Zack Kassian

Zack Kassian hopes to make Sabres’ roster, walk the line between physical and illegal hits

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There will be plenty of debate about the wisdom of the Buffalo Sabres’ spending spree, but when it comes to the makeup of the teams’ fleet of forwards, there should be little question that the team leans more toward finesse than last season. From their skilled set of wingers to new acquisition Ville Leino and rehabbed center Derek Roy, the team might lack a bit of sandpaper – especially since rugged defensive players such as Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are no longer on the roster.

His future might not look as bright until the salary cap dust settles, but one forward who might try to fill that physical void is polarizing prospect Zack Kassian. The 13th overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has become notorious for his thunderous – and some might say, dirty – hits, particularly two blows that earned him suspensions.

Kassian admitted that he regrets the hit he landed on Matt Kennedy that earned him a 20-game suspension in his first game with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. He believes that the negative attention from that check on Kennedy bled into the decision to suspend him for what he believes was a clean hit during the 2011 World Junior Championships.

One can debate the validity of Kassian’s claims, but it’s likely that he will make an impact in Buffalo sooner or later. Again, the Sabres need to sort out their cap issues – they’re currently about $3.6 million above the ceiling. Once they do, Kassian could bring an intriguing mix of size, physicality and scoring prowess to the table at an affordable $875K cap hit … if he can manage to avoid getting suspended.

Kassian will try to make the Buffalo Sabres out of training camp next month, but even if he is unsuccessful, logic suggests he will end up in uniform at some point this season. He has so much of what the Sabres seem to need, with a low salary cap hit off the ice and the lurking promise of a massive hit on the ice.

“I need to play with an edge, but I have to make sure I don’t cross that edge,” he said Tuesday. “With all the skill Buffalo has, I think they need some grit and definitely some people that are hard to play against to give those skilled guys some room. I feel like I can fill that job, and hopefully, I can do it sooner than later.”

The Sabres picked Kassian 13th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and they have seen their prospect earn nationwide exposure in Canada for reasons both good and bad. He has been a Memorial Cup champion and a member of Canada’s national junior team, but he has also briefly been the star of junior hockey’s most wanted list.

It’s likely that Kassian will be on the Sabres’ radar until he makes a prolonged impact at the NHL level, but he’ll also get plenty of attention from officials who are aware of his lower moments. If Kassian can find a way to bring that edge without going over the line, he’ll be a serious asset for Buffalo. That might be a big if, though.

Backes scores OT goal on his birthday, Blues even up series with Stars

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The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.

The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.

With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.

Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.

Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.

Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.

The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.

That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.

Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.

 

Jamie Benn’s late goal sends Game 2 to overtime

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This definitely wasn’t the way the St. Louis Blues drew it up.

The Blues entered the third period of Game 2 with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to shut the game down on the road.

St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes before Dallas decided to pull Kari Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi. The move didn’t provide any results in the middle frame, but something certainly sparked the Stars in the third period.

Mattias Janmark cut the deficit to 3-2 with this beauty (notice how he split Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo).

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Stars captain Jamie Benn tied it up (top).

It’s safe to say this wasn’t a memorable third period for the Blues.

Video: Brian Elliott takes a blast off the mask, stays in the game

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A bit of a scary moment in the third period of Game 2 between the Stars and Blues.

Less than five minutes into the third period, Jason Spezza took a shot that caught Blues goalie Brian Elliott square in the mask. Play was halted as Elliott remained down. It appears as though the shot to the mask also made Elliott lose one of his contacts.

Thankfully, Elliott wasn’t seriously injured on the play. After being examined by the team doctor, he was allowed to stay into the game. He did need a new mask though (he got his original one back a few minutes later).

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.

The Blues currently lead 3-2 late in the third period.

Here’s some Twitter reaction:

 

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

Lehtonen
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Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.