Buffalo Sabres v New York Rangers

Sabres’ Stewart to enter season with a chip on his shoulder

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One could argue that power forwards are streaky by nature, yet Buffalo Sabres forward Chris Stewart still ranks as a stark example of “feast or famine.” The 26-year-old seems just as likely to suffer a penalty-minute-fueled meltdown as he is to score a tide-turning goal.

The storyline almost seems tired by now: the big winger hopes to silence his critics and find the consistency that’s escaped his grasp for basically his entire career. Even Stewart acknowledges those questions in an interesting interview with NHL.com.

“I definitely have a chip on my shoulder,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t happy with my year last year, either. I feel like I have a lot to prove and it’s just going out and doing it. I’m going to come in and I’m going to be consistent. I think that’s been a knock on me. I’ve been able to put together good stretches and then go cold, but I think we have a coach like Ted Nolan who believes in you. I think it’s going to be hard not to have the best season of my career so far.”

Nolan backed him up on that point, telling NHL.com that he’s a “Chris Stewart-type of hockey coach.”

Golden opportunity

Stewart has plenty of motivation to put forth his best effort with a contract that expires after the 2014-15 season and the Sabres’ experience-starved roster likely encourages Nolan to give the winger every chance to prove himself. While it’s unclear if Stewart will get the chance to build on chemistry he believes he began kindling with Cody Hodgson in his five-game cameo with Buffalo last season, it’s difficult to imagine Stewart outside of the Sabres’ top six very often.

(Then again, he found himself in such a position more than once with Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis.)

At this point, it’s difficult to emphatically state that we’ll know what kind of player Stewart really is after the 2014-15 season since he’s been such an unpredictable performer through 382 regular season games and 19 postseason contests. Still, he can stand to make himself a lot of money – in Buffalo or perhaps elsewhere – if he flirts with 30 goals once again.

If his career path is any indication, it wouldn’t be wise to bet for or against that happening.

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

***

As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.