Leafs shock Sabres; Capitals earn shootout win

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The Toronto Maple Leafs might actually receive a few nice questions from Lance Brown this weekend – or at least a Christmas card from the Washington Capitals next year.

A game after inspiring sarcastic Blue Jays chants, the Maple Leafs won their first game in Toronto since Feb. 6 – and it was a big blow to the Buffalo Sabres. A late goal made things awfully interesting but the Sabres lost 4-3 in regulation, thus locking them up in ninth place regardless of the Capitals’ actions.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Capitals came through during Nicklas Backstrom’s return to the lineup by winning a 3-2 shootout against the Montreal Canadiens. This gives the Caps a two-point lead for the East’s final spot while both teams have three games left.

Considering the fact that Washington holds the tiebreaker advantage over Buffalo, it really means the Sabres might have to make up a three-point gap for the eighth seed.

Chasing the Cats

With that in mind, the Capitals might even switch their sights from the Sabres and the eighth seed to the Florida Panthers and the Southeast Division title/third spot. Florida’s buffer has been reduced to two points and although it has a game in hand, the Capitals hold the tiebreaker advantage there as well and the two teams meet in Washington on Thursday.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround for a Capitals team that was one of the league leaders in disappointments and negative press this season.

Backstrom’s return

Capitals fans were elated to see Nicklas Backstrom return, so here’s a quick look at what he did tonight:

Backstrom: zero points, two shots on goal, 12-6 in faceoffs and a -1 rating in 19:40 minutes.

Even with overtime in mind, Backstrom skating for almost 20 minutes might be the best sign for Washington. If he can get up to speed, the Capitals could actually be dangerous – whatever playoff spot they gain.

You know, if they make it that far (which is a much smaller “if” after today).

Kings sign Andreoff to two-year extension

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The L.A. Kings have brought back pending restricted free agent forward Andy Andreoff.

The Kings announced Saturday that they have re-signed Andreoff to a two-year deal worth an annual average value of $677,500.

He appeared in only 36 games last season, spending time on injured reserve, adding two assists. The previous year, however, he played in 60 games for L.A., scoring eight goals with 10 points.

At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Andreoff is known more for his physical style and checking abilities than offensive production, with 146 penalty minutes combined over the last two seasons.

Stars hope they got a second-round steal in Robertson

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CHICAGO — His stats jump right off the page.

On a Kingston Frontenacs squad that really struggled to score, Jason Robertson had 42 goals as a 17-year-old. Nobody else on his team had more than 26 goals.

For that reason, the Dallas Stars are hoping they got a steal in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft. Robertson, a winger, went 39th overall Saturday at United Center. A lot of scouts had him pegged as a first-rounder.

So why didn’t he go earlier?

Probably his skating.

“Everyone needs to work on stuff,” Robertson said. “Obviously, for me, I need to work on that. It’s something I’m always going to keep working on.”

But skating didn’t stop Robertson (6-2, 192) from shooting up the prospect rankings in 2016-17. At the midpoint of the season, NHL Central Scouting had him as the 34th-best North American skater. By season’s end, he was 14th.

“I think a lot of it came from confidence,” he said. “I gained more confidence in my game, my skating, my shot. Once I did that in the second half of the year, I really took off.”

He sure did, with 30 of his 42 goals coming in the final 40 games of the regular season. He then added five goals and 13 assists in 11 playoff games.

Robertson was born in Los Angeles, where his dad and grandpa were Kings season-ticket holders. He started playing hockey in L.A., then moved to Detroit when he was 10.

Isles keep dealing, send Hamonic to Calgary (Updated)

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It’s been rumored for days that Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic might be on the move.

And now it’s happened.

Per Sportsnet, the Isles have dealt Hamonic to Calgary. It’s the second significant move of the draft weekend from GM Garth Snow who, on Thursday, acquired Jordan Eberle from Edmonton in exchange for Ryan Strome.

Hamonic, 26, is coming off a difficult campaign in which injuries limited him to just 49 games. That said, he’s still a well-regarded blueliner that will make Calgary’s defense one of the deepest in the league.

There, he’ll play alongside Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie, putting the Flames in the conversation with Nashville for the best top-four in the NHL.

Hamonic had made waves during the ’15-16 campaign, when it was learned he’d requested a trade from the Islanders due to a family issue. That request had since been rescinded.

It’s worth mentioning that Hamonic has one of the more club-friendly deals in the league. He has three years left on a seven-year, $27 million deal, one that carries a $3.857M average annual cap hit. For a top-four defenseman that can log big minutes and post solid possession metrics, that’s a pretty low price to pay.

No word yet on what the return is for New York. The Isles selected a pair of defensemen — Robin Salo and Benjamin Mirageas — with their second- and third-round picks on Saturday morning.

UPDATE: Looks as though the Isles are only getting picks in return.

If Calgary misses the playoffs on 2019, the Isles get the pick that year. That condition stems from an earlier one in which Arizona would get the Flames’ second-rounder in 2019 if the Flames make the playoffs.

Got all that?

There’s widespread speculation Snow isn’t done dealing. The bounty of draft picks acquired could be utilized in a future trade, which would be the likely direction for a club that’s in “win-now” mode.

Jets extend Chiarot — two year, $2.8 million

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Winnipeg has retained some of its defensive depth, re-signing Ben Chiarot to a two-year deal worth $2.8 million.

It’s a $1.4 million average annual cap hit for the 26-year-old, and a nice pay bump from the $850,000 he was making on his previous deal.

Chiarot had a nice campaign in ’16-17, scoring a career-high 12 points while appearing in 59 games. The season ended on a down note, however, as he suffered an upper-body injury in mid-March and was shut down for the year.

Looking ahead, Chiarot will likely continue to serve in a depth role for the Jets. The club is bringing back nearly all of the same defensemen it had last year, and it’s expected youngster Josh Morrissey will take on an even bigger role.