Rick Nash, Anton Stralman, Jared Boll, Derek MacKenzie, Jan Hejda

Early ride on the Zamboni – Saturday, March 12

Pittsburgh, Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 0

Someone should have told the Penguins this was a matinee tilt. The Habs scored 46 seconds into the game and as the rest of the game would show, that would be enough. In fact, the Pens had difficulties at the beginning of both the 1st and 2nd periods as they gave up early goals. Carey Price bounced back nicely from the Halak/Price hype-fest in St. Louis as he earned his 8th shutout of the season. The best news of the day for the Penguins was that Crosby made it to the rink today. Unfortunately, he was in the press box and not on the bench—they could have used some offense today.

Florida 4, Tampa Bay 3 (OT)

This looked like a game that could have helped the Lightning stop the bleeding. Apparently the Florida Panthers didn’t get the memo.
The Lightning started slow and rallied to come back in the 3rd period and send the game to overtime. But once there, Jason Garrison flipped a backhander over a sprawling Mike Smith for the game-winner with 16 seconds left for the victorious Panthers. The loss dropped the Lightning to 1-4-3 over their last 7 and 3 points behind the Southeast Division leading Washington Capitals. Hey, at least Steven Stamkos scored another goal.

Toronto 4, Buffalo 3

James Reimer made 39 saves, Phil Kessel scored the game winner, and the Maple Leafs pulled within 4 points of the last playoff spot. Not only did they pick the right time to end their 3-game losing streak, but they picked the right team to do it against. Nothing like beating the team you’re chasing to help out in the standings. The Leafs came from behind in the 3rd period as they got two quick goals from Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel to stick the dagger in the Sabres.

The loss was a sour way to end an otherwise successful 7 game road trip. Including the loss in Toronto, they were still able to finish 4-2-1 away from Buffalo. The good news was Carolina lost as well and they were able to hang onto the 8th seed.

Atlanta 5, Philadelphia 4 (OT)

The Flyers took a 3-0 lead into the 3rd period against the Thrashers. Surprisingly, it wasn’t enough. Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom all scored to put Atlanta in a position to make it interesting. Then Andrew Ladd scored with 44 seconds left to tie the game; Ron Hainsey scored on a beautiful top-shelf, backhand redirection early in OT to cap the comeback and sent Flyers fans home disappointed.

If you only saw the first 40 minutes of the game, you may have been tempted to turn the game off in the 2nd intermission. The Flyers were not only leading—but carried the play in the 2nd period and seemingly had control of the game as they looked for their 3rd straight win. Even though Ville Leino contributed a hat trick and the Flyers earned the loser point for 91 on the season (and still in 1st place in the East), there’s no doubt they let a point get away.

New Jersey 3, NY Islanders 2 (OT)

Another game, another Devils win. If this team won any games before January, they’d be the favorites in the Eastern Conference and maybe the NHL to make a run for the Cup. As it is, they’ll have to settle for the title “team no one wants to have to face in the playoffs.” For the Isles, it’s loses like these that absolutely kill their ever dwindling playoff hopes.

The Devils dominated the game outshooting the Isles 35-15, but still needed a 3rd period goal from David Clarkson to force it to extra time. The win pushes their record during this historic run to an incredible 22-3-2 in their last 27. More importantly, the win puts them only 6 points out of the final playoff spot. The only question is if they started too late.

Columbus 3, Carolina 2

Going into the game, the Hurricanes had lost 3 straight and the Blue Jackets were winless in their last 7 games. As they say, something had to give. Luckily for the Blue Jackets, it was their winless streak that went out the window as they escaped Raleigh with a win and held the Hurricanes at 9th place in the standings (2 points behind the 8th seed).

Steve Mason was able to bounce back after losing a night ago at home against the Kings and Derek MacKenzie was able to pot 2 (including the rare game-winning, empty-net goal) as the Jackets did what they could to try to remain within striking distance in the West. Carolina, on the other hand, had a tough night on the power play. More specifically, they had a tough time on the 5-on-3 power play as they failed three separate times on Saturday night. Super-rookie Jeff Skinner finally scored their first goal of the game halfway through the 3rd, but it was too little too late.

