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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    PHT Morning Skate: Jim Craig doesn’t regret selling ‘Miracle on Ice’ memorabilia

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    PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

    –These parents named their baby girl after Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. (ABC News)

    –The  hockey card that helped inspire a Tragically Hip song. (Puck Junk)

    –The fan who promised to get a tattoo of Gary Bettman if LA and Chicago were eliminated in the first round kept his word. (Bardown)

    –Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues. (Top)

    –Jim Craig doesn’t regret auctioning off most of his “Miracle on Ice” memorabilia. (Yahoo)

    –A Q & A with former Quebec Nordiques forward Peter Stastny. (ESPN)

    –Former Flyers coach Craig Berube breaks down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL)

    Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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    Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

    And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

    The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

    Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

    However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

    “I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

    “I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”

     

    Video: So, Joe Thornton is pretty stoked about playing in the Stanley Cup Final

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    ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton is off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. The San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

    And yeah, the 36-year-old Thornton, a veteran of 1,367 regular season games with 1,341 career regular season points, is pretty excited for both himself and his team when it comes to this feat.

    It hasn’t been easy in San Jose. It hasn’t been easy for the franchise, for the fans, for the players, for Thornton or for Patrick Marleau, who is also 36 years old and has played his entire career (1,411 regular season games) in San Jose.

    There have been playoff failures and a regular season disappointment last year. There has been a coaching change and harsh words exchanged between Thornton and management — more specifically, GM Doug Wilson — and an organizational decision to remove the captaincy from Thornton.

    After all that, however, the Sharks are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

    Did we mention Joe Thornton is excited about the final?

    Franchise history: The Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final

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    For the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final.

    This, after a monumental and historical collapse in the first round to the L.A. Kings two years ago. This, after they failed to make the playoffs a year ago, resulting in a coaching change. There have been other post-season disappointments along the way before that, too.

    Those difficult times may never be forgotten. But the Sharks have rebounded, and it culminated with a 5-2 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. Fans at SAP Center could feel it, too, especially after Joel Ward scored his second goal of the night, giving San Jose a three-goal lead early in the third period.

    The Blues attempted a furious comeback but couldn’t quite complete it.

    The Sharks this year have eliminated the Kings, Nashville Predators and now the Blues in that order. They await the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

     

    The Sharks got off to the perfect start in the series clincher versus St. Louis. Joe Pavelski recorded his 13th goal, which leads all players in this post-season, and the Sharks continued to roll from there.

    Ward increased the lead in the second period and again in the third. His second of the night proved to be the winner. Joonas Donskoi‘s goal, making it 4-0 San Jose before the midway point of the third period, proved critical as the Blues tried to spark a desperation comeback.

    The Blues’ leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko (40 goals, 74 points in the regular season) was held off the score sheet through the first five games of this series, before finally striking for both St. Louis goals in Game 6.