Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, February 23rd

Buffalo 4, Atlanta 1

In a battle between a team with a new owner vs. a team looking for an owner, it was Buffalo who came out victorious. The Terry Pegula era started just about as well as Sabres fans dreamed as the home team skated away with the 4-1 win. Two goals by Paul Gaustad and Jason Pominville 30 seconds apart was all Buffalo really needed. The loss was the Thrashers’ fourth in a row and dropped them to 10th in the Eastern Conference; Atlanta only has 6 wins in their last 26 games.

Ottawa 5, Florida 1

The Sens had lost 10 straight at home going into the game—but those were games without Craig Anderson. Another stellar performance and a scoring explosion Sens fans haven’t seen in a while lead to an absolute route. Bobby Butler potted a couple and the defense was a solid as it’s been in about a month.

Worse than just the loss in the standings, newly acquired forward Jack Skille went down with a high-ankle sprain and is expected to be out of the line-up for an extended period of time. When it rains, it pours.

When we look back at this game in a month or two, it will probably be in terms of draft positioning. But for a night, all is right in Ottawa. Since the Sens have won two straight, can we call it a streak?

San Jose 3, Pittsburgh 2 (OT)

There was a lengthy 20 minute delay before the 2nd period started as they couldn’t get the lights to turn back on at the CONSOL Energy Center; but not even a power problem could slow down the surging Sharks. After their 3-2 OT victory in Pittsburgh, they have now won 5 straight and are 14-2-1 in their last 17 games.

It was the first game in a Penguins uniform for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. After Logan Couture missed a shot at an empty net, Tyler Kennedy put in a rebound with 50 seconds left to force OT. It looked like there could be a storybook ending—until Patrick Marleau banged home a rebound with 5 seconds left in the overtime period.

Tampa Bay 8, Phoenix 3

With all due respect to the Sharks and Pens, this was the night’s marquee match-up. The key word in that sentence is “was” (as in past tense). The Lightning blew the doors open early as they dropped a 5 spot on the Coyotes before the 1st period was over. Maybe it was the back-up goaltender in net and maybe it was the back-to-back games against the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, but the game never was in doubt. Teddy Purcell kicked off the scoring 2 minutes into the game en route to a hat trick. Vinny Lecavalier had 4 assists and 5 points. Hey, if a team is going to blow an 8-game winning streak, at least they did it in style.

Edmonton 5, Colorado 1

We knew it would be tough for the Avs to bring the same kind of intensity after an emotional, come-from-behind victory against the Blues. Back-to-backs are tough, but even tougher when the teams just made a blockbuster trade and there are storylines all over the place. Yes, the Oilers may be playing better lately, but losing 5-1 at home is not the sign of a team that came ready to play. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Tom Gilbert all had multi-point games as the Oilers scored early and often.

We should have expected a high scoring game when the two worst defensive teams in the league (in terms of GA/G) took the ice. At least one team followed through.

Los Angeles 3, Anaheim 2

Going into the game, the Ducks had given up 7, 5, and 9 goals in their last three games. On the other hand, the Kings were shutout in their last game against the Islanders—so something had to give. Split the difference and the Kings scored three goals en route to their victory to cap off their franchise-long road trip (in which they finished 6-1-3). The win for the Kings was fueled by a game-winning goal from one of the most unlikely sources: shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell. On the other hand, the Ducks lost for the fourth straight game and fell out of a playoff spot for the first time in two months. They gave a great effort with both Saku Koivu and Ryan Getzlaf out for the game—but at this point in the season, they need wins. Thankfully for Ducks fans, both players should be back for their next game.

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    NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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    Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

    Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

    Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

    Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

    The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

    Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

    Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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    Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

    Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

    Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

    Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

    Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

    After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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    The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

    Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

    (Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

    Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

    The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

    McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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    Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

    Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

    Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

    “He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

    McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

    Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

    “This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

    It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

    The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

    Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

    Stay tuned.

    Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy