Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray talks about NHL free agency during a press conference announcing the signing of Jack Eichel to a three-year, entry level contract with the team at the First Niagara Center Wednesday July 1, 2015, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
AP

Sabres preaching the process, but major roster holes remain

9 Comments

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.

Crosby, Penguins deliver blow to Flyers’ playoff chances in Stadium Series

1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — The first time the Pittsburgh Penguins played a game at Heinz Field, Sidney Crosby was on top of the NHL and having one of the most dominant offensive seasons in recent history. That was the game he was on the receiving end of the Dave Steckel hit that started the chain of events that basically cost him two of the prime years of his career.

The Heinz Field experience was significantly better for him and the Penguins this time around.

Crosby opened the scoring midway through the first period with his league-leading 34th goal of the season — finishing a slick feed from rookie forward Jake Guentzel — to help lead the Penguins to a 4-2 in the 2017 NHL Stadium Series game.

“We were thrilled for him,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan when asked about Crosby scoring a goal in his return to Heinz Field.

“I am sure the experience of coming back here probably brought back some memories that he probably would like to forget. So to have a night like tonight, and an opportunity to play in such an exciting venue and start the game off the way he did, it did probably just helped him put that experience behind and move forward. I thought he played a solid game, his line was really good all night long and he scored a huge goal for us.”

Crosby’s goal is only part of the story in this one.

Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Chad Ruhwedel also scored goals in the win, while Matt Murray stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced.

First, for Pittsburgh, it was a huge win given the status of an undermanned defense that was playing without three of its top players. With Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta already sidelined, they were also without Kris Letang on Saturday night due to an upper body injury that currently has him listed as day-to-day. That meant they had to rely significantly on their depth.

Ron Hainsey, playing in his debut with the team after being acquired in a trade earlier this week from the Carolina Hurricanes, played more than 20 minutes in the win, including more than three minutes on the penalty kill. They also received a huge goal from Ruhwedel in the third period to help put the game away.

It wasn’t a flawless effort by the group (37 shots against illustrates that) but considering who was out of the lineup and the situation they were facing it was a huge performance to remain ahead of the New York Rangers for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and improve their record to 7-1-3 in their past 11 games.

Things are not quite as optimistic for the Flyers at the moment.

The loss on Saturday is a pretty damaging blow to their already fading playoff chances as they remain five points out of a playoff spot — with three teams ahead of them — with only 21 games to go.

They are also just 9-16-4 in their past 29 games since their 10-game winning streak ended on Dec. 14.

“It’s a tough result, walking away,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol after the game. “It’s a pretty close, tight hockey game where I thought our team played well, battled extremely well, and did a lot of good things but we walk away with the wrong result.”

That has happened a lot lately for the Flyers.

So why are they not getting the results? Well, the problem on Saturday was a familiar one for the Flyers — goaltending and defensive zone breakdowns.

Crosby’s goal to open the scoring was the result of a breakdown in defensive zone coverage that allowed the game’s best offensive player to be left wide open along the side of the net for an easy one-timer. Even though Michal Neuvirth didn’t have much of a chance on that play, he didn’t exactly play a strong game, allowing four goals on 29 shots.

The Matt Cullen goal to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the third period was a particularly tough one for Neuvirth to give up.

It is already the 10th time in 24 games this season he has given up at least three goals in a game, while his save percentage on the season remains well below the .890 mark. For a goalie that was one of the best values in the league last season in terms of performance and salary cap hit, it has been a massive regression this season.

Even though the results are not going their way at the moment Hakstol remains convinced the team is doing the right things and that the key to turning things around is just sticking with what they are doing.

“Couple little things within the game tonight,” said Hakstol. “We haven’t been able to score a whole lot. There has been a lot made of that, and fairly so. You look at the opportunities tonight, the type of opportunities we generate were pretty reasonable. You have to stick with it. We have gone through a tough stretch here, but for the vast majority we have played some pretty good hockey and we need to stick with it. We have to stay together as we have and we have to keep pushing the envelope.”

The Flyers are back in action on Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche.

A bye week hangover? Not for the Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 20:  Nick Foligno #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the Los Angeles Kings on December 20, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, sending the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 7-0 romp over the New York Islanders on Saturday.

The high-energy Blue Jackets didn’t show any rust in their first game back following their five-day break, unlike many teams that have struggled coming out of the bye week this season. Columbus scored three times in the first period, chasing New York goalie Thomas Greiss.

David Savard had a goal and three assists, Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored and backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo stopped all 24 shots for the Blue Jackets, who ended New York’s three-game winning streak. Columbus has a comfortable hold on the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Islanders are in a tight race for the final playoff berth.

Related:

NHL wants ‘two dedicated weeks’ for bye weeks next season

The NHL’s bye week experiment is still a work in progress

Greiss stopped 14 of 17 shots in the first period. His replacement, Jean-Francois Berube, saved 24 of 28.

Johnson got Columbus started when his shot from the point bounced off the skate of New York’s Nick Leddy and through Greiss’ pads 5:19 into the game.

Later in the first period, Cam Atkinson‘s shot from the left circle was stopped by Greiss, but the rebound trickled back out from between his legs and a charging Jenner tapped it in.

Foligno capped the first-period barrage when he deked the goalie and scored on a backhand.

The Blue Jackets outshot the Islanders 17-9 in the period, leading to Greiss’ benching.

Anderson kept it going 4:31 into the second with a sharp one-timer from the high slot off Jenner’s pass. Late in the period, Anderson got another one when he picked the pocket of defender Thomas Hickey in the neutral zone and launched a rocket past Berube from the right circle.

The highlight-reel goals continued in the third period when an airborne pass from Savard found Foligno for a breakaway 6:06 in. Savard got the seventh goal with 6 1/2 minutes left.

Just another big game for Filip Forsberg

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Filip Forsberg‘s bid for a hat trick in three consecutive games didn’t quite pan out Saturday. Fear not, he still had a three-point night.

The 22-year-old Forsberg has been lighting it up of late for the Predators. He had back-to-back hat tricks already this week, the first player to do so since 2010. He then helped lead the way against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, with a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over the best team in the NHL.

That’s nine points in the last three games and 10 points in the last four games for Forsberg. The win pushes Nashville back into third in the Central Division — two points better than St. Louis and 12 points back of second place Chicago.

Of course there was animosity late in the game when it appeared the Predators were too far out of reach of the Capitals, as Tom Wilson decided to fight Mike Fisher.

After falling behind in the second period, the Capitals thought they had closed the gap early in the third period only to have video review from a coach’s challenge determine Alex Ovechkin was just offside at the blue line, overturning the original call.

 

Video: Manning crushes Guentzel with massive hit

4 Comments

The Penguins were up in arms after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning crushed Jake Guentzel with a hit that appeared both high and late during the second period of Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.

There was no call on the play — the main objection from Pittsburgh’s bench immediately after the hit.

Guentzel had just moved the puck to a nearby linemate as the play transitioned into the neutral zone when Manning threw the hit, sending Guentzel hard to the ice.

Guentzel, for now at least, appears to have gotten the last laugh. He returned and recorded the primary assist on Nick Bonino‘s goal, which gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

Philly has since cut into the Pittsburgh lead.