Flyers stick with goaltending formula, sign Michael Leighton to two-year, $3.1 M deal

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Thumbnail image for 1-leighton.jpgMichael Leighton and Brian Boucher will be the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending duo for the 2010-11 season. Nick Kypreos just reported that Leighton signed a two-year, $3.1 million contract with the team. With that approximate $1.55 million cap hit, the team will spend about $2.5 million in net next season.

Year after year, the Flyers go cheap in net. This leads fans to blame their netminding when things go sour, but honestly, I think it’s a strategy that allows the team to produce consistently competitive squads. Sure, the ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup, but Philly has been arguably the second most successful Eastern Conference team behind the Pittsburgh Penguins the last three seasons. They have one Cup finals appearance, one Conference finals appearance and the only Eastern team to beat them is their cross-state rivals.

Philadelphia follows the Detroit Red Wings model of team building in that they sacrifice paying a goalie $5 million on the hopes that he’ll start 70 games a year and provide stellar work. While big-name guys such as Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury failed to pass the second round, borderline starters such as Leighton and Antti Niemi saw great success. Why? Because they had better teams playing in front of them and … perhaps, just maybe, the gap between an elite starter and a good goalie is rapidly closing.

The Flyers now have more than $9.87 million in cap space and only one significant free agent (RFA Braydon Coburn) to re-sign. I’ve pointed out that the team will have some tough choices to make in 2011 thanks to the expiring contracts of Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and Ville Leino, but the team can enjoy some serious salary cap flexibility this summer. I didn’t put them in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, but perhaps they could raise some eyebrows and land him tomorrow.

Either way, you might as well get that broken record out again. Many sports writers will write the same basic “weakness: goalies” section during season previews time, just with Michael Leighton’s name in the place of Ray Emery.* Yet that supposed Achilles Heel gives the team enough cap space to put some very competitive teams on the ice. I might be in the minority here, but I think the Flyers are taking a wise gamble.

If nothing else, the annual “Will the Flyers get a goalie?” trade deadline talk is always fun, right?

* – And don’t get me wrong, I might even be in that group, especially since the team could be well-stocked with forward and defensive depth. Too bad Leighton never ate any insects to settle a bet, though.

‘It looks like a disaster’ — Senators could be facing more injury problems

BOSTON, MA - MAY 27:  Head coach Guy Boucher of the Tampa Bay Lightning speaks to the media after their 0 to 1 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 27, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Not only did the Ottawa Senators lose on Sunday, but three different forwards left the game because of injury.

And that was after they had already lost forward Bobby Ryan indefinitely because of a hand injury. In a 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Senators had Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Tommy Wingels leave with injuries.

Hoffman suffered a lower-body injury in the first period, while Stone was caught with a hit to the head from defenseman Jacob Trouba. That infraction might result in Trouba getting further supplementary discipline from the NHL.

“Tough day with the loss of Bobby and then we lost another bunch of guys. At some point I felt, there was nobody on the bench,” said Senators coach Guy Boucher, who appeared furious with the officials’ decision to give Trouba only a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.

“I can give you an update – it doesn’t look good. We have to wait until tomorrow to be clear and precise about all these guys.

“Right now, we could be losing quite a few guys … It looks like a disaster. We’ll see tomorrow and maybe the disaster is not as bad as we think but you’ve got to be ready for anything.”

What especially hurts for the Senators is that Hoffman, Stone and Ryan are three very capable offensive players, and if all three are out long-term, that’s a good chunk of scoring suddenly gone from their lineup. Stone leads the team with 22 goals, while Hoffman is tied for second in that category with Kyle Turris at 19 goals.

The Senators had a chance to take over top spot in the Atlantic Division. With a win, Ottawa would’ve tied Montreal with 70 points, but taken first in the division because of fewer games played.

Blackhawks snap Sabres winning streak

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The Eastern Conference playoff race is tightening up, especially when it comes to the wild card.

The Buffalo Sabres, thanks to a three-game winning streak and six wins in their last 10 games prior to Sunday, have suddenly jumped right into the thick of that race. But with a chance to win four in a row and tie, at least temporarily, the Bruins at 64 points, the Sabres ran into the Chicago Blackhawks.

And that proved problematic.

After Evander Kane scored the equalizer with 5.6 seconds left in the first period, Chicago took over through the second half of the game, scoring four unanswered goals for a 5-1 victory to move within seven points of the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division.

Patrick Kane put a stamp on this one. Given an absurd amount of time in front, Kane was able to put on a stickhandling clinic before beating Robin Lehner on the backhand.

It further hurt Buffalo’s cause that it was unable to capitalize on a lengthy five-on-three in the first period.

“I thought our opportunity was that 5-on-3, to get not just one goal, maybe two. We gave them too much,” said coach Dan Bylsma, per the Sabres.

The Sabres now enter their bye week. They play the last-place Colorado Avalanche next Saturday. The time off might provide a rest in the middle of a grinding season, but teams have struggled immediately out of the break and the Sabres can ill afford a set back in the playoff race.

Video: On Hockey Day in America, Auston Matthews did this . . .

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11:  Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Born in Scottsdale, AZ., Auston Matthews has taken the NHL by storm in his rookie season as an elite talent headlining an impressive freshman class.

Taken first overall last June, Matthews made history with four goals in his debut, surely a dizzying experience for Maple Leafs fans accustomed to heartbreak and frustration. And he really hasn’t slowed down since.

On Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes — and on Hockey Day in America — the 19-year-old Matthews once again put on a show, scoring his 28th goal of the season. That gave Toronto a two-goal lead.

As he’s often done in his brief time in the NHL, this goal was of the spectacular variety, as he broke in off the left wing and, as he was getting hauled down to the ice, slid the puck five-hole on Cam Ward.

Related: Auston Matthews is having a rookie season for the ages

Video: After a slow start, Evander Kane is on a roll for the Sabres

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For about a month now, Evander Kane has enjoyed a particularly productive stretch for the Buffalo Sabres.

Kane scored with 5.6 seconds remaining in the first period of Sunday’s game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, converting on a nifty pass from Jack Eichel and going top shelf on Scott Darling.

He now has goals in three straight games, and 15 points in 14 games as the Sabres have fought their way back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, this latest run comes just before the trade deadline, and Kane’s name has consistently been in speculation about a possible move — in addition to off-ice issues. While GM Tim Murray has said earlier this month that he’s not actively shopping Kane, he also didn’t absolutely rule out trading the 25-year-old left winger, now into his second season in Buffalo.

(Murray: “Is there a crazy deal that somebody could throw at me that would force me to do it? I guess there is.”)

Most impressive about Kane’s numbers — remember he missed time earlier this season with a rib injury and then had a slow start, which drew the ire of the coach — is that he’s done the vast majority of his scoring, 20 of 21 goals, at five-on-five.