Darroll Powe, Marc-Andre Fleury

Atlantic Division Watch (March 9)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Atlantic Division outlook (March 9 -March 15th)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (41-19-6 for 88 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Toronto (Thursday), home vs. Atlanta (Saturday) and @ Florida (Tuesday).

Thoughts: Look, I don’t think the Flyers are going to lose their Atlantic Division lead to the scrappy but undermanned Penguins. Still, if Pittsburgh were to make headway, it would be soon. Philadelphia plays four of their next five games away from Cream Cheese Land. Granted, the Flyers have a nearly identical road (20-9-3) vs. home (21-10-3) record, but if you want straws to grasp … there you go.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (39-21-8 for 86 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Montreal (Sat), home vs. Edmonton (Sun) and away against Ottawa (Tues).

Thoughts: The Penguins are turning heads with their all-out effort, although one cannot help but wonder how much damage they can really do during the playoffs in their current format. If they want to maintain their fourth seed, they better play well in the next week or so, because they finish the season with four of their last five games on the road.

3. New York Rangers (35-29-4 for 74 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: @ Anaheim (Wed), @ San Jose (Sat) and home vs. Islanders (Tues).

Thoughts: A late slump sunk the Rangers into a race with the Sabres, Hurricanes and x amount of bubble teams for one of the last two playoff spots in the East, so now they need to make the most of every game. The Islanders would be the cherry on the top of a tough week, but the Long Island gang has been awfully pesky lately. As most weeks, the Rangers should feel disappointed if they come away with less than four points.

4. New Jersey Devils (30-32-4 for 64 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Atlanta (Fri), home vs. Islanders (Sat) and home vs. Atlanta (Tues).

Thoughts: It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’ve stumbled on a good (if obscure) parallel for these Devils. Have you ever played a fighting game such as “Mortal Kombat” or “Street Fighter” in which you fought poorly until you were down to the “Danger” mark? You know, that spot when one more leg sweep or blocked jump kick would cause your doom? Those are the times when you’re most dangerous; you get to play with that sense of freedom and danger that you never play with when you’re running with a full bar of health. The Devils are really scary right now, but can they really dodge every fireball thrown their way for the next month?

5. New York Islanders (26-32-10 for 62 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Fri), @ New Jersey (Sat) and @ Rangers (Tues).

Thoughts: After Friday’s home game against the Bruins, the surprisingly surging Islanders play their next five contests on the road. Maybe they can sit in their hotel rooms and read the memo that they’re supposed to tank right now. Don’t get me wrong, the team’s probably tired of losing, but what good will moving up a few rungs on the ladder really do? Just saying.

Star struck: Sens chase Niemi after three goals on nine shots (Update: And now he’s back)

Milan Michalek, Antti Niemi
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Bet Antti Niemi misses playing Buffalo.

Niemi, who stopped 46 of 47 shots in back-to-back wins over the Sabres last week, was hooked during Tuesday’s game against the Senators after allowing three goals on nine shots.

In Niemi’s defense, tonight’s goals weren’t exactly his fault.

John Klingberg coughed up the puck badly on Bobby Ryan‘s opening tally…

And on Ottawa’s second goal, Jyrki Jokipakka lost a board battle moments before Milan Michalek snapped one home:

The Sens’ third marker also came on a turnover.

Update: Well, this is quite the night for Dallas netminders. Kari Lehtonen replaced Niemi, allowed a goal, then got hurt in this collision with Klingberg, which forced him from the game and Niemi back into action.

Foley aware of Seattle reports, but says Vegas is ‘proceeding as if we will play in 2017’

Gary Bettman, Bill Foley
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Bill Foley, the man behind Las Vegas’ prospective NHL expansion team, says he knows about reports claiming the league is keeping an eye on a proposed Seattle arena.

He also says he isn’t going to worry about things out of his control.

“I’m aware of what’s going on (in Seattle) but in my communication with the league, our situation isn’t dependent on third parties,” Foley said Tuesday, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We believe we’re in good shape and we’re proceeding as if we will play in 2017.”

Over the weekend, a Seattle Times piece suggested the NHL had yet to award Vegas or Quebec City an expansion franchise because the league is “avoiding any expansion decision until after an upcoming Seattle City Council vote likely to decide the fate of Chris Han­sen’s proposed Sodo District arena.”

The piece also suggested Seattle could be granted an expansion club for the 2018-19 campaign.


That vote, on granting Hansen part of Occidental Avenue South for his arena, is expected by January. No one knows how it will go, only that the lead-up should be politically charged and fiercely contested.

But passing it — future legal appeals notwithstanding — paves the way for Hansen to obtain his Master Use Permit and have his arena “shovel ready” should he choose to build.

And that means, once a vote passes, it’s entirely possible the NHL could conditionally award Seattle an expansion team.

To his credit, Foley remains solely focused on his Vegas bid — not what potential rival bids could bring to the table. And while he confirmed he has yet to be invited to the Dec. 7 NHL Board of Governor’s meeting in Pebble Beach, he re-iterated his only objective is to strengthen Sin City’s case for a hockey team.

“I’m focused on trying to find a place to build our practice facility,” he said. “I’m focused on the new arena and our fans who’ve put down deposits on season tickets.”

Report: Sabres’ Lehner (ankle) suffered minor setback in recovery

Robin Lehner
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Sabres fans hoping Robin Lehner would return early from his high ankle sprain received some tough news on Tuesday — per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Lehner suffered a “little setback” in his recovery.

Lehner was hurt in Buffalo’s opening game of the year and, originally, slated to miss 6-10 weeks. Six weeks have now passed, but optimism he’d be able to return in the earlier part of the timeframe has been dashed — LeBrun says Lehner’s projected return is now for mid-to-late December.

(So, closer to the 10-week estimate.)

While it’s not great news for the Sabres, it’s a positive development for the club’s other Swedish netminder, Linus Ullmark.

Recalled from AHL Rochester shortly after Lehner got hurt, Ullmark is on a really nice run in November — just check his last five games played:


The last Lehner update from the Sabres came in early November, when head coach Dan Bylsma told the News his goalie was “doing really well,” but “not close yet to getting back on the ice.”

Welcome Ryan Johansen to the trade rumor mill

Ryan Johansen

Well, this kind of seemed inevitable — there are now trade rumblings involving Columbus center Ryan Johansen.

This evening, TSN’s Darren Dreger revealed that teams have been calling Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen about the talented pivot, adding that one team classified Johansen as being “softly” in play.

More (transcribed from video):

“That doesn’t mean [Kekalainen] is calling teams, saying ‘what are you going to give me?’ However, when teams call, he’s not dismissing the interest. He is saying ‘well, what’s your offer?’

“What that tells you is there’s at least some interest in considering the trade of Ryan Johansen and, as we saw on the weekend, his minutes dropped, he was demoted to the fourth line — so if the right deal comes along, they’ll consider it.”

The incident Dreger referred to occurred during Sunday’s 5-3 loss to San Jose, in which head coach John Tortorealla limited Johansen to just 13:52 TOI — his lowest total of the season.

It’s the latest incident from what’s already been a tumultuous year; not long after getting hired, Tortorella told the reigning All-Star MVP he was out of shape.

Johnansen was then away from the team for a pair of games dealing with an undisclosed illness. During that absence, the Dispatch reported Johansen had been hospitalized this summer because of an accelerated heart rate.

All this, of course, came one year after an ugly contract dispute at the start of last season, during which the Jackets and Johansen’s representation engaged in a public spat before agreeing to a three-year, $12M deal.