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    Sabres have a strong group of forwards — even without Jimmy Vesey

    BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Jimmy Vesey #19 of the Harvard Crimson skates against Steve Santini #6 of the Boston College Eagles during the second period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament consolation game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

    The prolonged Jimmy Vesey saga has been over for almost a week now.

    After weeks of hearing about which teams were interested and where he may end up and all the star power used to help make the case of those interested teams, Vesey chose the New York Rangers — in case you missed it.

    The Buffalo Sabres were unable to get Vesey under contract, despite acquiring his negotiating rights from the Nashville Predators, the team that originally drafted Vesey four years ago. The Sabres used their star, Jack Eichel, as a recruiting tool in this case. A number of teams used the same tactic with their big-name players.

    For the Sabres, the move has been called a risk. It’s been called a gamble. It didn’t pay out, which happens. All that it cost general manager Tim Murray was a third-round pick in this year’s draft and the Sabres had four of those. Why not spare one to get, at least for several weeks before Vesey became a free agent, the exclusive negotiating rights to a young player they clearly coveted?

    From the Buffalo Hockey Beat:

    Still, it’s a gamble Murray’s clearly comfortable with. According to the Sabres’ metric, teams only draft players like Vesey in the third round 7 percent of the time. Nashville drafted Vesey in the third round, 66th overall, in 2012.

    “To me, he’s got top-six potential,” Murray said during a pre-draft news conference inside the First Niagara Center. “If we do get him signed, we’re not going to tell you he’s in our top six, but that’s his potential, that’s his pro rating for us. He’s a complete forward. He’s big and strong. He can shoot the puck but he can also make plays. He’s got a great hockey IQ.”

    Despite not getting Vesey — it seemed his intentions all along were to go to free agency after his college career ended — the Sabres still have a strong cast of forwards.

    (It was reported that had Vesey signed in Buffalo, the Sabres would’ve been more willing to trade Evander Kane, who has been sued by a 21-year-old Buffalo woman after she said Kane seriously injured her in the hotel room.)

    Having Eichel, the second overall pick in 2015, certainly builds that promise. Their aspirations of becoming a playoff team next season aren’t far-fetched, especially after locking up Kyle Okposo when the free agent market officially opened last month. In that case, the Sabres committed a total of $42 million over seven years to gain an established scoring forward.

    They have Ryan O'Reilly.

    Sam Reinhart had a good first season. Alexander Nylander was taken eighth overall and the Sabres have high hopes for him.

    In 2015, Murray was eventually able to take solace in the fact that, despite not getting the No. 1 overall pick and Connor McDavid, he was able to select Eichel at No. 2.

    The Sabres boast a promising group of forwards, even if that doesn’t include Jimmy Vesey. He’s played exactly zero NHL games. But he did score at nearly a goal-per-game in his senior year with Harvard, with 58 points in 37 games and definitely had potential to add to Buffalo’s talent level up front.

    It certainly didn’t hurt the Sabres to pay the price they did in trying to sign him, in trying to see if Vesey could be a fit. Sometimes, you’ve got to take a chance.

    A healthy Robin Lehner in net would boost Sabres playoff hopes

    Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner deflects a Montreal Canadiens' shot off his glove during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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    This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

    It seemed Robin Lehner‘s 2015-16 season was defined by two things.

    — A) A skirmish involving him and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. And judging by the replays, Lehner, the Buffalo Sabres goalie, was more than willing to have a go.

    — B) A high-ankle sprain — a far more pressing issue than getting into a scrum and grabbing an opposing player — suffered in the first game of last season with his new team.

    The ankle issue, which included a setback before he was able to finally return to the lineup, reached a pinnacle when the Sabres announced Lehner had undergone surgery and was done for the season.

