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Ryan Miller needs more help if the Sabres want to shake slump

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When I first realized that the Buffalo Sabres were about to suffer yet another significant beating, I couldn’t help but make an immediate assumption that something is very, very wrong with Ryan Miller. Yet when I peeked at his page at hockey reference.com, I saw that his save percentage was a very respectable 91.9 percent. (Although, to be fair, that number will go down after tonight’s jarring loss against the Philadelphia Flyers).

Does that mean that Miller’s off the hook? Well, not completely.

After wrestling the title of Perceived Best Goalie in the World away from luminaries such as Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist and so on thanks to a splendid 2009-10 season and Olympic run, Miller is struggling. But he’s not struggling uniformly; instead, Miller either puts together an outstanding effort or lays down a stink bomb.

While he played well in two losses, it’s still stunning to look at winning Miller versus losing Miller.

Ryan Miller in wins (three games)

2-1 win at Ottawa: 25 saves on 26 shots for one goal allowed.

4-1 win at Atlanta: 17 saves on 18 shots for one goal allowed.

6-1 win at New Jersey: 26 saves on 27 shots for one goal allowed.

So, in three wins, Miller stopped 68 out of 71 shots and only allowed one goal per game. Notice the fact Buffalo allowed an average of less than 24 shots per game and no more than 27 in any single contest in those wins.

Ryan Miller in losses (six games)

6-3 loss at home vs. Rangers: 22 saves on 27 shots for five goals allowed (plus empty-netter).

4-3 loss at home vs. Chicago: 26 saves on 30 shots for four goals allowed.

1-0 overtime loss at home vs. Devils: 34 saves on 35 shots for one goal allowed.

2-1 loss at home vs. Canadiens: 26 saves on 28 shots for two goals allowed.

4-2 loss at home vs. Ottawa: 28 saves on 31 shots for three goals allowed.

6-3 loss in Philadelphia: 28 saves on 33 shots for five goals allowed.

Now, it’s not like Miller has been that bad in every loss. He didn’t have any goal support in a great performance against New Jersey and only one goal to work with when he was solid at home against Montreal.

Any goalie’s numbers will look worse in losses, but there’s certainly a stark contrast so far for Miller (and the team in front of him). He stopped 164 out of 184 shots in those six losses, which would yield an 89.1 save percentage. Those 20 goals in six games makes for a 3.33 goal per game average to boot (his actual GAA would be a little higher considering the times he was pulled from the net).

As you can see, when the shots pile up past that 27 shot threshold, things slip considerably for the all-world goalie. Obviously, he played well in some of those losses, though, as his team only gave him one goal to work with against Montreal and none against the Devils. The Sabres allowed an average of 30.6 shots per game in defeat, about seven more than in victories.

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So, the question is, will Miller and the Sabres snap out of it? Well, it’s hard to say. If the “Miller usually falters when his defense gives up 28 or more shots” trend continues, it’s a little shaky as 30 shots allowed seems like the Mendoza line in the NHL so far. (Buffalo allows 27.9 per game, but I would guess that number didn’t factor in tonight’s 33 shots allowed.)

The most disturbing number of them all, though, is the team’s overall home record of 0-4-1. You’d think that they would play better in Buffalo with the benefit of choosing their own defensive matchups, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Ultimately, Miller is still an elite goalie, but the Sabres are probably too dependent on him to play that way every night. An already mediocre defense lost some stable (but not spectacular) pieces such as Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder and their offense is OK but far from dominant, so there isn’t much room for error.

My guess is that Miller will straighten things to some extent, but it won’t be enough to win the Northeast. Making the playoffs isn’t out of the question yet, but the Sabres need to play better hockey in front of their all-world goalie to have a legitimate chance.

Preds’ Forsberg becomes first player since 2010 to score back-to-back hat tricks

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Remember when Predators forward Filip Forsberg couldn’t buy a goal at the beginning of the season? Yea, neither do we.

It may be hard to believe, but Forsberg didn’t find the back of the net until the 14th game of the 2016-17 season. He didn’t score his second until game no. 19. But the 22-year-old has really put it together.

On Tuesday night, he scored three goals in a 6-5 OT loss to the Calgary Flames and he netted a second hat trick in two games in Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche (you can watch his latest hat trick by clicking the video at the top of the page).

It’s the first time in Predators history that a player has back-to-back three-goal games and he’s the first player in the league to do it since Canucks forward Alex Burrows in 2010.

Despite his slow start, the two hat tricks now put him on pace to hit the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive year, which is really impressive.

“It’s tough to explain,” Forsberg said, per NHL.com. “Sometimes it feels great but you don’t score, and sometimes you feel bad but you still score. Tonight was a lot of fun.

“I think I always felt a responsibility, and I think that goes for every player in this locker room. Everyone wants to contribute and help the team win. Obviously I can’t expect myself to score a hat trick every game, but I just try to work hard and if I can score goals, I’ll take that as well.”

Not only has he been better, but the whole team is showing that the slow start they endured in the first few weeks of the season was just a fluke.

The Predators are comfortably sitting in a playoff spot (if that even exists in today’s NHL) with 67 points in 60 games, which puts them in the first Wild Card position. They’re one point ahead of Calgary with a game in hand and five points ahead of Los Angeles, who’s on the outside looking in.

