes later to tie the game at one-all with a power play wrister, the score that held into the first intermission.

Alex Steen (Perron) provided the game-winner early in the second period. He buried a wrister only 55 seconds after resuming play from the first intermission, followed only 5:52 later by a Perron (Alex Pietrangelo) wrister. Those tallies set the score at 3-1, which held into the second intermission.

The lone score of the third belonged to Third Star Joel Edmundson, an unassisted wrister 8:11 into the frame.

Second Star Jake Allen saved 35-of-36 shots faced (97.2%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Juuse Saros, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Nashville did qualify for the playoffs yesterday by virtue of Arizona beating ninth-place Los Angeles.

For four straight days now, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned two points in the standings. Within the series, that has given hosts a 85-58-25 record, five points better than the roadies.

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.

Sick Hands Sunday – Hoffman and Jones Both Go On a Tear to Capture All The Glory For This Week’s Title.

Hey everyone, I’m back again for a new week of Sick Hands Sunday! Sorry, that I’m getting this week’s article out a day late, I was traveling all day back from Pittsburgh. But here I am, I can’t wait to get another version out to all my fans for you all to enjoy! This week was a little easier to pick the winner so let’s get right into it!

For the forward position of the article, once again it was pretty easy to pick the winner! So if it keeps going like this picking the winner is going to be easy from here on out and I will love it. I decided to go with Senators left winger Mike Hoffman who registered seven points (4G, 3A) in just four games. In all four games, he had at least one point and had four total power play points in four games as well. Here is how Hoffman did game by game:

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Hoffman drives into the offensive zone with the puck (Julie Oliver/Postmedia)

In Hoffman’s first game he tallied an assist in a 2-0 win over the powerhouse New York Rangers. Hoffman’s assist came on the Mark Stone‘s power-play goal to stretch their lead to 2-0 after two periods. Hoffman picked up the puck, skated down the left-hand boards, and threw a pass to the streaking Stone right in the slot. Stone received the pass and quickly fired the pass over Antti Raanta‘s blocker for the goal. Here’s the beautiful pass below:

In Hoffman’s second game of the week, he recorded four points, including a hat trick and an assist in a 5-4 loss against the struggling Buffalo Sabres. Hoffman’s first goal came off a juicy rebound from a point shot, the puck was kicked back into the slot by Sabres goalie Robin Lehner. He jumped right on the loose puck and slammed it into the back of the net to bring the Sens within a goal at 2-1. Here’s his first of the night:

With Hoffman’s second of the night, it was a beauty. The play started with Stone bringing the puck down the left-hand side and throwing a cross-ice pass over to Erik Karlsson who skated down to the right-hand dot. Karlsson then dished an amazing pass to Hoffman who was making a B-line right to the front of the net. All Hoffman had to do was redirect the puck into the wide-open net, and he did to bring the Sens back to within a goal at 4-3 at the end of period two.

For Hoffman’s third and final goal, it was an absolute rocket! Hoffman received a great pass from teammate Dion Phaneuf right into his wheelhouse. Hoffman let the one-timer go and the shot trickled past Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson. That goal capped off a highly impressive night from the young man, but it wasn’t enough as the Sens could not complete the comeback. You can see all his goals in full time down below including the final goal:

The Senators then took on the Flyers where Hoffman recorded a power play goal in a 3-2 OT loss. The play all started by Kyle Turris cycling the puck down to Mark Stone below the goal line at the side of the net. Stone spotted Hoffman all alone standing at the side of the net and rifled a pass over to Hoffman who then fired the slap shot into the wide open net to open the scoring at 1-0. You can see his goal below:

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Jones makes one of his 31 saves during the 2-1 win over Montreal. (Getty Images)

Hoffman added an another assist in their 2-0 win over the Florida Panthers to round off the week on a high note. Now let’s move on to the goalie portion of the week! For the winner of this week, I decided to go with Sharks goalie Martin Jones who had a stellar week in the net! Jones started three of the Sharks games during the week going 3-0 in that span only letting in three goals finishing with an amazing .962 SV% and a 1.00 GAA. Jones was on fire and no one could score. He is turning his season around after a slow start and boosted his stats up to 13-8-1 with a 1.99 GAA and a .924 SV%. Down below you can see Jones’ absolute larceny on Alex Galchenyuk with a sprawling glove save.

The Honorable Mention goes to Connor McDavid and Steve Mason I will see you guys next Sunday for another recap of the best player of the week! (Thanks to the Ottawa Senators’ Twitter for the videos of the goals!)