The Chip ‘n’ Chase: All those bad teams, starting with the Sabres

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. This week we’re talking bad teams, and whether any of them can turn it around.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I’ve got some great advice for the Buffalo Sabres ahead of tonight’s game on national TV against the B’s. Tell me what you think. Maybe, just maybe, they should try really, really hard as soon as the puck drops. The only reason I suggest this is because standing around not doing anything isn’t working for them.

In all seriousness, did you see the Sabres’ last two games against Vancouver and Colorado? I believe they were out-shot a combined 134-3 in the first period. At home. Their fans deserve a lot better than that. It’s embarrassing.

MORE: Bruins aim to add to Sabres’ suffering tonight on NBCSN

Mike Halford: Yeah, it’s pretty ugly. The Sabres are so awful even their own players are distancing themselves. Did you hear what Ryan Miller said the other day? You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve plucked the key quotes:

“I can only do my part.”
“I’m not going too high or low.”
“I’m not going to worry about it.”
“I’m not going to try to be overly intense.”

This is like that pre-breakup stage of a relationship when you know it’s all but done so you start prepping for the split. All that’s left now is for Miller to start “working late” with a “friend.” But enough about the Sabres, let’s move on to the tire fire in Philadelphia. I now present the complete list of Flyers forwards who have more goals than the Coyotes’ Mike Smith, who it should be noted, is a goalie:

Tye McGinn
Brayden Schenn
END OF LIST.

That’s bad, right?

JB: Bad, yes. Also, pretty shocking. At this rate, is there any way Claude Giroux makes Team Canada and plays in Sochi? With all those great Canadian centers, he’s an easy cut right now for Steve Yzerman.

You know, I have to admit, of all the talent on the Flyers’ roster, I would not have predicted Steve Mason would be their best player after eight games. Without Mason, they’re still winless. He was the first star in their 2-1 triumph (and what a triumph!) over the Panthers, which is their only W so far. That’s right — the Flyers have only won once, over the worst team in the NHL last season, and they didn’t even deserve to win it.

OK, so here’s a question for you. Of all the teams off to awful starts — Buffalo, Philly, Edmonton, Florida, New Jersey and the Rangers — who do you think has the best chance to make the playoffs?

MH: The Rangers, I guess? Remember that, two years ago, New York started with a similarly brutal road trip and only had three wins in their first nine tries. That team made it to the conference final. Now check out the Rangers’ schedule from Dec. 7 to the start of the Olympic break — they play 20 of 30 at MSG. Pretty good opportunity to make up for a lousy start.

I’m glad you mentioned Edmonton, by the way, because I love trade speculation. And of all the struggling teams, the Oilers seem most ready to make a deal. Nail Yakupov’s been a healthy scratch twice, their goaltending remains questionable (even though Devan Dubnyk is playing better recently) and, as others have pointed out, the Mike Brown-to-San Jose trade leaves them with just 48 contracts on the books, suggesting room’s possibly being created for a larger deal.

Pretend you’re Oilers GM Craig MacTavish (quick, put on these stylish glasses) — what would you do?

source: Getty ImagesJB: I sure wouldn’t trade Yakupov for anything less than, well, a heck of a lot. Even if “his team game is really, really poor,” as one scout put it, he also scored 17 goals in 48 NHL games as a teenager. That’s an asset you can’t fritter away. Think of how many teams are desperate for scoring around the league. Think how many would love to generate the buzz that adding a first overall pick would generate.

I do actually think MacTavish should be shopping Yakupov, but not because goaltending was an issue to start the season. Panic moves are dumb. And besides, Dubnyk isn’t the Oilers’ biggest problem. Nor is scoring. Team defense and maintaining consistent puck possession, now those are issues. Lars Eller wasn’t wrong in his assessment; he just maybe shouldn’t have said it publicly.

We haven’t really looked at the Devils yet, so let’s do that before we get back to bloggin’. The way I see it, riding Cory Schneider is the only way they’re going to get back in the race. Sorry Marty, you should be the backup now. We can call you Brodongo!

MH: I’m thinking Luodeur, and as much as I hate banishing Luodeur (see, it’s catchy) to the bench, I do agree — the Devils have to ride Schneider for the foreseeable future. Heck, even Marty agrees they “might as well try to get a little roll going.” (Note: said roll stopped rolling last night in Columbus.)

Problem is, Schneider can’t fix everything himself. The Devils’ defense is not good (though they finally parked Adam Larsson, which is good), they’re getting no production from Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, and Ryane Clowe, their big offseason signing, is still on IR with a head injury.

On the bright side…yeah, I’m having trouble with that one.

Stars re-sign Janmark, who they ‘missed as much as anyone last season’

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Mattias Janmark, the Stars forward that missed all of this season with a major knee injury, has been given a one-year, $700,000 extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Mattias is a played that we missed as much as anyone last season with the unfortunate injury he suffered,” Dallas GM Jim Nill said in a release. “We look forward to him returning to our group and getting him back for training camp.”

Losing Janmark’s services this year was, as mentioned, a fairly big blow. After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news all but alleviates concerns the 24-year-old’s knee problems might extend into next season, something former head coach Lindy Ruff alluded to last month.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Leafs to sign Grundstrom, whose ‘competitive level is through the roof’

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Another talented, young forward is on his way to Toronto.

