Ales Kotalik

Can Ales Kotalik force his way into Buffalo’s starting lineup?

The Buffalo Sabres started off training camp in a peculiar and rather odd situation for them. The Sabres were usually good for a few different battles for starting jobs in camp with the exception always being in goal where Ryan Miller is the man. At forward and on defense things would always be a bit more intense. Things at forward this time around are virtually already taken care of.

With camp kicking off in earnest yesterday, the Sabres started things off with 11 of the 12 starting forward spots already spoken for, newly acquired one-time Sabres forward Ales Kotalik is part of a group of four fighting it out for the final spot. While Kotalik was once a useful Sabres forward excelling at adding offense on the power play and being good for 20-25 goals a year, he’s got a lot of competition this time around.

John Vogl of The Buffalo News breaks down the Sabres battle for the 12th man spot in the lineup with Kotalik.

Kotalik, acquired in a trade with Calgary following a season spent mostly injured or in the minors, figures to spend training camp in a four-way competition for a roster spot. With 11 forward spots all but locked up — centers Derek Roy, Ville Leino, Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht; right wings Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta and Brad Boyes; and left wings Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Vanek — the last remaining starting job could come down to Kotalik, Cody McCormick, Matt Ellis or Luke Adam, with the second-place finisher sticking in a reserve role.

“I’ve got to believe in myself. I hope that I will be on this team and I feel I will do good things for this team,” said Kotalik, who will continue to carry his loss but will also carry on. “You just want to enjoy spending time, having fun, because you never know what can happen.”

One starting spot and one reserve spot should mean that Kotalik has a great shot to at least wind up on the opening night roster. In an ideal non-salary cap world that’s likely that would happen. Unfortunately for Kotalik, his $3 million cap hit this season and the Sabres being over the cap, according to CapGeek.com, by over $3.5 million could be forcing Kotalik to have to be other-worldly in camp to win a spot.

Kotalik is used to this struggle after going through it last season in Calgary. The Flames were hard up against the cap and Kotalik became a cap casualty being sent down to the AHL to get his salary off the books. Injuries helped Kotalik get back to the NHL, but it’s a situation he’d rather not deal with. Unfortunately with this being a cap world, the number crunch could end up working against him again. If it comes down to it, moving Kotalik and his cap hit to the AHL would make the Sabres’ financial decisions easier to make.

Of course, Kotalik can have a say in all this by tapping into how he used to play in Buffalo early on in his career and getting coach Lindy Ruff to believe in him all over again. Buffalo doesn’t have a shortage of offensive weapons in their starting lineup, but if Kotalik and his big shot on the power play can help make them stronger contenders, they’ll find a way to make it work. That amount of work might be too much for Kotalik to do at this point in his career.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.