Get your game notes: Bruins at Sabres

This evening on NBCSN, it’s the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Boston Bruins starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

— Boston, 1st in the Atlantic Division, visits Buffalo, last in the Atlantic Division, in the fourth of five meetings this season – Bruins have won two of the three meetings including the most recent matchup, 4-1 in Boston on Dec. 21, but lost the last meeting in Buffalo, 4-2 on Dec. 19.

— Buffalo is coming off a 3-2 win at home last night over Carolina, the first game on the NHL calendar post-Olympics. The win snapped an eight-game home losing streak for the Sabres dating back to Jan. 4 & improved their home record to 10-17-5; only the N.Y. Islanders (8-14-8 at home) have fewer home wins this season. Buffalo’s 17 regulation home losses are the most in the NHL.

— Four Sabres returned from competing in Sochi: Henrik Tallinder (SWE), Ryan Miller (USA), Zemgus Girgensons (LAT) & Jhonas Enroth (SWE), while five Bruins also participated in the Olympics: Patrice Bergeron (CAN), Zdeno Chara (SVK), Loui Eriksson (SWE), David Krejci (CZE) & Tuukka Rask (FIN).

  • Tallinder, playing in his second Olympics (2010) won his first medal (silver) playing alongside teammate & first-time Olympian Enroth.
  • Bergeron, playing in his second Olympics (2010), now has two gold medals – he played in each of Canada’s 6 games in Sochi & registered 2 assists. Eriksson (2G-A), also in his second Olympics (2010), won his first medal (silver) while Rask (3-1, 1 SO) picked up a bronze in his Olympic debut as Finland came in third for the second straight Games.
  • Sabres coach Ted Nolan led Latvia to the nation’s first-ever quarterfinal Olympic game, a 2-1 loss to Canada. Their 8th-place finish was the best in the country’s five Olympic appearances.
  • 63 NHLers – representing 25 of the league’s 30 clubs – won a medal
  • ANA, BOS & PHX were the only teams to have players win the gold, silver and bronze.

— Boston last played on Feb. 8, a 7-2 home win over OTT, & last played on the road on Feb. 6, a 3-2 OT loss at St. Louis. The Bruins won their previous road game, 6-3, at NYI on Jan. 27. Boston went into the Olympic break having earned at least one point in 10 of their last 11 games (8-1-2). Buffalo, before winning last night, had lost 4 straight in regulation & went 2-8-3 in their last 13 before the break.

— Tuukka Rask (BOS) did not travel with the team as he was given the game off to rest post-Olympics. Rask was under the weather in Sochi & did not play in Finland’s semifinal game against Sweden but returned to pitch a 27-save shutout against the U.S. in a 5-0 bronze-medal-game win. Chad Johnson (11-3-0 this season) will start in net tonight for the Bruins; he last was in goal on Feb. 8 (7-2 win over OTT). Johnson started in two of the three meetings against Buffalo this season (his only career games vs. the Sabres), winning on the road on Oct. 23, 5-2, and then losing at Buffalo on Dec. 19, 4-2.

— Jhonas Enroth (1-12-5 on the season) is expected to be in net for the Sabres in place of Ryan Miller, who backed up Jonathan Quick on team USA in Sochi & stopped 36 of 38 shots last night (& added 2 assists). In his career, Enroth is 0-4-2 against Boston & lost 4-1 on Dec. 21 in his only meeting against them this season. He dressed in five of six games in Sochi but Ranger Henrik Lundqvist was in net the entire tournament for Sweden. Enroth last played on Feb. 6 at OTT in a 3-2 loss.

— Buffalo is last in the league in scoring, 1.84 goals/game (L.A. is next at 2.25) & have the worst goal differential at -1.09 (FLA is next at -0.79). Boston averages 3.07 goals/game (5th-best) with a 0.93 goal differential (2nd-best). The Bruins have the second best goals allowed per game mark at 2.14 this season and the best team save percentage, .927.

Big centers back: Getzlaf in for Ducks, Panthers regain Barkov

Getty
Leave a comment

The Anaheim Ducks would probably qualify as unlucky so far in 2017-18 even beyond an extremely unfortunate bounce of a puck fracturing Ryan Getzlaf‘s cheekbone.

That loss was especially severe with Ryan Kesler already recovering, as Getzlaf missed 19 games, last appearing in a contest on that painful night of Oct. 29. The Ducks get quite the treat, then, as both Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg are slated to return as they host the Carolina Hurricanes.

