Buffalo Sabres v New York Islanders

After 31 straight starts, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller will finally rest; Enroth gets start over Lalime

It’s been a long time since Ryan Miller hasn’t started a game for the Buffalo Sabres. Miller has started every game since November 26th and the last time a goalie not named Ryan Miller started was November 24th when rookie Jhonas Enroth started and lost a 1-0 game to Pittsburgh.

Tonight when the Sabres face the Canadiens in Montreal, Ryan Miller will be wearing the baseball cap on the bench rather than starting on the ice but it won’t be his backup Patrick Lalime that gets the call to start. Instead, Enroth will be back up from the AHL to get the start. (Update: Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reports that Miller will not even suit up, Lalime will back up Enroth)

If you’re wondering why Patrick Lalime is even playing in Buffalo if he’s not trusted enough to even get a start when it’s finally time you’re not alone as Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan says that if Lalime is getting skipped now after working Miller like a dog, perhaps Enroth should just stay for good.

I’d go with Enroth for the rest of the season. Enroth played better than Lalime early in the year. Early in November, he won back-to-back games in shootouts when the Sabres were 3-9-2 and there was speculation about Ruff’s job. Enroth lost, 1-0, to the Penguins.

If the Sabres are serious about making a playoff push, they need a reliable backup. They can’t keep pretending Miller is a superstar, capable of carrying a team by himself. They need to find out about Enroth. Either that, or trade for a proven backup before the deadline.

The Sabres are about to enter a brutal stretch of games in which they’ll play 16 in the next 29 days. Giving Miller a night off here before likely playing again on Wednesday against Toronto makes sense, but if the Sabres plan on riding Miller as hard as they’ve been, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if he has a few more off-nights like he had on Sunday afternoon against the Islanders when he surrendered seven goals in a 7-6 overtime loss.

That said, it seems silly that Lalime is even hanging around in the NHL still if he’s going to get passed over for starts when it’s obviously his time to get one. Coach Lindy Ruff’s confidence in Lalime is clearly very poor as he hasn’t had the guts to go with Lalime at all for a span of over two months to spell Miller for even a game here and there.

Miller’s opinion of Lalime is sky high and he’s been thankful for having Lalime as a teammate to provide veteran guidance as he said after winning the Vezina last season. But when it comes down to it, having a competent teammate might be more important than having a good friend to be the guy to help you out when you need a break. Lalime hasn’t been that guy, nor has he been given much of a chance to show it. If the Sabres are serious about getting to the playoffs ensuring that Miller can carry you is the team’s top priority and if Lalime isn’t the guy to get it done, then it’s time for him to go.

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.