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.

Provorov scores two goals in 30 seconds to lead Flyers over Blackhawks

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 03:  Ivan Provorov #9 of the Philadelphia Flyers is congratulated by teammate Andrew MacDonald #47 after Provorov scored a goal in the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks on December 3, 2016 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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One of the biggest reasons the Philadelphia Flyers should be optimistic about their future is the fact their farm system has produced a couple of potential top-pairing defensemen the past two years in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.

We already saw the impact Gostisbehere’s debut made a year ago when finished second in the Calder Trophy voting and was perhaps their most important player in the second half of the season on their way to earning a playoff spot. This year it is Provorov’s turn to make his debut, and while he hasn’t been quite as dominant as Gostisbehere was in his rookie season, he played his best game of the season on Saturday afternoon in a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

In just a little more than 20 minutes of ice-time, Provorov scored a pair of goals (both as part of a three-goal second period for the Flyers), recorded four shots on goal, and was a plus-six in shot attempt differential for the day. His two goals came just 30 seconds apart, with the first one tying the game at one, and the second one going in the books as the game-winner.

Have a look at both goals.

Both shots beat Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling from similar spots on the ice. Darling ended up getting the start on Saturday because Corey Crawford was undergoing an appendectomy and will be sidelined for the time being. The Blackhawks had to sign a backup goalie pretty much off of the street to serve as the backup. Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game they could not use goalie coach Jimmy Waite as the emergency backup because he would have counted against the salary cap. It had to be an amateur with no pro experience.

The win on Saturday keeps a couple of streaks going for the Flyers.

First, it was their fourth win in a row and is now their longest winning streak of the season. It is also the 13th consecutive time they have beaten the Blackhawks in Philadelphia during the regular season. You have to go back to 1996 to find the last time the Blackhawks won a regular season game in Philadelphia. We emphasize the regular season part of that because the Blackhawks did win a pretty big playoff game in the city back in 2010.

 

Goalie nods: Jared Coreau makes NHL debut for Red Wings

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 17:  Jared Coreau #31 of the Detroit Red Wings warms up prior to the start of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 17, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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With Jimmy Howard still sidelined with an injury, and the Detroit Red Wings playing a set of back-to-back games this weekend, Petr Mrazek is getting the night off on Saturday evening.

Coach Jeff Blashill announced earlier in the day that Jared Coreau will be making his NHL debut tonight. He is going to get quite a test right off the bat as the Red Wings are sending him right into the deep end of the pool as he has to go against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 25-year-old Coreau joined the Red Wings organization as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Michigan university back in 2013-14. He has spent all of his time since then playing for Toledo of the ECHL and Grand Rapids of the AHL, and been mostly impressive when given the opportunity with a .924 save percentage in 85 starts for Grand Rapids over the past three years. The thing that stands out the most about him is probably the fact is listed at 6-5, 220 pounds. He is part of the new wave of goaltenders entering the NHL that are absolutely massive in size.

At the other end of the ice, the Penguins are going back to Marc-Andre Fleury after he made one of his best starts of the season on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, stopping 33 out of 35 shots in a 6-2 win.

The Penguins are still trying to figure out how to handle their tag-team duo with Matt Murray and Fleury, but for the time being it simply seems to be coach Mike Sullivan sticking with the hot hand. For a while, that was clearly Murray and the number of starts reflected that. But as his play has cooled off a bit in recent starts Fleury is now getting another opportunity to take back some playing time.

Elsewhere…

— In the afternoon games we had Michael Leighton and Henrik Lundqvist going for the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, Scott Darling and Steve Mason going for the Blackhawks and Flyers, Tuukka Rask and Robin Lehner for the Bruins and Sabres, and Keith Kinkaid and Pekka Rinne for the Devils and Predators.

— In Tampa Bay Ben Bishop will look to snap his personal four-game losing streak when he gets the start against Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals. Bishop, the runner up to Holtby in the Vezina Trophy voting a season ago, has had a tough year for the Lightning with a .902 save percentage through his first 16 appearances.