Check out how much better everything fits together with the returns of Getzlaf and Silfverberg, not to mention the recent addition of Adam Henrique (line combos via the Ducks website):

Rakell-Getzlaf-Perry
Cogliano-Henrique-Silfverberg
Blandisi-Vermette-Kase
Wagner-Grant-Shaw

The Ducks are still without Kesler, and Patrick Eaves is fighting a serious physical battle that puts hockey on the backburner, so there’s still some mystery to how the Ducks might look if they can get anywhere near full-strength this season.

As is, they look a whole lot better going into Monday’s game, something the Florida Panthers could relate to.

While Anaheim’s dealt with bad luck, you could chalk up Florida’s troubles to a mix of unforced errors (jettisoning depth, particularly to Vegas) and tough breaks of their own (Roberto Luongo‘s injury issues). Either way, management will look infinitely smarter when Aleksander Barkov is in the lineup than when he’s not, so the Panthers must be happy to welcome him back tonight.

Interestingly, Left Wing Lock lists Barkov along with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, rather than Denis Malgin taking Bjugstad’s spot (Malgin received looks, at least, once Evgenii Dadonov suffered an injury).

That would be quite the top-heavy approach for Florida, even if Malgin can mesh well with Vincent Trocheck.

While the Panthers have floundered at times, the Ducks seemed like they were finally starting to crater under the pressure of all those injury losses, as Anaheim only boasts two wins (2-4-4) in its last 10 games.

It’s true that the return of Barkov and Getzlaf would be important in just about any context for their teams, but each team likely feels especially relieved on Monday, as they can use all the help they can get.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Byfuglien’s loss is Trouba’s gain with Jets

Getty
Leave a comment

Theoretically, you could attempt to make the “injuries open up the door for other players to succeed” argument just about all the time, but aside from a Kurt Warner discovery here and there, most of the time a star player being out week-to-week is abysmal for a team.

The Winnipeg Jets can’t be thrilled to learn that Dustin Byfuglien is considered week-to-week thanks to a lower-body injury, with PHT’s Scott Billeck reporting that they hope to get the bulky blueliner back sometime around the Christmas holiday.

The domino effect could be bad overall, yet this actually is one of those cases where an injury could open a door for a player capable of much more, as Jacob Trouba stands to gain some significant offensive opportunities with Byfuglien on the shelf.

That much was already made clear today, as Trouba took Byfuglien’s spot on the top power-play unit. As of this writing, Byfuglien was averaging a team-leading 3:34 PP TOI per contest this season, towering over Trouba’s average of 1:22 per night.

You could make a reasonable argument that finances might have played a role in Byfuglien getting such an opportunity advantage, as Buffy is taking in (an increasingly scary) $7.6 million through 2020-21, while Trouba’s 2017-18 will play a significant role in how much of a raise he receives from his borderline-insulting $2.8M mark.

If all things were equal, would Byfuglien get this much leash, considering somewhat disappointing totals (zero goals, 15 assists)?

[Are the Jets merely cold or is this reality starting to hit them?]

Look, it’s likely that Byfuglien was going to get some bounces, much like Brent Burns finally is getting in San Jose. Still, considering the focus Winnipeg’s incredible forwards can draw, you’d ideally want to see Byfuglien fire at least a few pucks in the net.

Last week, The Athletic’s Craig Custance wrote about (sub required) Trouba being willing to sacrifice offensive opportunities this season, even in a contract year. An anonymous NHL executive read many minds in wondering if Trouba was capable of more than he’s shown so far this season.

“I could see a guy like Trouba segueing into a more offensive role. Where he is today, I don’t think is necessarily the ultimate barometer,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “They have a pretty good team. They play a great team game. The forwards are awesome. Sometimes you have to just give it to (Patrik) Laine and watch.”

Perhaps that’s true, but again, players like Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Nikolaj Ehlers create havoc for opposing defenses. Sometimes such threats force teams to cheat a little bit to try to reduce their chances, conceivably opening up potentially precious extra moments for other skilled players to take advantage of unusually large windows of opportunity.

Trouba’s game has clearly gone more conservative at times this season. You can see it even in just shooting; Trouba’s averaging 2.3 shots on goal per contest, down from 2.57 per night last season. That might not seem massive, but wouldn’t you expect a healthy dose of greed to push Trouba closer to three SOG per game, especially since it might actually benefit Winnipeg for a talented player to fire the biscuit that much more?

