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Sabres preaching the process, but major roster holes remain

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The Buffalo Sabres have been hammered by injuries this season, with key players Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, and Zach Bogosian all missing extended periods of time.

But injuries were no excuse for last night’s 2-1 loss in New Jersey. Sure, Bogosian was missing again, but the Sabres were relatively healthy otherwise, and they still got badly outshot, 39-23.

“It is up to us in this room to get things going,” goalie Robin Lehner told reporters afterwards, “and today we didn’t get things going.”

According to Sports Club Stats, the Sabres will have to go around 19-8-3 in their remaining 30 games in order to make the playoffs.

In other words, it’s looking like a sixth straight miss. They’re not officially out of it yet, but it’s getting close to “maybe next year” time.

Still, they have to play on. The Sabres host the Sharks tonight, the Ducks Thursday, then head to Toronto for a Hockey Night in Canada contest Saturday.

“Our players have to treat these games like they’re meaningful playoff-type games to get that experience of winning and playing playoff-type of hockey,” said head coach Dan Bylsma, per WGR 550. “That’s the process we have to go through, and it’s really important to have meaningful games for the players to have that sense about it.”

For GM Tim Murray, decisions have to be made ahead of the March 1 trade deadline. Brian Gionta, Dmitry Kulikov, Cody Franson, and Anders Nilsson are all pending unrestricted free agents. And it remains to be seen if Kane is going to be part of the future; he’s only signed through next season.

Murray, like Bylsma, has been preaching the process. And in the GM’s defense, it wasn’t that long ago that the Sabres stripped the roster bare in order to draft the likes of Sam Reinhart and Eichel.

“We’re not happy where we are,” Murray told The Buffalo News recently. “We’re trying to be better and we have been in certain areas. But when you go to the bottom, you can’t snap your fingers and learn how to win. This is a process and we’re sticking with it. You have to.”

But for the fan base, it is frustrating all the same to see a team like Toronto in the thick of the playoff chase. Winning the lottery and drafting Auston Matthews obviously helped the Leafs, but Eichel was supposed to be the same caliber of franchise center. So, why aren’t the Sabres having success too?

In reality, Eichel is the least of the Sabres’ problems. There are still major holes on the roster, especially on the back end, arguably the toughest area to fix with a snap of a GM’s fingers. Though Buffalo does have a nice prospect in Brendan Guhle, he’s only 19, and there’s no blue-chip blue-liner beyond him.

That’ll be up to Murray to address, and it won’t be easy. He’s not the only GM looking to upgrade his defense, and prices for top-4 guys are unlikely to come down.

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off elbow, Sheary out day-to-day for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Update after the Penguins’ loss: Seemingly good news, if very early and vague: