BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 07: Thomas Vanek #26 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrates after scoring a shootout goal against Peter Budaj #30 of the Montreal Canadiens on February 7, 2013 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo defeated Montreal, 4-3, in an overtime shootout. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Three countries qualify for Olympics, finalize tournament brackets


Slovenia, Latvia, and Austria will all get to participate in the men’s hockey tournament of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi after winning their respective qualifying brackets, according to TSN and the NHL.com.

Assuming the NHL participates in the games, that means Buffalo Sabres forward and current NHL scoring leader Thomas Vanek will get to represent his native Austria. He’ll likely be joined by New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner.

Slovenia is equally thin when it comes to NHL talent, but they’re also projected to be led by a superstar. Anze Kopitar played a big role in the Los Angeles Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup run and he now should have the opportunity to represent his country on the biggest international stage.

Unfortunately, Latvia doesn’t have an NHL star to rally around. 24-year-old forward Kaspars Daugavins is the only Latvian on an NHL active roster. Daugavins has an assist in five games with the Ottawa Senators this season.

Latvia will join Group C and play against Switzerland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.

Group B will feature Canada, Finland, Norway, and Austria.

Finally, Slovenia and Kopitar will have their work cut out for them in a group that contains the United States, Slovakia, and Russia.


PHT Extra: How do Team USA, Canada, Russia look a year before the Olympics?

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

Connor McDavid
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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”

Sutter: Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks

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Lost in the various controversies (see here and here) of last night’s game in Los Angeles was a pretty dismal performance by the Kings, a team that should’ve been especially motivated to start the season after missing the playoffs last year.

The Kings were hammered, 5-1, by the visiting Sharks. They were outshot, 32-20.

“If you don’t check, you don’t have the puck enough,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “If you don’t have the puck enough, you can’t score.”

“We were pretty sloppy. Sloppy on our rushes, sloppy in our D-zone,” said forward Dustin Brown. “That’s probably most of it, but the other part is compete – in the corners and making hard plays coming out of our zone, going in. We didn’t play very well.”

Obviously, much credit has to go to the Sharks. Like the Kings, they missed the playoffs last year and came into 2015-16 looking for redemption. But the Sharks haven’t won two Stanley Cups in the last four years, and they weren’t the home team.

“Gotta check,” said Sutter. “You don’t check, you can’t score. We had a lot of guys, especially top guys that weren’t interested in that part of the game.”

The Kings get a visit from the Arizona Coyotes on Friday. If they don’t dominate that team…