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: Ducks put Despres on long-term injured reserve

    FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
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    Simon Despres has played only once this season, back on Oct. 13, due to injury.

    It now appears the Anaheim Ducks don’t see the 25-year-old defenseman returning to their lineup any time soon.

    On Sunday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Twitter that the Ducks placed Despres, who carries an average annual value of $3.7 million, on long-term injured reserve, providing Anaheim with some flexibility in the salary cap situation.

    By placing Despres on LTIR, it’s been suggested this could possibly allow the Ducks to sign restricted free agent defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

    Lindholm, 22, missed training camp, instead deciding to stay in Sweden while he awaits a deal with the Ducks. Six games into Anaheim’s season, and still no deal.

    It was reported last month that Lindholm was seeking a deal of eight years, and at least $6 million per season.

    Last week, on TSN’s Insider Trading, McKenzie suggested the two sides could be about $250,000, annually, apart. He also added that there is a “cap hit penalty” when restricted free agents don’t get signed before the season begins.

    “For every day that (Lindholm) is not signed in this season, the cap hit for the team will increase by about $30,000 if he were to agree to a $5.5 million deal,” McKenzie reported.

    “Let’s say he agrees to a deal that’s $5.5 million AAV, well the cap hit’s going to be up around $5.8 (million) as of now, for each day that goes on.”

    Comeback Canucks? Not against the Ducks

    ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Alexander Edler #23 and Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks look on after Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks reacts to scoring a goal during the third  period of a game at Honda Center on October 23, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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    The Vancouver Canucks have made a habit of third-period comebacks early this season. Playing with the lead, though? Not so much.

    Despite their early penchant for late-game magic — certainly not a sustainable method of winning in the long-term — the Canucks were unable to score a come-from-behind win against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

    Instead, they lost 4-2, as Nick Ritchie and Corey Perry scored late in the third period to nullify any chance of a Vancouver comeback.

    Henrik Sedin had gotten the Canucks back into a tied game early in the final period, before the Ducks killed off a Vancouver power play and then surged ahead for good.

    It’s Vancouver’s first regulation loss of the season. In six games, the Canucks have played with the lead only once.

    Really, the score flattered the Canucks, playing the second half of a back-to-back set in California. The Ducks dominated possession, but goalie Ryan Miller kept the Canucks in it until late in regulation.

    The Canucks are now 4-1-1. That’s still a good start, but there have been signs lately that they could soon be served a reality check.


    Meanwhile, the Ducks have won two in a row after losing their first four games to start the season.

    It was promising that their best players were their best players in Anaheim’s home opener.

    Ryan Getzlaf had three assists. Corey Perry had an assist on the winner and scored to put this one away. Defenseman Cam Fowler, who has been at the center of trade speculation in the past few months, scored Sunday and is now up to three goals, with points in four of six games.

    “He’s played great,” Getzlaf recently told the Orange County Register. “Cam put a lot on his shoulders last year. He had a great year for us last year and it gets overlooked a little bit because he does it in a little bit quieter way. He’s not flashy.

    “I thought his play has carried over from last year. He’s continued to play the same way and at a high level.”

    This win puts the Ducks within a point of the San Jose Sharks. The two California rivals face each other Tuesday in San Jose.

    Video: Dan Girardi’s first goal in nearly a year lifts Rangers to victory

    FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012, file photo, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Rangers say they have agreed to terms with Girardi on a multiyear contract extension, taking the key defenseman off the trading block and keeping him away from unrestricted free agency. The deal was announced Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
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    An offensive defenseman, Dan Girardi is not.

    His last goal prior to this weekend? Nov. 12, 2015. It’s been a while. Almost an entire year now. But in his return to the New York Rangers lineup on Sunday, the 32-year-old Girardi was able to bust his scoring slump on a slap shot from the blue line that beat Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue.

    The Rangers eventually won by a final score of 3-2, with Girardi’s goal counting as the winner. He scored only twice last season, and hasn’t scored more than five goals in a single season since 2009-10.

    Despite poor start, Elliott ‘will find his game very soon,’ says former teammate Jake Allen

    EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    OK. So, Brian Elliott isn’t off to a good start in net for the Calgary Flames.

    He has lost all three of his starts. He’s allowed 14 goals with a save percentage of only .839. Not good. Not good at all, especially considering the Flames acquired Elliott with the hopes of addressing their goaltending concerns from previous seasons.

    Chad Johnson has instead started three of the last four games for Calgary.

    Whether it’s Elliott or Johnson in net, the Flames have given up the most goals against in the league, while giving up 30.2 shots against per 60 minutes at five-on-five. That puts them 18th in the league at even strength.

    But despite Elliott’s difficult start, a former Blues teammate of his has voiced support for the 31-year-old puck stopper, optimistically stating that a turnaround will happen.

    “I wouldn’t worry one bit. That’s just my perspective,” Blues goalie Jake Allen told the Calgary Herald. “He’s one of the most competitive people I have ever met, and he will find his game very soon.

    “Obviously, he wanted to get off to a good start (in Calgary), that’s first and foremost, but if it doesn’t go that way, he will rebound and find it. I’m 100 (per cent) about that. I wouldn’t be too concerned if I was a Flames fan.”

    That’s reassuring. Maybe.

    Elliott enjoyed five strong seasons in St. Louis, playing alongside Allen for three of those seasons. But St. Louis was — and still is — a very structured team under head coach Ken Hitchcock, which certainly bodes well for goalies.

    It’s still very early in Elliott’s tenure in Calgary, which also has a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan.

    The coach will have an interesting decision coming up next week, with the Flames making a quick two-game stop in the Central Division. They’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and the Blues the following night.

    Elliott didn’t get a chance to face his old team Saturday. Perhaps he’ll get that opportunity in St. Louis on Tuesday.