Ryan Miller

Dramatic highs and lows dominate Buffalo’s difficult schedule

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With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Buffalo Sabres schedule analysis

Total mileage: 35,911 (eight lowest total in NHL, second highest in Northeast)

Back-to-back games: 21

Toughest stretches

The first thing that pops out about the Sabres’ schedule is that they’ll play an astounding 21 back-to-back games. Let’s see if that makes for some especially brutal stretches, then.

Buffalo starts the season with back-to-back games in Helsinki, Finland (Oct. 7 against Anaheim; Oct. 8 vs. Los Angeles). After one home game against Carolina on Oct. 15, they’ll begin a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh the next night. Luckily, things get awfully friendly to close that first month, but it’s a challenging start for a team with high expectations.

Things run smoothly until mid-December, when the Sabres will face two tough runs very close together. They play three away games (Pittsburgh on Dec. 17, Ottawa on Dec. 20 and Toronto on Dec. 22), with a home game against Washington wedged between two more road contests.

That’s nothing compared to the doom and gloom in the first month of 2012, though:

Jan. 3: home vs. Edmonton
Jan. 6: at Carolina
Jan. 7: home vs. Winnipeg
Jan. 10: at Toronto
Jan. 13: home vs. Toronto
Jan. 14: at Islanders
Jan. 16: at Detroit
Jan. 18: at Chicago
Jan. 19: at Winnipeg
Jan. 21: at St. Louis
Jan. 24: at New Jersey
Jan. 31: at Montreal

Wow, that’s harsh – nine of 12 games away from Buffalo, with three sets of back-to-back games. Things start off acceptably on paper, but if the Blues and Islanders end up improved as many expect, that’s a cruel seven-game road trip. At least the Sabres get a week between the Devils and Canadiens’ games, though.

Things look nice in February until March approaches. They’ll play seven of eight games on the road from Feb. 25 to March 10. The rest of March is neutral with rotating home and away games, not really doing them any favors. Fittingly, three of their final four contests are on the road.

Easiest stretches

Things aren’t all bad for Buffalo, though. They’ll play eight of nine games at home from Oct. 22 to Nov. 11. November is solid overall, with nine of 14 in Buffalo (including some of that aforementioned stretch).

November bleeds into a positive December, as well. They’ll play an impressive 10 of 12 games at home from Nov. 19 to Dec. 16. So, in summation, the Sabres should see some nice gains from mid-October to mid-December.

The last great month of this remarkably up-and-down schedule comes in February. The Sabres play nine of 11 games in the first chunk of games that month, with two four-game home swings.

Overall outlook

While the New York Rangers make an excellent case of their own, the Sabres’ 2011-12 schedule ranks among the most manic depressive in the NHL. Buffalo must be a little worried about that trip to Finland, especially considering their league-leading run of back-to-back contests.

For all the negatives, they have plenty of opportunities to rack up points, especially in the first half of the season. If you’re narrowing down your Northeast Division champion between the last two title winners (Boston and Buffalo), then schedules shouldn’t help much because they both face difficult ones.

Given the choice, I’d take Boston’s, though.

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry (Flyers-Islanders; Blackhawks-Sharks)

Ryan White, Matt Martin
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You can check out tonight’s Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader on NBCSN, and you can also stream them online.

Here are the handy links for the two contests.

First, the New York Islanders host the Philadelphia Flyers.


After that, the Chicago Blackhawks visit the San Jose Sharks.


Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

“Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

Ryan Johansen
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One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

— Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

— GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

— Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

So there’s that. What’s next?

At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

So, consider the similarities now:

— Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

— Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

— Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

— Both are Overhardt guys.

— The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

— Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.

Flyers’ Gagner to miss another week after Malone hit

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The nasty blow Sam Gagner took in Monday’s game against Carolina will keep him on the shelf for a little bit.

On Wednesday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said the club expected Gagner to be out around a week with injuries suffered on the hit, delivered by ‘Canes forward Brad Malone (per the Inquirer).

Gagner suffered a fairly significant facial laceration, which forced him from the game entirely. He didn’t practice on Tuesday and, in a corresponding move, the Flyers called up Colin McDonald from the AHL to fill Gagner’s spot on the roster.

This is the second facial injury Gagner’s suffered in recent years. He’d previously had his jaw broken by an errant Zack Kassian high stick, while he was with the Oilers and Kassian the Canucks.

Prior to getting hurt, Gagner had two goals and five points in 18 games, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.