Henrik Lundqvist

Lundqvist expects ‘desperate’ Sabres team


Henrik Lundqvist will be back in goal tonight for the New York Rangers, and for some reason he’s expecting “a tough game” from the visiting Buffalo Sabres, a.k.a. the worst team in the NHL.

“Their record is not great but they’re still a good team,” Lundqvist said, per NorthJersey.com. “They’re going to come hard and be a desperate team, similar to us. They’re playing better and better so I expect a tough game.”

OK, so obviously Lundqvist’s not going to say what everyone else has been saying, which is that the Sabres’ play has been downright embarrassing this season. Best to take the classy approach. No need to risk a Lars Eller-type situation. After all, it’s not like the Rangers have been tearing up the NHL either.

The thing is, the Sabres have already had numerous opportunities to “come hard and be a desperate team,” and their frustrated fans are still waiting to see it.

As for Lundqvist’s assertion that the Sabres are “playing better,” we suppose they were somewhat improved Monday against Dallas — “Tonight, there were some of probably the most positive signs I’ve seen in a long, long time,” said captain Steve Ott — but they still lost, 4-3, at home to a Stars side that’s been average at best in 2013-14.

Devils send ’15 first-rounder Zacha back to junior

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.

Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.

The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.

“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.

The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.

Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.