Jeff Skinner, Joel Ward

Short-handers and late power play goal lead Canes over Sabres

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Well, not even Terry Pegula’s money can buy an 82-0 season. In their first regular season game in North America, the Sabres lost their first game of the 2011-12 season as they fell by a score of 4-3 to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. It probably wasn’t the way they wanted to christen the newly renamed F’N Center in Buffalo. The silver-lining for Sabres fans is simple: they still can go 81-1.

Things got off to a good start for the Sabres as they managed to net a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes of the game. The problem was they gave up a pair of shorthanded goals to Brandon Sutter and Tim Brent to fall behind for the better part of the game. Drew Stafford crashed the net and knotted the score at 3-3; only to watch Thomas Vanek take an ill-timed tripping penalty with exactly two minutes left in the game. It didn’t take much time for Jeff Skinner to remind everyone why he’s the defending rookie of the year. The 19-year-old buried a one-timer behind Ryan Miller; and simultaneously buried the Sabres for the night.

Going into Friday’s game, the Canes had given up six more goals than they had scored on the young season—only the Senators were worse. But all’s well that ends well. All that matters are wins and the win improves the Canes record to 2-2-1 on the season. Not a bad way for Carolina coach Paul Maurice to celebrate his 900th game behind the bench.

Special teams really let down the Sabres on Friday night. Aside from Carolina’s game-winner on the power play with 1:24 left in the game, the shorthanded goals completely changed the complexion of the game. Instead of leading after the first period, Brandon Sutter’s unassisted short-hander with 12 seconds left in the period knotted the score and gave the Canes some much needed momentum.

Things don’t get any easier for the Sabres. Buffalo will look to bounce back tomorrow night against the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Tomorrow night’s game will be the first of a four-game road trip for the team that has already racked-up some serious frequent flier miles.

The Canes continue their road trip with a game against the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday. There’s nothing like taking on the two best teams in the Northeast Division on the same trip. Obviously, they’ll try to take the momentum from tonight’s last-minute victory into their date with the defending Stanley Cup champs.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”