    By that time, Lehner had appeared in 21 games for the Sabres. He posted a 5-9-5 record and a .924 save percentage, eight points above his career average. Beyond that, his first season in Buffalo can be difficult to evaluate because an injury cut into three months, before he was shut down for good.

    The Sabres paid a hefty price to bring the now 25-year-old Lehner to their team, which makes his health and his subsequent performance so important to their success, especially as they look to get beyond the rebuilding stage.

    Last summer, Sabres GM Tim Murray sent a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators to get Lehner — as well as veteran David Legwand — and bring in a goalie that could be the No. 1.

    The Sabres have done a nice job of building their defense and top-six group of forwards, especially with the addition of Kyle Okposo in free agency and the acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly a year ago.

    It helps, too, when a No. 2 overall pick can turn into Jack Eichel, and Okposo could play on a line with either Eichel or O’Reilly. Sam Reinhart had a strong first full season in Buffalo, breaking the 20-goal mark. And Alexander Nylander, the eighth overall pick this year, could perhaps make the jump to the NHL with a strong showing in the pre-season.

    They didn’t make the playoffs last season, but improved dramatically on their point total, from 54 in 2014-15 to 81 in 2015-16. Their coach, Dan Bylsma, is setting the bar high for next season.

    In goal, however, is where there are question marks.

    The Sabres, right now, have Lehner, Anders Nilsson and Jason Kasdorf on their roster. Chad Johnson has moved on, signing in Calgary earlier this summer.

    Nilsson and Kasdorf have combined for 53 games of NHL experience. One of those games belongs to Kasdorf, who signed a two-year, two-way deal with Buffalo in July.

    Given their situation in goal, the Sabres need Lehner to stay healthy. Ideally, given the price they paid, the Sabres would love elite goaltending to be what defines Lehner’s upcoming season.

    Las Vegas NHL team hires former Habs scout Karpan as director of player personnel

    LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13:  George McPhee speaks after being introduced as the general manager of the Las Vegas NHL franchise during a news conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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    Another day, another hire for the Las Vegas NHL franchise.

    On Tuesday, the team named Vaughn Karpan as its new director of player personnel. He most recently held the title of director of professional scouting with the Montreal Canadiens.

    Karpan joined the Habs in 2005, after spending 13 years with the Coyotes franchise, including five years as director of amateur scouting.

    This latest move comes after the Vegas franchise named Murray Craven as a senior vice president.

    Craven had been an advisor to owner Bill Foley during the process of getting an NHL team in Las Vegas and hiring a general manager.

    From the Associated Press:

    Craven will be responsible for establishing the club’s top minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League, developing the practice facility in Summerlin, Nevada, building up facilities at T-Mobile Arena and overseeing projects at the request of general manager George McPhee.

    Oh yeah, the Vegas franchise still doesn’t have a team name yet.

    Related:

    Vegas team hires Hockey Canada’s Donskov as director of hockey operations

    Update: Vegas expansion team could still go with ‘hawks’

    Senators, Ceci agree to two-year, $5.6M contract

    OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 6: Cody Ceci #5 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 6, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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    Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion predicted 11 days ago that a new contract with defenseman Cody Ceci would get done “within the next few weeks.”

    His timeline proved to be quite accurate.

    On Tuesday, the Senators announced they had re-signed the 22-year-old Ceci, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal, worth a total value of $5.6 million.

    The breakdown of the deal from the Senators states Ceci will receive $2.25 million in the first year of his new contract and $3.35 million in the second.

    As per General Fanager, Ceci is slated to be a restricted free agent at the end of this deal, which means the Senators would have to match the salary Ceci made in the final season of the contract in their next qualifying offer to him two years from now.

    It’s also a raise from the $1.369 million average annual value he was making with his entry-level contract. It was previously reported that the Senators offered Ceci both long and short-term deals.

    The Senators put out a teaser of the news on Twitter, minutes before the announcement.

    Ceci is from Ottawa, where he also played his junior hockey, and a first-round pick of the Senators in 2012.

    In his second full season with the Senators, he posted a new single-season career high in goals with 10 and points with 26.