— With Craig Anderson away from the team again to be with his wife, Mike Condon gets the start for the Ottawa Senators. Condon has a .931 save percentage in four starts since joining the Senators. He will be opposed by Roberto Luongo in the Florida net.

Carter Hutton makes his sixth starter of the season — just his second since Nov. 12 — when he gets the call for the St. Louis Blues against Winnipeg. The Jets’ goalie rotation is likely to land on Michael Hutchinson after he was the first goalie off the ice at the morning skate.

Frederik Andersen looks to build on his strong November (.931 save percentage in 12 appearances) when he goes for the Toronto Maple Leafs against Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks.

Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to go for the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets as they look to continue the best start in franchise history when they take on the Arizona Coyotes. His play has been one of the biggest differences for the Blue Jackets this season. Arizona starts Mike Smith.

Semyon Varlamov will make his second start in a row when the Colorado Avalanche host the Dallas Stars. Varlamov has had a tough start to the season with a league-leading 10 losses entering play on Saturday and a .905 save percentage. The Stars have yet to announce their starting goalie. Antti Niemi allowed five goals against the Penguins on Thursday night.

— The Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers have not announced their starting goalies.

Blackhawks announce Corey Crawford will be out after appendectomy

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 28:  Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 28, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Well, now we know why the Chicago Blackhawks had to sign an emergency goaltender for Saturday afternoon.

The team announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford is going to be sidelined after undergoing an appendectomy in Philadelphia on Saturday.

When the morning began the Blackhawks revealed that Crawford would not be available for their game against the Flyers due to an illness, resulting in backup Scott Darling getting the start. The team then had to sign an emergency backup — 23-year-old Eric Semborski, a former club hockey player at Temple University — to sit behind Darling.

Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry issued the following statement: ““Corey presented this morning with acute appendicitis. He is undergoing an appendectomy today at a Philadelphia hospital. We are anticipating a full recovery and return to play. We will provide details regarding the timeline of his return after we have more information about the surgery.”

In recent years the timeframe for players returning from an appendectomy has ranged from just a couple of days (Ryan Callahan and Jonathan Ericsson) to several weeks. Goaltenders, due to the movements that are required because of the nature of the position, seem to take longer to get back into the lineup than forwards and defenseman.

In the meantime, the Blackhawks will likely rely on Darling to get the bulk of the starts in Crawford’s absence. They will also have an opportunity to make a call up from the AHL.

Update: Crawford is expected to miss 2-3 weeks.

Crawford has been outstanding for the Blackhawks this season in his 20 starts, currently owning a .927 save percentage. Over the past three years he has developed into one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the NHL.

After playing in Philadelphia on Saturday, the Blackhawks return home on Sunday to play the Winnipeg Jets and then are back in action again on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.

 

Waiver news: Predators add Boucher from Devils, Kings waive Purcell

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 20:  Reid Boucher #12 of the New Jersey Devils skates in an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center on March 20, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Devils won 2-1.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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There was some interesting player movement on the NHL’s waiver wire on Saturday afternoon.

First, the Nashville Predators claimed forward Reid Boucher from the New Jersey Devils. What makes that move so fascinating is that the move was officially announced two hours before the two teams played in Nashville.

When the morning started, Boucher was still technically a member of the Devils. After a short walk down the hall to the home locker room, he could very likely be in the lineup on Saturday against his former team.

The 23-year-old Boucher has played in 82 games for the Devils over the past four years, scoring 11 goals to go with 18 assists. He scored eight of those goals a year ago (in only 39 games). He has produced at pretty much every level he has played at so it is probably worthy gamble for the Predators to take.

Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Kings placed veteran forward Teddy Purcell on waivers after a slow start to the season that has seen him record just two assists in 12 games.

The Kings signed Purcell over the summer to a one-year, $1.6 million contract on the first day of free agency.

Purcell, 31, has always been a favorite of the advanced stats community because of his possession numbers and the fact he has usually produced like a top-six forward, but has bounced around the league a little bit over the past couple of years, playing for Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Florida, and Los Angeles since the start of the 2013-14 season.

In 76 games for the Oilers and Panthers in 2015-16 he scored 14 goals and added 29 assists.