Tyler Ennis

NHL on NBCSN: Stars begin season-defining stretch vs. Sabres


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Dallas Stars host the Buffalo Sabres at American Airlines Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

With just 22 games left, the Stars are at the center of the battle for one of the final postseason positions.

Dallas holds the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but only by the slimmest of margins. Had the Vancouver Canucks or Phoenix Coyotes won yesterday, the Stars would be on the outside looking in again, but they caught a break and now Dallas needs to capitalize on it.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s late NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

The Sabres might be out of the running and their franchise player, Ryan Miller, has been traded to St. Louis, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be an easy opponent. Buffalo’s goaltenders have a lot to prove right now as Jhonas Enroth fights to show he’s ready to be a starter and Jaroslav Halak fights for his next contract as he faces the possibility that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Halak isn’t unique in that regard. The Sabres have 11 players with contracts that are set to expire and thus have plenty of motivation to play for at least themselves if not for the team.

“(The Sabres) are a team that hasn’t lost a game since the break,” Stars forward Vernon Fiddler pointed out, per the Stars’ website. “They are playing carefree. They have a lot of young guys with a lot to prove. They have great coaching. We’ve got to be ready for them.”

All the same, this is the type of game that Dallas has to win because getting points is only going to get harder from here. After this contest, the Stars will play five straight games against teams that have either currently possess a playoff spot or are in serious contention for one. Dallas is also starting a stretch of 15 games over 27 days, so these contests will only get harder as fatigue starts to set in.

The Stars make-or-break stretch is starting now and this game could set the tone.

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

“It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced do some damage control.

Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

“He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”

Matthew Barnaby has heard that Crosby and Lemieux had a ‘big falling out’

Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel

Every day there seems to be another “thing” about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We say “thing,” because we’re not really sure how to categorize it. It’s never anything concrete. It’s smoke, without definitive proof of a fire.

But whether it’s Evgeni Malkin saying the Penguins are “mad at each other”…or Guy Lafleur wondering if Sidney Crosby should try and find a new team…or a prominent NHL reporter like Elliotte Friedman talking about the “very tense environment” in the organization…

The clear insinuation is that all is not well in Pittsburgh.

The latest “thing”?

Ex-Penguin Matthew Barnaby has “looked into it” and what’s he’s heard is that Crosby and co-owner Mario Lemieux have had a “big falling out.”

“Now whether that pushes them to move him at some point? Whether he wants to move? That I don’t know,” Barnaby said today on SiriusXM, via Puck Daddy.

Again, it’s all just scuttlebutt at this point. After Malkin’s “mad at each other” remark, the players insisted that that wasn’t true. Malkin said he didn’t mean it that way.

So choose for yourself what to believe.

But despite the winning record, unless this team starts playing the way it was designed to play — i.e. scoring a lot of goals, not the 26th-most in the NHL — don’t be surprised if you hear more “things.”

The Penguins host St. Louis tonight.

Goalie nods: Marquee matchup as Price faces Lundqvist at MSG

Henrik Lundqvist
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Two of the NHL’s premier netminders will do battle tonight in New York, when Carey Price and the Canadiens visit Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.

Price, who’s played a pair of games since missing extended time with a lower-body injury, has won both of his starts and is now 9-2-0 on the year with a 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage.

Great numbers, but nothing compared to the King.

Lundqvist — probably this year’s Vezina front-runner, after Price won last season — is a sparking 12-3-2 with a 1.74 GAA and .946 save percentage, posting shutouts in two of his last six starts.

One of those shutouts came in his last outing, a 31-save blanking of the Preds on Monday.

Now… with all that hype, we should tap the brakes. The last time PHT previewed a “goalie duel” was when Lundqvist and St. Louis’ Jake Allen engaged in a battle of the NHL’s two highest save percentages.

The Blues and Rangers then combined for nine goals, with Allen getting the hook 15 minutes into the contest.


Carter Hutton appears ready to give Pekka Rinne a night off in Buffalo, while the Sabres are going with Linus Ullmark once again.

Ryan Miller takes on Devan Dubnyk as the Canucks play in Minnesota.

Anders Nilsson will keep Cam Talbot bolted to the pine when Edmonton faces the ‘Canes. Cam Ward looks likely to go for Carolina.

Michael Hutchinson, not Connor Hellebuyck, for the Jets in Washington. The Caps will start Braden Holtby.

— Another good matchup in Pittsburgh, as Jake Allen and the Blues take on Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

Sergei Bobrovsky goes for the Jackets tonight, while the Devils counter with Cory Schneider.

— In Brooklyn, Jaroslav Halak starts for the Islanders. The visiting Flyers will go with their No. 1, Steve Mason.

— Sounds like Jonas Gustavsson will go up against his former team when the Bruins take on the Red Wings in Detroit. He’ll square off against Petr Mrazek.

Mike Smith returns from a lower-body injury to get the nod for Arizona. Hard to say what the Ducks are going to do: Frederik Andersen has the flu, Anton Khudobin got yanked last night against Calgary, and John Gibson came on in relief for the win.

Craig Anderson for Ottawa tonight, Semyon Varlamov for Colorado.

Martin Jones, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week, is in for the Sharks against the visiting Blackhawks. Corey Crawford counters for Chicago.

Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

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The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.