Niklas Hjalmarsson

Expecting a bloodbath in Chicago tonight for Sabres-Blackhawks? Think again

With Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson coming back tonight from his two-game suspension for his hit from behind on Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville, his return to the ice comes at a rather peculiar time as the Blackhawks face the Sabres once again tonight in Chicago. Revenge is on the mind of many fans and perhaps on the minds of some Sabres players (Patrick Kaleta most notably) but is there a reason to think that tonight’s game will go the way of “Slap Shot” and turn into a game-long brouhaha? Perhaps yes, but it won’t happen for the reasons you think it will.

The Sabres go into tonight’s game with Chicago struggling. Struggling to win, struggling to score goals, struggling in most facets of the game. They’re 1-3-1 to start the year, and the only win came opening night against Ottawa, 2-1 over the Senators. Since that game, they’ve been inconsistent as anything. Either their defense has let down goalie Ryan Miller the way it did against the Rangers in a 6-3 loss and the Blackhawks in a 4-3 loss, or the offense has disappeared the way it did losing in overtime to the Devils 1-0 or their loss to Montreal last night 2-1. It’s all part of the bumps in the road early in the season when trying to find your way, but the Sabres are looking for a spark to get them going. Enter Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Tonight, the Sabres get the match needed to light their fire in getting to have their “revenge” game against the Blackhawks so soon after Hjalmarsson’s hit on Jason Pominville that’s knocked him out of the lineup since then. With the teams being in opposite conferences, it’s rare that they get to play each other again so soon or even a second time at all. While the Sabres may look to settle the score with Hjalmarsson via fisticuffs, and the Blackhawks should be ready for this and expect something to happen, this is the exact kind of catalyst the Sabres need to get going.

After all, if the team can’t rally together to stand up for their fallen teammate and get back at the team that took him out and beat them on the scoreboard last weekend, where else do you go from there? The Sabres are already a grumpy team as last night’s loss got Lindy Ruff up in arms with the play of some of his forwards, most notably Tim Connolly.

Having a frustrated team come into this situation is the sort of thing that all-out brawls can be made of, but settling things out recklessly like that with no regard for the game isn’t going to help the Sabres overall. They’ll need to bottle those emotions and release them in the form of playing better hockey. Settle the score with Hjalmarsson early in the game (and by the books, no dirty hits) and then ride that emotional high to win the game.

For you fans with a ravenous blood lust and hoping for a line brawl and a tussle like you used to see in the 70s and 80s, you might want to look elsewhere for your testosterone rage tonight. That’s not to say you’re going to see a bad game tonight in Chicago, in fact you might see one of the best ones of the night there. Games where everyone is playing with a hot head and on the edge are great, just look at the playoffs. Expect that sort of intensity tonight from the Sabres, just don’t go expecting everyone and their brother to be putting on the foil.

Talbot thinks McDavid is ready to be Oilers’ captain

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 and goaltender Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate their victory against the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game is the final game the Oilers will play at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid was only healthy enough to play about half of his rookie season, yet he’s earning plenty of looks as the Edmonton Oilers’ next captain.

It sounds like he has his No. 1 goalie’s vote, as Cam Talbot sang his praises when asked by Sportsnet earlier this week.

I’ve been asked that a lot. I think he is. How ready is anyone, really, for the captaincy at any age? It’s a big jump up and a lot of responsibility, but if anyone’s able to do it, Connor can. He’s so grounded. He was raised really well, he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he leads by example. He works hard on and off the ice. He’s the kind of guy guys are going to follow in the dressing room. I think if you put a leadership group around him and give him the C, he’ll grow into it and lead this team for sure.

At 19, McDavid would jockey with Gabriel Landeskog to become the youngest captain in NHL history.

It’s not that uncommon for teams to hand the “C” to relatively inexperienced guys when there’s an obvious fit, from Sidney Crosby to Jonathan Toews. McDavid’s already attracted attention to Edmonton – just ask Milan Lucic – so perhaps it would be silly to delay the inevitable?

(Giving him that title may also imply that change is in the air …)

Talbot didn’t just praise McDavid, mind you, as he also said that the Oilers are one defensive piece from really competing.

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In other positive Oilers news, head coach Todd McLellan seems very upbeat about Zack Kassian, according to the Edmonton Journal.

“I’m very impressed with Zack’s approach in life, in general,” McLellan said. “We’ve talked about the Oilers and hockey but from where Zack was, bottoming out (as a Montreal Canadiens’ winger) with his lifestyle (going into the NHL’s Substance Abuse program) and to see where he his with his commitment to conditioning and becoming healthy. That can rub off on other players.”

If all goes well, both McDavid and Kassian could be positive influences in the Oilers’ locker room, even if their roles would likely be wildly different.

