Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers - Game One

Five thoughts: Trouble ahead for East favorites? Kings have guts; Miller and Pavelski are huge

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After a goalie-dominated second night of the NHL playoffs, our five thoughts on last night’s action have us wondering a bit too hard for two teams that are supposed to win.

1. It’s tough to say we didn’t see this coming, but there has to be real concern for the Flyers in the Eastern Conference. They played a tough game with Buffalo before ultimately being shutout by Ryan Miller 1-0 in Game 1. The concerns aren’t with Sergei Bobrovsky as he was outstanding in defeat but rather with the Flyers power play. Taking advantage of being up a man for two minutes is huge for any team looking to win in the playoffs. Goals come at a premium in the postseason and failing to take advantage of the power play creates doubt and makes guys squeeze the sticks a little harder.

That was the case last night for Philadelphia after they went 0-5 with the man advantage including a short time five-on-three. While many (including us) were wondering how the Flyers defense and goaltending would stand up without Chris Pronger playing, it was the offense that let them down in Game 1. That’s a trend they absolutely cannot afford to see develop.

2. Same can be said of the Boston Bruins. After playing Montreal so many times during the regular season they knew what they’d be up against with the Habs. Instead, they ran into an even more staunch Montreal defense and a stoic Carey Price who didn’t let anything by in a 2-0 loss.

The B’s streakiness with their offense has been a bit of an issue again this year and against Montreal, not every game is going to be a supercharged 7-0 win or a rock’em-sock’em 8-6 fist fight. The playoffs mean things are tighter and every goal is huge. If Boston’s offense continues to be frustrated by P.K. Subban and Hal Gill, their stay in the playoffs is going to be a short one. Guys like Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic have to be less focused on Subban’s antics and just work on getting free around the net.

3. Despite it being a 3-2 overtime loss for Los Angeles, give them a lot of credit for playing the way they did. When overtime started and for most of the period, the Kings carried the play and got the better of the chances to end the game. Their offense without Anze Kopitar did well enough to create opportunities all throughout the game and they weren’t thrown off by Dany Heatley’s goal less than 30 seconds into the game. The Kings have to be sharp all series long if they’re going to pull an upset but with how they played last night, they showed the Sharks they have no fear.

Most encouraging part of the night for L.A.: How well Justin Williams played in his first game back from a dislocated shoulder. A goal and an assist for Williams will do every night.

4. If the Ryan Miller we saw against Philadelphia in Game 1 is the guy that’s going to be there each game for the Sabres, the rest of the Eastern Conference had better take note. Miller was brilliant in his 35 save shutout of the Flyers and did excellent to fight the swarming net presence of the Flyers forwards. Miller has had a rough go of it in the playoffs last year against Boston, but last night was a game that he won for the Sabres himself. The kind of lift that should provide Buffalo is immense but they’d do well to give him a bit more offensive support. Getting the lone goal from a hockey irritant like Patrick Kaleta can’t be counted on nightly.

5. If Joe Pavelski’s performance in last year’s playoffs didn’t help you shake that nagging opinion of the Sharks as “chokers” then he’s determined to prove to you again that that’s not the case. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, Pavelski was a man possessed netting nine goals and six assists including three game-winning goals, one of which came in overtime.

If he gets that goal scoring touch alive once again throughout the playoffs, The Big Pavelski will be an even bigger cult hero than he already is in San Jose. The dude abides in a big way.

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old:

Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Wayne Gretzky (L) and Dale Hawerchuk drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off between Blake Wheeler #26 and Connor McDavid #97 during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Fred Greenslade /Getty Images)
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PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

“I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

“I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

“And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

So, do things feel different this season?

“I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

“It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.