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Maple Leafs are soon expected to sign winger Carl Grundstrom to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Grundstrom, 19, was the 57th overall pick in the 2016 draft. He impressed at the 2017 World Juniors, scoring three goals and four assists in seven games for Sweden.

“He works hard and his competitive level is through the roof,” Sweden head coach Tomas Monten said, via Postmedia. “I think the Maple Leafs have a guy who in the future will work hard for them. He likes to score goals and go to the net, but he can score off power and skill. I think they have a pretty good prospect.”

Related: Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?

Caps hoping roster improvements can get them past Pittsburgh

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins arrive at their latest showdown looking very much like they did a year ago.

It’s the little things that might matter most this time around.

The Capitals added center Lars Eller and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk as a direct response to losing their second-round series last season, hoping the depth will help against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Penguins have a different goaltender with Marc-Andre Fleury replacing injured Matt Murray and are without injured defenseman Kris Letang.

Aside from those changes and a few other tweaks, the teams that take the ice Thursday night for Game 1 in Washington are strikingly similar to those who played for six games last spring.

“This is a unique situation — both teams have a lot of guys back,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. “It’s not often with the salary cap and everything that you bring a similar team back. It makes for an interesting matchup.”

The stars are again aligned for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and the Capitals to face off against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and the Penguins. Familiarity should breed quick contempt, but Washington’s changes are what players think will flip the script.

“I feel better about our team going into it this year than I did last year, that’s for sure,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “We can attack from different ways, and we can find ways to score throughout the lineup. I just think a lot of guys are playing better than they did last year.”

That’s a shout out to second-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who struggled after March last year but played an essential part of the first-round series this season against the Toronto Maple Leafs by defending Auston Matthews. Defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are also much improved after being scratched during the 2016 playoffs.

The Penguins are rolling again after eliminating Columbus, but the absence of Letang is significant after he logged 31:36 of ice time per game last year.

“Obviously they lost key player, Letang,” Ovechkin said. “It’s good for us, bad for them … (but) it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. We just have to pressure them, and we don’t have to give them any chances to get success.”

Pittsburgh exposed Washington’s lack of speed a year ago and has the potential to do so again even if winger Carl Hagelin isn’t ready to start the series. The Maple Leafs’ up-tempo style challenged the Capitals, something coach Barry Trotz called “a good warmup” for the Penguins, but it remains to be seen how his team will play faster this time.

Who’s better off after a year of no change? Watch and find out.

“I think I guess the series will show that more than anything,” Crosby said.

FLOWER POWER

Fleury went 4-1 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .933 save percentage against the Blue Jackets in the first round after replacing Murray because of a warmup injury prior to Game 1. The Capitals didn’t see him last year because Murray didn’t cede the net, but the Fleury has been so good there has been no drop-off.

OSHIE, PENGUINS KILLER

T.J. Oshie had five goals and an assist in last year’s series and three goals and seven assists in four games against the Penguins this season. Facing Pittsburgh’s top competition seems to get Oshie clicking.

“Typically we’re going against Crosby’s line and that’s a tough task, he’s a great player,” Oshie said. “You can get motivation from that and kind of the game within the game. Last few years, the puck found the net for me and hopefully it will be the same.”

PUT IT IN PENCIL

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan shifted his lines, putting Patric Hornqvist on right wing with Crosby and playoffs leading goal-scorer Jake Guentzel and dropping Conor Sheary down to skate with Nick Bonino and Scott Wilson. Pittsburgh again has four scoring lines with Malkin, Kessel and Bryan Rust together and Cullen centering Chris Kunitz and Tom Kuhnhackl.

“Sometimes when certain line combos have history of success together, we tend to give those lines a little bit more time to work through the challenges,” Sullivan said. “That’s something we have daily discussions about, (a) question I always ask, which combinations are going to give us the best chance to win.”

STOP, ELLER TIME

The Capitals sent two second-round picks to the Montreal Canadiens for Eller specifically for this kind of series. Pittsburgh got five goals at even strength from its third line of Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel and two more from Cullen and his fourth-line mates last year, while Washington’s bottom six combined for two goals.

Enter Eller, who is a good penalty killer and should be an offensive upgrade over Mike Richards.

“I can’t wait for that challenge,” Eller said. “I think a lot of guys in here have pictured that this is a spot we could end up being in, facing this team sometime in the playoffs and now is that time.”

Related: A rebuild third line has been key for Caps

Preds announce Fiala done for year with fractured femur

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Most knew that, based on the visuals and stretchering off, the injury Kevin Fiala suffered during Nashville’s series-opening win over St. Louis last night was pretty bad.

Today, the Preds confirmed it.

Fiala suffered a fractured left femur on the play, one that will sideline him for the remainder of the year. The club went onto explain that the 20-year-old underwent successful surgery last night, and would soon be returned to Nashville.

It’s an incredibly unfortunate end to what was a promising campaign.

The 11th overall pick in 2014, Fiala scored 11 goals in 54 games for the Preds this year, and famously scored the OT winner in Game 3 of the opening round against Chicago.