Paul Gaustad, Andrew Ference

Trendy Sabres vs. defending champion Bruins: Who’s the favorite in the Northeast?


When it comes to making playoff predictions or choosing players in fantasy hockey, it’s just so much more fun to side with a trendy pick. Sure, it was probably the right move to select Ray Rice in the first round in fantasy football, but it didn’t provide the visceral thrill of a riskier move.

Many hockey pundits are locked in debates regarding the Northeast Division favorite: is it wiser to side with the defending champion Boston Bruins or the Buffalo Sabres (the champions of splashy off-season moves)? From what I gathered, a startling amount are going chic with the Sabres. (A few might even lean toward the Montreal Canadiens, which is batty if you consider their defense but intriguing when you ponder their easier schedule.)

It’s tough to figure out why people are discounting the Bruins after they won the 2011 Stanley Cup. Maybe it’s because the focus of that championship round shifted toward Roberto Luongo’s meltdowns rather than Tim Thomas’ brilliance. Perhaps the problem is that the Bruins were good during the 2010-11 season, but they weren’t overwhelming favorites like the last three champions. The Bruins’ biggest stars are a huge defenseman and an unorthodox goalie, so maybe the hunger for marquee offensive talent has something to do with it.

Either way, it is a tough race to call.

The case for the champs

The Bruins feature the best defenseman in Zdeno Chara. You can generate hours of debate about which team has the better American star in net, but the Bruins’ combined duo gets the nod because Tuukka Rask is more proven than Jhonas Enroth. Boston’s group of centers is impressive even with Marc Savard hurtling toward retirement; one assumes that the hockey world will give Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci more respect sooner or later. Derek Roy should be outstanding if he is 100 percent, but the Sabres’ pivots don’t seem quite as sturdy – especially if Ville Leino ends up being their second line center, as many expect. (That’s not to say that Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe lack talent if they’re in center spots this season – it’s just that they’re likely to get pushed around defensively.)

Depth is the key in Buffalo

That’s not to say that Buffalo goes into this battle without any weapons, though. Their advantage can be summarized with one word: depth. Their defense is much more versatile now that they added Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. Leino complements an offense that has a plethora of dangerous wingers, from Thomas Vanek to Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford.

The depth argument does make some sense in the regular season, but it’s still surprising to see so many people brush off the Bruins’ hardware – mainly because people usually follow champions like lemmings.

In a way, this is battle between change and stability. The Sabres seem radically different while the Bruins only made minor alterations to a team that won three seven-game series and their first Cup since the days of Bobby Orr. Picking Boston isn’t as fun as siding with Buffalo, but if you ask me, it’s the best bet.

Report: Likely no suspension for Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan

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Alain Vigneault went there in comparing Matt Beleskey‘s hit on Derek Stepan to the notorious check Aaron Rome delivered on Nathan Horton many moons ago, but the league seems to disagree.

While Rome sat through that memorable Stanley Cup Final between Boston and Vancouver, it sounds like Beleskey won’t face any further discipline, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

In the unlikely event that anything changes, PHT will make note.

The next game between the Rangers and Bruins takes place at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11. Will these bad feelings linger?

Hellebuyck debuts with victory as Jets best Wild

Connor Hellebuyck
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and assist, Connor Hellebuyck made 14 saves to win his NHL debut and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled left winger Zach Parise‘s return from a knee injury by beating the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Friday.

Mathieu Perreault added his second goal in two games and Nikolaj Ehlers‘ goal late in the third put the game away.

The Jets won on the road for the first time in their last seven tries and for just the third time in their last 11 games.

Ryan Carter scored for Minnesota, finally getting a shot past Hellebuyck that made it 2-1 midway through the third period.

Hellebuyck was college hockey’s top goalie in 2013-14 and the goaltender on the U.S. team that won a bronze medal in the 2015 world championships.

Minnesota finished with a season-low 15 shots, which was also a season low in shots allowed for the Jets.

Wild fans at the Xcel Energy Center let out a roar when it was announced before the game that Parise would start, but not even his return could spark Minnesota.

After Jason Zucker was whistled for an elbowing penalty behind the net, Perreault took a pass from Byfuglien and zipped it past Devan Dubnyk to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead with 3:34 left in the second period.

Byfuglien made it 2-0 early in the third when his odd-angle shot hit Dubnyk in the back of the skate and went in for his seventh goal.

Carter’s goal bounced off of Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart and past Hellebuyck to give Minnesota some momentum.

The rookie didn’t get rattled, however, stopping a big shot from Jason Pominville with 3:11 to play.

Just 11 seconds later, Ehlers got loose on a breakaway and put the game away.

Winnipeg’s defense came into the game ranked 29th in goals allowed, but had little problem preventing Minnesota from generating quality scoring chances.

The Wild have just one win in their last six games. Parise was Minnesota’s leading scorer when he sprained a knee ligament on Nov. 5.

NOTES: Wild F Justin Fontaine missed his 11th game with a sprained MCL, but has a chance to return for Saturday’s game against Dallas according to coach Mike Yeo. … The Wild went 4-3-1 without Parise. … Jets RW Blake Wheeler had an assist and now has points in 18 of 24 games.

Blackhawks baffle Ducks with late magic; Kane’s streak at 18 games


The Chicago Blackhawks may not be at peak-level right now, but they’re still a tough team to finish off.

For most of Friday’s game, it seemed like the story would be about John Gibson possibly elbowing into the Anaheim Ducks’ No. 1 role, continuing that franchise carousel.

Instead, it was about yet another tremendous comeback for Chicago, as the Blackhawks scored two goals in the final two minutes of the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit. Artem Anisimov than scored the OT GWG.

Stunning stuff … though definitely not unprecedented.

With less than 30 seconds remaining, Patrick Kane grabbed an assist on Duncan Keith‘s 2-2 goal. Kane extended his point streak to 18 games, tying a record for America-born players.

For the Ducks, it’s yet another gut punch, one that makes you wonder how they’d fare in another playoff series against Chicago (if they can even get there … a big if).

Bruce Boudreau is bummed:

Tyler Johnson’s injury: One of several ominous signs for Tampa Bay

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The gloom only seems to lift from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s cloudy season in small drizzles.

Sure, they’re on a three-game winning streak, but the Washington Capitals seem to be on the verge of ending that with a thud (they’re currently up 3-0 going into the third period).

Update: Washington managed a 4-2 win, giving the Capitals a four-game winning streak.

That’s the least of the Bolts’ concerns right now, really, as Tyler Johnson left Friday’s game seemingly injured.

The word seemingly comes into play because details are scarce, as reporters note.

/ominous music plays

If you look at Tampa Bay’s upcoming schedule, things could get downright stormy.

They face the Islanders at home, but they do so tomorrow so they won’t be well-rested. It gets worse from there.

Dec. 2 – 6: Three-game road trip against the California teams

Dec. 10 – 12: Two home games (one vs. Ottawa, one vs. Washington)

Dec. 14-18: Another three-game road trip

Long story short, they close up a back-to-back set at home tomorrow and then play six of eight on the road.

/even more ominous music

The end of 2015 looks friendlier, but for a team that seems to be cratering here and there … things look a bit morbid.

We’ll see if they can keep fighting, perhaps with a comeback tonight?