With Capitals and Sabres in cap crunch, who gets moved to sign restricted free agents?

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With things having quieted down on the free agent front after a wild couple of days, the smoke is starting to clear and some teams are starting to see that their salary cap situations require some attention. Two of the biggest movers this summer have been the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals. With all of those additions made to the roster via trades or signings, it comes at a price where they may have sacrifices to make elsewhere.

According to NHL salary tracking site CapGeek, the Capitals have the highest payroll in the NHL with $63,755,128 spent and the Sabres are second with $62,995,357 gone. The Caps have two important restricted free agents left to get signed while the Sabres have four. With the salary cap set at $64.3 million something’s got to give.

In Washington, they’ve got newly acquired Troy Brouwer and defenseman Karl Alzner still to get signed. While Brouwer’s deal could be inexpensive, Alzner may require a long term deal to keep him locked up. He and defensive partner John Carlson combined to be the Caps best defensive unit last season and with both guys having some offensive touch as well, Alzner’s value to the Caps is high. Who the Caps could find ways around on their roster to get under the cap enough to get them signed, however, isn’t quite so easy.

Checking in with CapGeek again there are some players who could be slotted out to make life easier. The obvious player to pick out is Alexander Semin. Semin will make $6 million next season and the hot and cold play he exhibits during the year and the maddening offensive zone penalties are enough to make any coach crazy. Of course, his offensive abilities are rare and the Capitals need his goal production.

There’s also forward Eric Fehr to consider. Fehr makes $2.2 million against the cap and now has Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer to compete with for essentially the same role on the team. Defenseman Tom Poti has two years left at $2.875 million against the cap on his contract and he’s been injured since last season. The Caps could get him back on to Long Term Injured Reserve to get the cap freedom they’re looking for.

In Buffalo, their answers to the cap fix may start with one they steal from Calgary last season. The Flames were able to send forward Ales Kotalik and his $3 million cap hit to the AHL to get that cap hit off the books. With the forward positions all spoken for with 13 forwards under contract, they may need Kotalik at the NHL level, but with three important defensemen (Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, and Marc-Andre Gragnani) and a backup goalie (Jhonas Enroth) to get signed, sacrificing Kotalik may be needed. Forward Jochen Hecht and his $3.525 salary could also be someone to point to to be moved. Perhaps not necessarily to the AHL but to another team in need of a solid depth forward.

The more sneaky move for Buffalo to get their three defensemen signed could be to move a guy that’s already established. Shaone Morrisonn ($2.075 million) or Jordan Leopold (two years, $3 million per) could be attractive to other teams as a trade possibility and while Darcy Regier likely favors keeping Leopold, with Sekera and Weber waiting to be signed, they could make Morrisonn irrelevant.

For both general managers George McPhee and Darcy Regier, they’ve got tough decisions ahead and that’s all part of their job. It’s never personal when moves get made for clearing cap space, it’s always business. That might not mean much to the players that have to face the salary cap wrath, but if this summer has taught us anything it’s that the business cuts hard both ways.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.