toughroadforbuff

World Junior Championships force Buffalo Sabres to deal with tough ‘boomerang’ schedule

Last season, I thought Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks would probably not be able to win the Northwest Division thanks to an NHL record 12-game road trip before and after the 2010 Olympic games. Instead, the Sedin twins played the kind of hockey that would help earn Henrik Sedin an unexpected Hart Trophy while the team managed to win their division despite that challenge.

Of course, the Canucks were (and are) the kind of Stanley Cup contending team that stands well above their division mates. The Buffalo Sabres will deal with a similar – though nowhere near as long – bit of turmoil thanks to the 2011 World Junior Championships being held at HSBC Arena. (And the city won’t even receive the benefit of uniform good press, judging by the fact that Emerson Etem called Buffalo a “ghost town” on Twitter today.)

Stu Hackel of Sports Illustrated thinks that the Sabres are getting “screwed” by the schedule makers during this upcoming stretch. Here is how it breaks down for Buffalo:

  • A back-to-back out in Western Canada, as they lost a road game against the Calgary Flames tonight and will play the Oilers in Edmonton on Tuesday.
  • Then the Sabres get the one home game that Hackel said they requested during the WJC tournament’s “off-day,” a contest against the Boston Bruins on New Year’s day.
  • After that, they “boomerang” right back to the Western Conference, with road contests against the Avalanche on Tuesday, Sharks on Thursday and Coyotes on Saturday.

Hackel explains how the league handled a similar situation differently with the Ottawa Senators before and how these types of tough road trips hurt – and will continue to hinder – even some of the league’s best teams. (Let alone a struggling bunch like the Sabres.)

Now, when the Ottawa Senators hosted the WJC in 2008-09, they went west for three games, then came back to play in Toronto and New Jersey. That’s a reasonable schedule, but, for some reason, it was no template for this year. The Sabres are eight points south of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and 1-4-2 in their past seven road games while being outscored 22-11.

To make matters worse, the Sabres will begin their boomerang trip and what could be the defining portion of their schedule by adjusting to the loss of their top offensive player, Derek Roy. Roy tore his left quadricep tendon on Thursday after being checked by Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov and falling into the boards. Roy is scheduled for surgery this week.

The road has also been treacherous this season for other clubs. The Kings, for example, were on top of the Western Conference earlier this season, went on an extended trip and lost five of six. The Canadiens have dropped three of the first four games on their current seven-game voyage (including Sunday night to the Islanders who — gasp! — have now grabbed nine of a possible 10 points in their last five games, led by NHL First Star of the Week, goalie Dwayne Roloson). The Flyers are about to embark on their biggest road trip of the season and will play nine of their next 10 away from Philly. Without Chris Pronger, it should be a very telling stretch.

Hackel points to quotes from Sabres GM Darcy Regier, who rightly points out that every team has to deal with its share of road challenges. Yet, when you consider Buffalo’s tenuous position as a playoff hopeful team – and the potential destructive effect of Derek Roy’s injury – this could be the end of the road for the Sabres’ shaky postseason dreams.

Flames’ Bennett, Tkachuk accused of slew-footing in loss to Leafs

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The Calgary Flames dropped an ugly 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, not exactly rebounding from an embarrassing 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

Things were ugly in a different way toward the end, especially if you ask Maple Leafs fans, as Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk may or may not be guilty of “slew-footing” late in the contest. In each case, they were whistled for roughing.

Bennett was guilty of the first incident on Connor Carrick:

Meanwhile, around the time of the final whistle, Tkachuk’s “roughing” of Martin Marincin drew quite a bit of ire. You can see for yourself in the video above the post’s headline.

More than a few people believe that Tkachuk will be on the Department of Player Safety’s radar thanks to this moment.

There’s no doubt that he’s been making waves as a pest – really, from his first game in the NHL – but some believe he went over the line this time. He’s second in the NHL with 92 penalty minutes, by the way.

Patrick Marleau’s magical third period secures Sharks win vs. Avalanche

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At 37 years old and nearing 500 career goals, there aren’t a ton of things Patrick Marleau has failed to accomplish.* Still, he did something he’s never done – and few players have managed to do – in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

The amusing thing is that it was a mundane night for Marleau and the Sharks heading into the third period.

