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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    Report: Canadiens to sign KHL defenseman Jakub Jerabek

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    Just four days after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens’ front office is already hard at work.

    The Habs have reportedly agreed to terms with Chekhov Vityaz defenseman Jakub Jerabek, according to KHL reporter Aivis Kalnins.

    No official announcement has been made because Jerabek still has four days remaining on his current KHL contract.

    The 25-year-old isn’t big (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), but his numbers suggest he’s got a good blend of offensive ability, while playing with an edge.

    In his first KHL season, Jerabek scored five goals, 29 assists and accumulated 56 penalty minutes in 59 games.

    He had spent the previous eight years with Plzen HC over in the Czech League.

    Montreal has plenty of defensemen on their roster, but with the expansion draft and free agency on the horizon, that could change fairly quickly.

    Veteran Andrei Markov is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but it would be shocking to see him go. Alexei Emelin, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson are all signed, while Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov are both set to become restricted free agents.

    In Beaulieu and Nesterov’s case, there’s a decent chance they won’t be back with the club next year.

    Last year’s ninth overall pick, Mikhail Sergachev, will also be looking to make a full-time leap to the NHL in 2017-18, so Jerabek isn’t a slam dunk to become a regular.

    PHT Morning Skate: Five under-the-radar coaching candidates

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    –We don’t often see franchise players hit the open market, but next summer could be intriguing in that regard. Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog focuses on the Islanders’ future with or without John Tavares, and what direction the team could be heading in. Friedman also touches on Joel Quenneville’s job security in Chicago and much more. (Sportsnet)

    –Some hockey fans have begun questioning the importance of winning faceoffs, but the Anaheim Ducks aren’t among those who doubt the importance of winning draws. “If you start with the puck, you can use it to your advantage on the offensive side of the game. When you’re trying to protect a lead and starting with the puck, you’re killing their momentum that they’re trying to build.” (OC Register)

    –Even though it’s been almost 30 years since Wayne Gretzky has suited up for the Edmonton Oilers, he still gets pretty intense during their playoff games. We’ve all gotten to see the footage of a nervous-looking Gretzky watching the Oilers play, and he’s definitely not just putting on a show. “It’s an emotional game and I’ve always been sort of an emotional guy. It’s exciting. Back in Edmonton, the city is on fire. The Oilers are playing with a great deal of passion. You can’t help but get caught up in that passion. That’s what it’s all about. (Edmonton Journal)

    –There’s a couple of teams still looking for new head coaches at this point, and Sportsnet’s Ryan Dixon brings up five off-the-board candidates that could step in and get an NHL job very soon. With the success the Capitals have had over the last few seasons, it’s not surprising to see their associate coach Todd Reirden and assistant Lane Lambert get some recognition. (Sportsnet)

    –Speaking of people flying under the radar, USA Today looks at eight players that could surprisingly make a huge difference for their teams in the second round. With the injury to Karl Alzner in Washington, Nate Schmidt could eat up some important minutes for the Caps. Pens forward Jake Guentzel, who was terrific in the first round against Columbus, may need to help shoulder the offensive burden. (USA Today)

    –Smaller goalie equipment was supposed to make life harder for netminders, but has it had the opposite effect? Since the equipment change became mandatory on Feb. 4, scoring went down by 0.03 goals-per-game. The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell suggests that if the NHL wants to add more scoring, they may be better off making goalies wear bigger equipment. (The Hockey News)

    Bruce Cassidy officially named head coach of the Bruins

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    Bruce Cassidy wanted it, and now he’s got it.

    On Wednesday morning, Cassidy was officially named the 28th head coach of the Boston Bruins.

    He really helped turn Boston’s season around after taking over for Claude Julien, who was fired on Feb. 9. Cassidy led the Bruins to an 18-8-1 record in 33 games behind the bench.

    Despite being without a number of key players like Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, David Krejci and others, Cassidy’s Bruins managed to push the Senators before eventually being eliminated in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.

    “Obviously we’re talking (the players) about pretty much everything when we’re out shooting the bull, and a lot of guys liked him,” forward David Backes said on Tuesday, per NESN. “He was put into a tough situation — being out of the playoff race, maybe just chasing at the point he takes over to try to take a team and get in … and you figure the way the business works, that he’s probably coaching for his life to make a splash and show that he can be a difference-maker or else who knows what the future holds for him? I think he did a heck of a job, and his results are what a coach should be judged on.”

    Cassidy did some impressive work over the final three months of the campaign. Under his watch, the team finished first in goals-per-game (3.37), first in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in wins (18), tied for second in power play percentage (27.8), tied for third in goals allowed per game (2.30), and they ranked sixth in takeaways (229).

    Prior to joining Julien’s staff as an assistant at the start of the 2016-17 season, Cassidy spent five years as head coach of Boston’s AHL team in Providence.

    This is the second head coaching job for the 51-year-old at the NHL level. He previously served as head coach of the Washington Capitals for parts of two seasons (2002-03 to 2003-04).

    After surgery, Joe Thornton should be ready for 2017-18 (Wherever he plays)

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    On Monday, we found out that Joe Thornton made the “courageous” (or … outrageous?) decision to fight through tears to his ACL and MCL and suit up for the playoffs.

    (That still warrants a moment of reflection, because, wow.)

    The San Jose Sharks sent out a positive update in that regard: after successful surgery yesterday, Thornton is expected to be ready to play by the start of the 2017-18 season.

    So, that answers one big question. It doesn’t settle an even bigger one, though: where will Thornton play next year?

    Patrick Marleau indicated that he believes he has “at least five good years” left, a fine thought that becomes trickier when you consider San Jose’s salary structure problems for 2018-19 and on. The impression is that Thornton wants to come back, too, but what if he – justifiably – seeks security in a longer term deal?

    That situation is currently unclear, but at least it sounds like he’ll be healthy to start next season, whether he remains a member of the Sharks or joins a different roster.