A cynical observer might wonder if the Jets were trying to have their cake and eat it too here: hold off on Trouba getting a bigger offensive push until after he signs his next contract, while reaping the benefits of having at least one more season of employing a top-pairing defenseman for less than $3M.

[Jets salary cap outlook, and more on how much Trouba could cost.]

Sly observers will see that Trouba is an excellent two-way piece, but when it comes to contract negotiations, sometimes a lack of goals and assists can mysteriously hurt a blueliner’s bottom line.

All of these factors make this tweak awfully interesting for Trouba, not to mention other Jets players, including the wonderfully named Tucker Poolman.

Deep down, Jets management might not want this experiment to be too successful, honestly.

In other Jets injury news, Steve Mason has been activated from IR. Check out more Jets fun from Billeck at NHL.com.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Injuries derail best thing about Canucks this season

Getty
1 Comment

Even if you wanted to douse the fire a bit with talk of lucky bounces, it was impossible to totally dismiss the excitement generated by the Vancouver Canucks’ young, shockingly effective top line of Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser.

As it turns out, regression isn’t what spoiled the party. Instead, two-thirds of that tremendous trio have been dealt significant injuries in a short span.

About a week ago, word surfaced that Horvat would miss about six-to-eight weeks with a broken foot. Monday’s update was similarly grim for Baertschi, as a fractured jaw is expected to cost the winger four-to-six weeks.

Here’s the update from Canucks head coach Travis Green:

You really need to crane your neck to find a silver lining in the dark clouds hanging over the Canucks, who’ve lost two straight games and five of eight.

Some will find it intriguing to see how Boeser, the Canucks’ lethal-scoring and well-coiffed winger, fares with both his partners in crime on the shelf for at least a month.

[Boeser recently channeled Pavel Bure with a sweet goal.]

To his credit, Boeser collected a goal in each of the two games with Horvat sidelined; perhaps some of his ability will simply override linemate concerns? His shot continues to befuddle goalies, as you can see from the video above and also read about in detail via this great breakdown by Justin Bourne of The Athletic (sub required).

When you consider the Canucks’ schedule going forward, what seems like a good opportunity instead becomes something of a mixed blessing.

Mon, Dec 11 @ Winnipeg
Wed, Dec 13 vs Nashville
Fri, Dec 15 vs San Jose
Sun, Dec 17 vs Calgary
Tue, Dec 19 vs Montreal
Thu, Dec 21 @ San Jose
Sat, Dec 23 vs St. Louis
Thu, Dec 28 vs Chicago
Sat, Dec 30 vs Los Angeles
Mon, Jan 2 vs Anaheim
Fri, Jan 6 @ Toronto
Sat, Jan 7 @ Montreal
Mon, Jan 9 @ Washington
Thu, Jan 12 @ Columbus
Sat, Jan 14 @ Minnesota
Fri, Jan 20 @ Edmonton
Sat, Jan 21 @ Winnipeg
Mon, Jan 23 vs Los Angeles
Wed, Jan 25 vs Buffalo
Mon, Jan 30 vs Colorado

As you can see, 2017 ends with some significant opportunities for the Canucks, as their road-weary start pays off to a lot of home-cooking in December. The new year gets off to a rocky start with that seven-game road trip from Jan. 6-21, but the overall haul without one or both of Horvat/Baertschi is reasonably friendly.

Such a stretch might end up sending mixed signals to management, however.

[Top line put on a show against Sidney Crosby and Penguins in early November.]

If the right path is to continue to rebuild while also enjoying unexpected returns thanks to youngsters like Boeser and clever work by Green, then treading water amid injuries might provide too much false hope. Yes, it must be refreshing to at least get the glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel, but the Canucks still need to look at this situation realistically.

There’s also the possibility that Vancouver will rally, only to really hit a wall during that early-2018 road trip.

Being middle-of-the-road is less depressing in the moment than “tank mode,” yet there’s also the risk of puck purgatory: falling short of the postseason while ruining chances to add more franchise-altering young players like Boeser. He seems like quite the find as the 23rd pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, but recent history shows that you’re most likely to build a winner with lottery-level prospects rather than shrewd, late-first rounders.

Just about any way you slice it, this is a bummer for the Canucks, who lose precious weeks to better gauge a proper value for Baertschi (a pending RFA who should expect a hearty raise from $1.85 million).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Trading with desperate Senators could bring smart team big rewards

Getty
4 Comments

Aside from setting up an alternate reality in NHL 18, there aren’t many happy places to look if you’re a fan of the Ottawa Senators.

