Buffalo Sabres are quietly East's hottest team

kaleta.jpgWhile the Capitals, Penguins and Devils sleep walk their way into the playoffs, the Buffalo Sabres are quietly rounding into the hottest team in the East. To me, their situation echoes Vancouver’s in the West; they may not have much in the way of sexy talent, but they have an elite Olympian in net and could make plenty of noise.

Finishing strong has been a great formula for post-season success. Last year, the Penguins went from possibly missing the playoffs to a raising the Cup while the Hurricanes and Ducks made people sweat seemingly out of nowhere.

Aside from a 4-2 loss to also-hot Ottawa, the Sabres have been on fire lately. They’ve won seven of their last eight games and – in many cases – have done so with resounding victories. In the eight games, the Sabres outscored their opponents 35-17. While their penalty kill has been impressive (allowing only 4 PP goals in the 8 games), the most interesting thing is that Buffalo is generating the scoring-by-committee approach that made them so dangerous in the Briere-Drury days.

In a 6-2 shellacking of the Panthers last night, the Sabres threw 41 shots on net with Raffi Torres collecting three assists. When the team destroyed the Lightning 7-1, Derek Roy had three goals and one assist. Jason Pominville has been hot of late too, with two three point outbursts in his last eight games played. Of course, you can’t forget Tyler Myers, one of the leading Calder trophy candidates who already has 46 points for the year. Although the Sabres lack a 30-goal scorer, they have five 20-goal scorers and 13 players with at least 10 goals.

Of course, everything revolves around the all-world goaltending of Ryan Miller, but this team could be truly interesting if their offense stays hot.

Here are a few other interesting tidbits about the stealth Sabres.

  • They are 28-0-0 when leading after the second period.
  • Buffalo is six in the league in five-on-five play.
  • The Sabres win 78% of the time when they score first.
  • They have the league’s third best penalty kill percentage.

So, am I saying that the Sabres are going to win the Cup? No, I’m not quite sure that their offense can maintain its hot streak and their defense often hangs Miller out to dry. Still, with all the attention placed on the other three elite Eastern teams, it’s clear (to me at least) that Buffalo should not be underestimated.

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    Kings place Zatkoff on waivers

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Jeff Zatkoff #37 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on after allowing a goal during the second  period of a game against Philadelphia Flyers  at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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    The Los Angeles Kings have placed goalie Jeff Zatkoff on waivers.

    With Jonathan Quick not expected back until next month, it’s possible that the Kings intend to recall Jack Campbell from the AHL. (They had reportedly been considering it.)

    Zatkoff has had a tough time in his first season with the club. The 29-year-old is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage. He hasn’t made a start since Jan. 23, leaving all the work to 34-year-old Peter Budaj.

    Campbell has a .913 save percentage in 38 games for AHL Ontario this season.

    The Kings host the Bruins tomorrow.

    Treliving won’t say if Wideman’s been asked to waive NMC

    CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Dennis Wideman #6 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    The writing is pretty much on the wall for Dennis Wideman.

    The Flames haven’t been happy with their defensive group outside the top three of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. To that end, they signed Matt Bartkowski from AHL Providence and acquired former Arizona blueliner Michael Stone via trade.

    Those moves have trickled down to Wideman, who’s in the last of a five-year deal with a $5.25 million cap hit.

    After getting over 20 minutes in last Monday’s ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona, the 33-year-old received two of his lowest ice times of the season — 12:32 against Philly, 13:35 against Vancouver — before sitting as a healthy scratch in last night’s win over the Preds.

    Could Wideman be moving on? More, from the Herald:

    I asked Treliving if he had approached Wideman to waive his no-movement clause and he said he didn’t want to get into any of that.

    Suffice it to say, Wideman and his $5.25 million cap hit have been shopped for years, with hopes that if anyone was willing to take him on, the player would see the move as a better option to staying put.

    No takers.

    It’s easy to forget that, in ’14-15, Wideman posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (56) while playing a boatload of minutes (24:39 per night). He also had seven points in 11 playoff games.

    But the last two years have been extremely difficult. Injuries and the now-infamous hit on linesman Don Henderson — one that resulted in a 20-game suspension — have clearly taken their toll, and Wideman clearly isn’t a favorite of head coach Glen Gulutzan.

    There may be a glimmer of hope for a trade, though.

    Wideman’s bloated cap hit can be mitigated between the small number of games left in the regular season, and the possibility of Calgary retaining salary. That said, Wideman would be seen by most as an insurance policy for the playoffs — which is exactly why the Flames might keep him around.

    This is a club with postseason aspirations, one that could use a serviceable d-man on the depth chart.

    Vegas won’t be active at the trade deadline after all

    LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13:  George McPhee (L) listens as majority owner of the Las Vegas NHL franchise Bill Foley speaks after announcing McPhee as the team's general manager during a news conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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    The Vegas Golden Knights will not be active at the trade deadline after all.

    It was thought a few weeks back that they might be, but owner Bill Foley said in a radio interview yesterday that the final payment would not be made in time.

    “We won’t make it before the trade deadline,” Foley told KXNT, per The Sin Bin. “The documentation is unbelievable. I have documentation with the league on a franchise agreement. I have documentation on a loan we are taking out with CitiBank. I’ve got my personal stuff, which all has to get in and get approved. If you saw the stack of documents you’d say it’s not a pretty picture.”

    Foley added that it was other teams that wanted to make deals more than it was his team.

    “They want to lock up some of their players for the playoff run and after the playoff run,” he said.

    What’s he talking about there?

    Well, if the Golden Knights were active at the deadline, teams could’ve sent them draft picks or prospects to not select certain players in the expansion draft.

    But that’ll have to wait now.

    ‘There’s a lot of flaws’ — Smith sounds off on concussion protocol

    GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    Earlier this month, we wrote about Columbus head coach John Tortorella taking issue with the NHL’s concussion protocol.

    Now, another vocal critic — Arizona goalie Mike Smith.

    In the third period of Monday’s game against Anaheim, Smith was run into by Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg. The collision knocked Smith’s mask off, and a spotter watching the game in Toronto asked that he veteran goalie be removed for concussion testing.

    That happened at the 4:29 mark of the third. By the time Smith had been checked out, tested and cleared, there were only 90 seconds remaining — meaning Smith’s night was essentially over. (Marek Langenhamer secured the win in relief).

    Arizona’s longtime No. 1 was displeased with the way things played out.

    “I think there’s a lot of flaws in the system, especially with the goalie position, and it needs to get fixed,” he said, per the Arizona Republic. “What stops a fourth liner from going and bumping into a goalie? It’s just a two-minute penalty to get your starting goalie out?

    “I don’t think it’s happened in a playoff game yet, but I’m sure it will.”

    The 35-year-old added that his initial reaction to getting hit — grabbing his face and head — was only an instinct to protect himself, not an indication he suffered a head injury.

    Smith also said that, for a goalie, sitting out for as long as he did makes it extremely difficult to jump back into action.

    “I’m cleared, but now I’m coming back and now I’m more at risk of injury than before,” he explained.

    Smith had yet another issue with the concussion protocol as it pertains to goalies. What if, he asked, the starter gets knocked out and requires testing, then the backup has the exact same thing happen? As unlikely as the scenario sounds, the possibility is out there.

    As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the league looks to reassess the policy this offseason. In an email to the Republic, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said concussion protocol “is something that has been debated and discussed over a number of years and in great detail.”

    One has to think those discussions will continue.