Nashville is also neck-and-neck with the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central Division. Both teams have the same number of games played and points, but the Blues have three more regulation/overtime victories.

PHT Morning Skate: Four trade deadline targets that may cost too much

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–Every hockey fan remembers the Quebec Nordiques’ blue, white and red logo, but not many know that they were about to change it before they moved to Colorado in 1996. We never got to see the logo on the ice because the team ended up packing their bags for Denver. They were going to use a blue, white and teal jersey with a husky on it. (The Hockey News)

–The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Ron Hainsey from Carolina on Thursday and the veteran couldn’t be happier. The 35-year-old has played 891 NHL games without ever making it to the post-season, so you can understand why he’s pumped about being moved to the defending Stanley Cup champions. “If you could pick a place, this would be the place. The group that they have coming off last year, there’s a lot of excitement when you hear you’re going to Pittsburgh.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

–After 15 seasons, the ECHL’s Alaska Aces will cease operations after this season. The ownership group cited the poor economy in Alaska as the main reason for closing up shop. “I think it’s an understatement to say this hurts,” co-owner Jerry Mackie said. “It’s like losing a family member because you can’t get them back. We tried every possible way to save this team and this organization for the community, despite significant financial loss. (Anchorage Daily News)

–The Chicago Blackhawks got a hat trick from Jonathan Toews on Tuesday night, and  on Thursday, it was Patrick Kane‘s turn to deliver a three-goal performance. The ‘Hawks forward helped lead his team to a 6-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes. You can watch the highlights of that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Trade deadline week is a crazy time of year for every NHL team. Sometimes contenders are able to acquire a player for just the right price and other times, they pay too steep a price for a rental player’s services. Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire says four players that might fetch way too high of a return are Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Drew Stafford. (Sportsnet)

–For the first time in his career, Islanders rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored a goal in his home province of Quebec, and it brought his father to tears. What a special moment for the family. (BarDown)

–The Winnipeg Jets were going to donate a jersey autographed by Dustin Byfuglien and a jacket signed by Dale Hawerchuk to charity, but both items were stolen. They’re asking fans to help get the items back:

Report: Potential Shattenkirk trade fell apart over contract talks

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 9:  Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues waits for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 9, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Kevin Shattenkirk‘s name has been floating around the NHL’s trade rumor mill for sometime now, and according to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Blues came very close to dealing him six weeks ago only to have the trade fall apart when the new team and Shattenkirk were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.

It is not the first time that has happened over the past year.

According to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues recently had a Shattenkirk trade in place with an Eastern Conference team that was believed to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. But when Shattenkirk turned down a long-term contract extension with the team that would have paid him $42 million over seven years, the trade fell apart.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Thursday night that the Arizona Coyotes also had permission earlier this season to speak to Shattenkirk about a new contract but were unable to reach a deal. A similar situation unfolded in the offseason when the Edmonton Oilers also tried to acquire the veteran defenseman.

The Lightning would make a ton of sense as a trade partner for the Blues here because they have been in desperate need of another big-time defenseman to add to their blue line along with Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. They also have several restricted free agents (and a pretty tight cap situation) to deal with this summer that could have been part of a return in a Shattenkirk trade.

If the reported contract terms are correct, it’s a pretty good sign that Shattenkirk thinks he can get a massive payday on the open market this summer as a free agent. And he is probably not wrong. Since the start of the 2011-12 season Shattenkirk has been one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL, currently sitting 10th among all blue-liners in points (241) and posting dominant possession numbers.

A $6 million per year cap hit would put him in the same salary range as Mike Green, Johnny Boychuk, and Erik Johnson.

He outperforms all of them.

Even though Shattenkirk is one of their top players, and the Blues seem on track to make the playoffs, the team still seems determined to move him before the deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing over the summer.

Blackhawks keep rolling with another dominant offensive performance

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Another night, another hat trick, and another dominant offensive showing from the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Thursday night it was Patrick Kane becoming the second Blackhawks forward in as many games to record a hat trick — following the three goal (and five point) effort Jonathan Toews had on Tuesday night — to help lead the Blackhawks to a 6-3 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Along with Kane’s three goals, Toews picked up two more assists to continue his recent scoring surge that has seen him pick up 23 points in his past 15 games. Keep in mind he only had 21 points in the 37 games prior to that.

Even more than Toews is the fact the entire Blackhawks team is clicking right now offensively.

Their win on Thursday is their eighth in the past nine games and every one of those wins has been a display of total offensive dominance, scoring 40 goals during that stretch. That is more than four goals per game. Everybody is contributing to it at this point as seven players (Toews, Kane, Richard Panik, Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith) all have at least eight points during this run.

It’s a stretch that has helped the Blackhawks gain some ground on the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, as they now sit three points back of the top spot.

Just about the only bad news for the Blackhawks on Thursday night was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson leaving the game with what coach Joel Quenneville described as an upper body injury.

The Blackhawks knew he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game and dressed a seventh defenseman, Michal Rozsival, as a precaution in case Hjalmarsson could not finish. After skating just four shifts in the first period — a first period that saw the two teams combine for six goals — he exited the game and did not return. Rozsival ended up playing a pretty significant role in the game scoring his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period for what ultimately prove to be the game-winner.