Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

Ehrhoff meets the press in Buffalo

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A month and a half after becoming the Sabres’ $40 million man, Christian Ehrhoff finally met face-to-face with the Buffalo media. It might not be as pressure packed as the media circus in Vancouver, but with that shiny new contract in hand, Ehrhoff can expect more pressure than he’s ever experienced in his career. Such is life when he’s the new guy in town and just signed a contract that pays $10 million next season and will keep him in Buffalo for the next decade.

Forget “good.” “Good” is an adjective reserved for guys who come-and-go and make millions less. Ehrhoff better be spectacular. If he is, it’ll go a long way towards making the Sabres legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference and possibly the Stanley Cup.

At least Ehrhoff knows what he’s getting into. For his part, he knows the weight that will be on his shoulders:

“Pressure is part of the business and you have to deal with those expectations and that pressure. I played in Vancouver before. It’s a very pressure-filled city and I think I’ve dealt with that pretty good.”

Part of the pressure is the vital role he’s expected to play on the team. The Sabres are expected to be an up-tempo team and Ehrhoff’s transition game should play right into their team philosophy. His booming slap shot has the potential help the Sabres improve upon their 19.4% power play that was good for 9th in the league last year. His 14 goals were good for 6th among defenseman; his 50 points was 7th among blueliners and a career high. This just in: he’s an offensive defenseman.

His up-tempo game should be a perfect complement to another defensive newcomer: defensive stalwart Robyn Regehr. Head coach Lindy Ruff is excited to see Ehrhoff excel with his new team:

“Christian fits the way we play,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “We’re a team that has our defense involved and gets up ice. If you look at the way Vancouver’s defense played and were involved in the offensive side of the game, it’s an automatic fit.”

For his part, Ehrhoff thinks it should be a good fit as well. Once he dealt with the disappointment of getting traded from the Canucks (he thought they were making progress), he turned his attention to his future. Yes, he was looking for a raise from the $3.4 million contract that he earned last season. But at the same time, he wanted to play for a championship. Many will remember that he turned down a deal worth more per year from the New York Islanders a day before the Sabres acquired his negotiating rights.

Ehrhoff says he signed in Buffalo for the opportunity to win with the Sabres.

It also sounds like he did his due diligence before signing on the dotted line with Sabres GM Darcy Regier and Co. After weighing his options and asking former teammates, he was comfortable with the situation.

“Everybody had good things to say about the city of Buffalo being a great place to live with your kids and a good place for them to grow up – which was another criteria I was looking for. And since Terry (Pegula) took over the team he has showed that he is very committed to putting a team together that can win the Stanley Cup. For me it made a lot of sense and that’s why I joined the team.”

All of this is the easy part. For the time being, Ehrhoff has a honeymoon period with the media and fans alike. He’s the new guy who brings hope and the promise of success. If he fits in as Ruff expects and produces like he has for the Canucks over the last two seasons, then $4 million will be a relative bargain for a top-flight point producing defenseman. But if he struggles, the stories won’t be as positive as they are today. $4 million can sound like a good deal for a guy playing well—but the flip side to Ehrhoff’s contract is that his $10 million could look like a huge mistake if he is anything less than magnificent.

But like he said, he’s dealt with the demands of Vancouver. Playing with daily pressure should be nothing new for the German newcomer. We’ll see.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.

Hemsky finds his groove on third line

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 11: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center on April 11, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
NHLI via Getty Images
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When the Dallas Stars inked Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal, the hope was that he would be a valuable secondary scorer and help round out their top-six. Things haven’t gone as predicted, but Hemsky has emerged as a significant player for Dallas lately.

Hemsky is now playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel and he’s gone on to record 15 points in his last 16 regular season games as well as another four points in seven playoff contests.

“We had hard conversations about how I felt the game needed to be played, where I felt his game needed to go,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “Did it always go his way? No. But from his defensive responsibilities to really buying into shooting the puck a little bit more, I think he’s been a real good asset for us this year.”

The Morning News goes into much more detail about Hemsky and his resurgence, but taking a step back from that, having a third line that’s both impactful without the puck and capable of chipping in offensively is important, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs. There’s no question that the Stars have big time players on their roster, but that’s obviously not all you need in the playoffs.

A lot of the time when talking about the Stars’ areas of concern, their defense and goaltending come up and understandably so given that Dallas allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. But the value of a strong bottom-six shouldn’t be understated and perhaps Hemsky’s recent resurgence will play a role in the Stars having that going for them throughout the playoffs.

Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead over St. Louis in the second round and has an opportunity to build on that in Game 2 this afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET).

NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

Maatta
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Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

You can see that hit below:

“I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.

‘I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,’ Jets GM Cheveldayoff gets lucky with draft lottery

Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of Winnipeg Jets, speaks to members of the media after winning the second selection of the NHL hockey draft lottery in Toronto, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
The Canadian Press via AP
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The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the draft lottery, but an argument can be made that the luckiest team last night was the Winnipeg Jets.

After all, Toronto had the best odds to get the top pick, but Winnipeg jumped from sixth to second in the draft order.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the Winnipeg Sun. “I was doing my scrum at the end (of the show) with the media that was here, I said at one point, ‘Moving from six to two…’ and I had to catch myself and go through the mental notes in my head that it had just really happened.”

It’s likely, though not guaranteed, that the Maple Leafs will take Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. Assuming that’s the case, moving up to the second overall pick means that Winnipeg will have the option of choosing one of the two promising Finnish forwards available: Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.

That’s potentially a big break for Winnipeg, especially after this campaign where the Jets went from making the playoffs for the first time since relocating to posting a 35-39-8 record. Through five campaigns in Winnipeg, the Jets have missed the playoffs four times.

The last time this franchise drafted this high was back when the then Atlanta Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen with the second overall pick in 2002. That was the final year in a string of four straight drafts where the Thrashers always had the first or second selection. The previous three years they took Patrik Stefan (1999), Dany Heatley (2000), and Ilya Kovalchuk (2001).

Related: Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’