Related: 

McDavid would be honored to serve as Oilers captain

McLellan says Edmonton will have a captain by opening night

Maple Leafs sign Marincin to two-year deal to avoid arbitration

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 21:  Martin Marincin #52 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on October 21, 2015 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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A scheduled arbitration hearing between the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Martin Marincin won’t be necessary.

The two sides have settled on a two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.25 million, the Maple Leafs announced Friday. The arbitration hearing was scheduled for Aug. 2. This new deal represents the final restricted free agent signing left for Toronto, as per General Fanager, which also shows the Maple Leafs have about $55,916 in remaining projected cap space.

Marincin, 24, had one goal and seven points in 65 games for the Maple Leafs last season.

His new deal represents a raise from the $700,000 he made this past season on a one-year deal.

The Maple Leafs had also previously avoided arbitration with Frank Corrado and Peter Holland.

Toronto seemed pleased with the progress Marincin made this past season, in which he posted strong possession numbers in more than 900 minutes of ice time at five-on-five.

“He’s a thin guy so he’s got to work extra hard on his body,” Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told the Globe and Mail during the season.

“He needs an NHL summer. One where you actually commit to being in the league [by putting] some meat on your bones. Then he’s in position to be a real good player in the league. But he’s really come. It’s good for him.”

NHL 17 goes deep on customization, right down to Bautista’s bat flip

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 14:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays flips his bat up in the air after he hits a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers in game five of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 14, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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More and more, it seems like EA Sports’ upcoming NHL 17 is about bolstering all the substance with some style.

While the biggest hopes for on-digital-ice changes seem to hinge on much-needed tweaks to goaltending, plenty of focus revolves around what your players will be wearing and where they’ll be playing.

Polygon provides a great breakdown for some of the tweaks:

Even more exciting is EASHL’s brand-new arena editor, which is a massive step up from last year, when the only things you could add to your team’s rink were championship banners if you won them. Your club will now make its way upward through five different arenas — a small community rink, a larger community rink, a Canadian Hockey League-size venue, an American Hockey League-size arena and an NHL arena — and you’ll be able to customize the last four venues in that progression.

Maybe most interestingly, you can relocate teams to one of 20 other hockey-friendly locales, whether it means bringing the NHL to Las Vegas a year early, rebooting the Hartford Whalers or a number of other possibilities.

(Does this mean the dream of “The KC Masterpiece” could come true?)

The increase in goal celebrations has been touched upon, yet seeing the fruits of such labor is another thing entirely. Hockey Twitter was delighted to learn that Jose Bautista’s memorable “bat flip” is included in the mix:

Nice nod to Toronto Maple Leafs fans, who can use such an animation after forcing the Tampa Bay Lightning to trade Steven Stamkos “home.”

Need another trailer for the game? Why not:

Pacioretty on losing ‘friend’ in Subban trade

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 02:  (R-L) P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his goal with Max Pacioretty #67 in the second period against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on January 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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P.K. Subban‘s relationship with now-former Montreal Canadiens teammates has been dissected for some time, but captain Max Pacioretty insists that he lost a “friend” in the trade.

At least, that’s what he’s saying publicly, as Sportsnet reports.

“I’d been with him for nine years, so it’s going to be very strange to come into the locker room and not see P.K. there, joking around with him all the time,” Pacioretty said.

He added that, in the Subban-for-Shea Weber trade, the Canadiens “lost a friend and hopefully gained another.”

Again, there’s been plenty of speculation that Pacioretty and other Habs viewed Subban as anything but a pal. Jacques Demers ranked among the many who believed that Montreal suffered from a “divided room,” with some believing that it came down to Subban vs. Pacioretty.

Pacioretty dismissed the claims back then:

While Subban responded in a way we’ve come to expect, wondering if he’d have to “make out” with Pacioretty to prove doubters wrong.

That Pacioretty passage might just sum it up the best: you can be friends with someone while (gasp) also occasionally being annoyed by their antics. Really, have you enjoyed a lengthy relationship – business or personal – that never had those moments of minor friction?

Chances are, such chemistry issues were really just a distraction from the more important issues, such as Montreal depending far too much upon Carey Price.

The good news for “Patches” is that he won’t field nearly as many questions about Subban now that P.K.’s plying his trade in Nashville.

The not-so-good news is that he’ll be an obvious target for blame if Montreal’s fate doesn’t change with Weber replacing Subban.

We’ll find out soon enough if Pacioretty has enough help from his friends.

Related

Owner stands behind Marc Bergevin’s moves, Subban trade included

Michel Therrien on his relationship with Subban (when they were still employed by the Habs)

Subban: This is a business