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.

WATCH LIVE: Minnesota Wild at Detroit Red Wings

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The Minnesota Wild are looking to snap out of their recent slump that has seen them stumble down the stretch run of the regular season.

After getting embarrassed on home ice on Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks they are back in action on Sunday afternoon in Detroit against the Red Wings. It is their last ever visit to Joe Louis Arena before the building closes at the end of this season.

All of the action begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Follow all of the action there, or via our Live Stream.

Click here for the Live Stream

Preview: Wild look to bounce back from embarrassing loss

 

Crosby on criticism from Sens owner Melnyk: ‘He likes to hear himself talk, so let’s just leave it’

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One day after Ottawa Senators defenseman Marc Methot had the tip of his finger busted apart by a Sidney Crosby slash, team owner Eugene Melnyk made an appearance on Ottawa radio and sounded off on Crosby. Along with calling for a lengthy suspension for the Penguins’ captain, Melnyk referred to Crosby as a “whiner beyond belief.”

It was all part of a pretty eventful for week for Crosby that saw him not only extend his lead in the NHL goal scoring race, but also be involved in a couple of stick incidents (the slash on Methot, a spearing incident involving Ryan O'Reilly) that should have been penalized.

On Sunday, Crosby was finally asked about Melnyk’s criticism and he did not really seem to have much interest in addressing it.

“I’m just going to leave it,” Crosby said following the team’s morning skate. “He likes to hear himself talk, so let’s just leave it. It was four days ago.”

As bad as the result was (and it was terrible for Methot), the NHL was never going to suspend somebody for that type of slash.

The department of player safety has only suspended two players for slashing since it came into existence (it has also never suspended a player for spearing).

The bigger issue is that slashes like that are, unfortunately, accepted as part of the game and get overlooked so consistently during games.

NHL analyst Mike Johnson put together a pretty lengthy compilation over the weekend of Senators players (including Methot) being guilty of the same type of slashing incidents. They should be penalized, including this one. But the unfortunate result of this particular one was never going to escalate it to any sort of supplemental discipline. Keep in mind that earlier this season Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau had his hand broken in a game after he was on the receiving end of no fewer than 15 slashes from the Minnesota Wild, resulting in no discipline from the league (and only one penalty during the game).

This is not the first time Melnyk has gone off regarding an incident with the Penguins.

A few years back he launched a “forensic investigation” into determining whether or not Matt Cooke intentionally sliced Erik Karlsson‘s achilles tendon with his skate blade during the 2012-13 season. He continued to seek out ways to have Cooke punished for the incident following it.

It sure would be something if these two teams ended up meeting in the playoffs this season.

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins host Flyers as chase for top spot in Metropolitan continues

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The second game on the NBC networks on Sunday will feature Keystone state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Puck drop is at 7 p.m. ET, and you can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

The Penguins, currently in a three-team race (along with the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets) for the Metropolitan Division crown, are still dealing with a mountain of injuries that has them playing without Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta, and Ron Hainsey. Even with that injured list they are still finding a way to collect points in the standings and enter Sunday’s game with an 8-1-3 record over their past 12 games.

They enter the day three points back of the Capitals for the top spot in the division and the entire league.

They have dropped two consecutive games in a shootout and are looking to avoid what would be their first three-game losing streak since January (it is also their only three-game losing streak of the season).

Given that they have been without their second best player, pretty much an entire top-four on defense (including their No. 1 defenseman), and a couple of other key forwards this has been an incredible run over the past few weeks. It speaks not only to the depth of the organization, but also to the way the top players, specifically Sidney Crosby, have been able to carry the team through the injuries in recent weeks.

Crosby has eight goals and 12 points over the past eight games alone as he tries to secure his second goal scoring crown and keep pace with Connor McDavid in the Art Ross race.

On Sunday evening the Penguins will wrap up their season series with the Flyers and are looking to win it. The Penguins won the first two meetings of the season, including a 4-2 win in the Stadium Series at Heinz Field back in February. The Flyers however won the last meeting, shutting out the Penguins 4-0 in Philadelphia earlier this month.

While the Penguins are competing for the top spot in the NHL, the Flyers are simply looking to salvage something from a season that has turned into a pretty big disappointment after appearing to be trending in the right direction back in December when they put together a 10-game winning streak. Since that winning streak however the Flyers have gone just 15-22-5 and are going to miss the playoffs for the second time in three years and the third time in the past five.

The one bright spot for the Flyers this season has been the play of power forward Wayne Simmonds who is just one goal away from recording his second straight 30-goal season.

NHL on NBC: Wild look to bounce back after embarrassing loss

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With losses in 10 of their 13 games so far in the month of March the Minnesota Wild are fading during the stretch run of the 2016-17 season.

It is a slump that has almost certainly cost them the Central Division crown (something they seemed destined to win as recently as a month ago) and has caused some concern with the playoffs just around the corner.

Things seemed to only get worse on Saturday when they were embarrassed on home ice by the Vancouver Canucks, a defeat that prompted coach Bruce Boudreau to pretty much rip into his team’s effort.

The only good news is they do not have to wait long to get back on the ice and get rid of the sour taste that effort left.

They will be making their final trip to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon when they visit the Detroit Red Wings. All of the action can be seen on NBC or via our Live Stream. Puck drop is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET.

While the Wild, a team that is headed to the playoffs and had been in contention for a division crown, is playing some of its worst hockey of the season right now, the Red Wings, a team going nowhere this season with nothing to play for, has put together a nice little run in recent weeks with a 3-1-1 record in its past five games, collecting seven out of a possible 10 points. Henrik Zetterberg, still the team’s best player even at age 36, has been playing especially well for the Red Wings over the last quarter of the season, collecting 30 points in his past 26 games. That includes five multi-point games in the month of March alone.

After Saturday’s loss to Vancouver the Wild now find themselves eight points back of the Blackhawks in the standings with eight games to play. This after the Wild held a five-point lead over the Blackhawks (with a game in hand) when the month of March began. That is a massive swing in the standings in a very short period of time, and will likely result in Boudreau failing to win a division title for just the second time in his career as an NHL coach.

Still, the Wild know they are going to the playoffs (they actually clinched a spot on Saturday, even with the loss to Vancouver) and they know they are now likely to be the second place team in the Central Division and get a first-round matchup with either the Nashville Predators or St. Louis Blues. Still, this is not the way they want to be heading into the playoffs.

They would probably like to start getting things back in the right direction on Sunday.