Take, for instance, their Cap Friendly page.

For a team often hamstrung by budget, they’re still spending a lot of money this season, and they currently lack their top two draft picks.* They have tough hurdles coming up with Erik Karlsson‘s deal expiring after 2018-19, Mark Stone hovering as a pending RFA, and Craig Anderson‘s new contract looking scarier by the day considering the fact that he’s already 36.

[Erik Karlsson’s interesting free agent comments.]

Looking at the standings and Matt Duchene‘s 14 games with the Senators vs. 14 with the Avalanche will make some fans weep a bit.

Checking out news coverage will only make you dig a deeper hole as a Sens fan. At the Athletic, James Gordon discusses an on-and-off-the-ice disaster, while former NHL executive Frank Provenzano laid out the case for trading Karlsson.

The source of true heart palpitations should come from increased rumblings of a big trade happening, especially if you glance at the early/mid-term returns in trading for Duchene, Dion Phaneuf, and Derick Brassard. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch mostly downplays the idea of trading Erik Karlsson, but Garrioch reports that the Sens might be fielding offers on the likes of Mike Hoffman, Brassard, Bobby Ryan, J-G Pageau, and Cody Ceci.

Not every bad/mixed Senators trade is on the head of GM Pierre Dorion. After all, he inherited the Phaneuf and Ryan contracts.

Still, he’s had his missteps, especially if Duchene’s struggles end up being more than a mere hiccup. So this paragraph from Garrioch should send chills up the spines of Senators fans while prompting other teams’ GMs to lick their chops like sharks smelling blood:

If Dorion is going to make a trade, though, it doesn’t make sense to do a small deal. If the point is to send a message to a struggling dressing room, then it’s got to have to a trade that strikes at the core of the team.

(Gulp.)

Let’s assume that Karlsson won’t be traded, even if Senators owner Eugene Melnyk was steamed about his free agent comments, which might explain why the superstar defenseman almost seemed to do damage control in this interview with Sportsnet.

Senators fans would probably delight with the idea of Dorion getting someone to take Ryan’s bloated contract off their hands, and most would probably agree that Alex Burrows was a mistake worth parting with.

The scariest name is Mike Hoffman, at least assuming that Mark Stone wouldn’t be in the mix.

The next Eberle?

To my eyes, the Senators could put themselves at risk of, essentially, a reversal of the pump-and-dump they suffered in taking Dion Phaneuf off the Leafs’ hands. There’s reason to wonder if Hoffman’s value is currently being hurt in Ottawa, opening the door for the Sens to get fleeced.

Hoffman, 28, really isn’t doing so bad with 21 points in 28 games, yet the 28-year-old is carrying a cap hit of a bit under $5.2 million per season through 2019-20. A clever rival GM could start to build the case that he’s worth parting ways with, what with Hoffman’s -9 rating (hey, it’s worth a shot) and that the Senators have struggled with him on the ice (his PDO this season is 96.5, so maybe management is getting frustrated with The Hoff).

If you look at Hoffman’s linemates for much of this season, you’ll essentially see a blending of the gross, like that opening scene from an episode of “Freaks and Geeks.”

In other words, Hoffman has the makings of another Jordan Eberle-type value, and that parallel might be useful in noting that he’s a good player who, like most, carries a flaw or two. In Hoffman’s case, some hockey people might be put off by his reputation for being something of a “perimeter shooter.”

There’s a significant recent history of teams becoming obsessed with the bad of a strong player – perceived flaws or real – and taking on poor value as a result. It’s basically the story of Peter Chiarelli’s worst mistakes in Edmonton, but there’s some evidence of questionable value judgments in Ottawa, too.

As tempting as it might be for the Senators to try to fix things and “send a message to the locker room,” bold moves have mostly blown up in this team’s face, so Ottawa’s probably better off going the potato route.

If I were an NHL GM, I’d probably call Dorion during breakfast, lunch, and dinner to try to make something happen. Considering recent history and the vulnerable position they’re in, the Senators might be wise just to turn off their phones and ignore all emails.

For the rest of us, it should be a fun, if bumpy, ride.

* – Conditions of the Duchene – Turris deal could cost Ottawa its 2019 first-rounder instead, but that might not be much of a consolation.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.