They carried a 2-1 lead against the Avs before Marleau’s magical period really kicked into gear. In less than eight minutes of game time, Marleau managed an out-of-left-field natural hat trick:

He didn’t stop there, either, as he also hit the four-goal mark for the first time in his career … and again, it was in the same period.

That’s his first four-goal game (and period, naturally). It’s been a long, long time since someone enjoyed a period like Marleau did:

Speaking of history, this massive night indeed places Marleau close to another impressive feat. He’s now at 497 career goals, three away from the elusive 500 mark.

To underscore how unexpected this outburst was, consider this: Marleau generated zero goals and one assist in his previous seven games.

As the Sharks enjoy an era fueled by the ascent of Brent Burns and the passing of the torch from the likes of Marleau and Joe Thornton to a group including Logan Couture and Martin Jones, it seems fitting that Marleau – a player receding from the team’s spotlight – totally stole the spotlight on Monday.

The Sharks probably won’t complain, either. He helped them seal their fifth consecutive win, putting San Jose in a strong position to regain the lead in the Pacific Division.

Pretty good stuff from a guy who rapidly faded from relevance after being stripped of the Sharks captaincy.

* – How dare you make Stanley Cup jokes on a happy occasion for Sharks fans?

Capitals assert their dominance once again, this time clobbering Hurricanes

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after assisting Justin Williams #14 on a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Verizon Center on January 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals lead the league in standings points … and maybe in swagger. At least, it feels that way lately.

Monday presented their latest display of power as the Carolina Hurricanes had no answer for the Capitals machine. Washington clobbered Carolina by a score of 6-1, but at least the Hurricanes can take comfort in joining a rather large group of teams who’ve been humbled by Braden Holtby & Co.

This makes the Capitals 11-0-1 during a dominant run; they’ve scored at least a point in all but one game since Dec. 21.

Honestly, you can dice up their hot streak in a variety of ways, as Washington’s been outstanding since at least early December. Margin of victory might be the most jaw-dropping way to illustrate Washington’s dominant run:

Yep, that’s something else.

Dmitry Orlov was one of the standouts of this latest win, scoring two goals. His strong night and flashes of brilliance prompted Alex Ovechkin to … maybe go a little over the top.

Hey, when you’re on fire like the Capitals have been lately, it’s probably tough to make some pretty bold comparisons.

Things might be turning around for Lundqvist (not so much for the Kings)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13:  Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings shakes hands with Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers after the Kings 3-2 double-overtime victory during Game Five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As you likely know, the 2017 NHL All-Star Game is coming to Los Angeles this weekend. If the Kings don’t get it together, that might be the biggest hockey event for some time, as they’re currently on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Monday presented what felt like a story of one cold streak continuing to fade away while the other only seems to get icier.

The positive side: Henrik Lundqvist might just be working through that slump.

The New York Rangers beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for Lundqvist. He made 36 out of 38 stops, giving him a personal three-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just four total goals.

Some of those stops were pretty impressive, too:

(He also shut down a Jeff Carter breakaway, which is obviously no easy task.)

While Lundqvist is getting it together, the Kings might just be a little worried after dropping their fourth straight loss.

They’re at 48 points in 47 games, leaving them three points behind the West’s two wild card teams and two behind the Canucks.

The Kings have experience fighting through challenges like these, but they’ve also fallen short of getting into the West’s top eight, and their schedule is awfully road-heavy:

Tuesday: at Devils
Thursday: at Hurricanes
Tuesday, Jan. 31: at Coyotes
Wednesday, Feb. 1: vs. Avalanche
Saturday, Feb. 4: at Flyers
Sunday, Feb. 5: at Capitals
Tuesday, Feb. 7: at Lightning
Thursday, Feb. 9: at Panthers

Some of those opponents are struggling and the All-Star break might allow for a breather, but that could still be a problematic stretch, especially if the Kings are in a fragile state.

Then again, if they look at Lundqvist’s upward trend, they can note that fortunes can change pretty quickly in 2016-17.