Chad Johnson

Sabres hoping to use Winter Classic to jump-start positive second half

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NEW YORK — The climb in front of the Buffalo Sabres as the calendar turns to 2018 is a daunting one. Currently 16 points out of a playoff spot, playing any hockey beyond game No. 82 in April is unlikely, but as they prepare for the Citi Field Winter Classic game against the New York Rangers, the players are looking at it as an opportunity.

Playoff hopes may be lost, but after a very tough first half the Sabres have shown some signs of life. They’re still dead last in the Eastern Conference, but head coach Phil Housley’s message is sinking in and beginning to pay off.

“If you look at our games recently in the last two weeks we’ve played solid hockey, especially against really good competition, teams in playoff positions,” Housley said Sunday morning after the Sabres practiced at Citi Field. “I think our team is moving in the right direction, but certainly having this opportunity on the world stage can hopefully give our team a boost because we have been playing better as of late. Obviously, we’d like to be in a better position at this point in the season, but it is what it is and we’re going to try to bring our best [Monday] against a very good hockey team and another team that in a playoff position.

The final 44 games of the season will prove to be a vital evaluation period for Housley and general manager Jason Botterill. As the Sabres eye a top lottery selection in June’s entry draft, there are a number of pending unrestricted free agents who could end up as trade bait before the Feb. 26 deadline. That bait could bring in assets that will help the franchise’s turnaround over the next several seasons.

Evander Kane, who’s tied for the team lead in goals with 15 and is second on the Sabres in points with 34, is set to become a UFA on July 1. Same goes for forward Benoit Pouliot, defenseman Josh Gorges and backup goaltender Chad Johnson. Kane will most likely be gone by the end of February, but until then he’s be a part of the roster that would love to use a Winter Classic victory to jump-start a positive second half.

After a November that saw the Sabres win three of 13 games, they picked up 13 points in 14 games in December, which included five overtime defeats. Progress is there in Housley’s eyes and as January approaches — a month that features their bye week and the All-Star Break — the hope is that the climb continues to an uphill one.

“Any team is lucky to be part of something like this. I think we’ve been playing better,” said goaltender Robin Lehner. “It’s a good opportunity for us on a big stage to hopefully go out and get a win, keep the momentum going.”

More 2018 Winter Classic coverage:
Sabres’ Jason Pominville ready for third outdoor game experience
Mike Emrick on calling the first Winter Classic, his favorite outdoor game venues (PHT Q&A)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Scott Darling: Latest goalie beaten from center ice (Video)

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Here’s a thought: considering an 82-game regular season and about a two-month-long postseason, it’s almost a little surprising that we don’t see more center-ice goals.

Such a goal can happen in so many ways. A puck can take an odd bounce. A goalie might take his eye off the puck for a second while deciding what to do next, much like an NFL receiver who drops an easy pass while dreaming of those sweet, sweet, yards up ahead.

So, let’s not be too hard on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling, who padded Mika Zibanejad‘s already-robust goal totals with the center-ice flub you can see in the video above.

If you prefer a GIF form, this one nails the spirit of the thing:

(Agreed, little emoticon monkey. Agreed.)

Since we’re on the subject of goals netminders would want back even more than usual, we might as well also consider Tyler Ennis beating Chad Johnson here:

Ouch. Hey, we’ve all been there (vaguely speaking).

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.

Sergei Bobrovsky’s 34 saves help Blue Jackets top Sabres

A second period outburst that saw three goals in a span of 2:59 powered the Columbus Blue Jackets by the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 Wednesday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky stood tall, stopping 34 shots to record his first win since Oct. 14 and thirteen Blue Jackets recorded a point. Seth Jones, Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert all scored in the middle frame to blow things open and help sink the Sabres to their sixth defeat of the season.

Columbus took advantage of their first power play of the game when Oliver Bjorkstrand wristed a shot by Chad Johnson midway through the first period:

While staving off the Sabres’ attack, Seth Jones gave the Blue Jackets a little breathing room late in the second as they capitalized on a 4-on-3 break:

It was the fourth time this season that the Blue Jackets have scored three goals in a single period.

According to the NHL, the win helped Columbus (6-3-0) match their best nine-game start to a season in franchise history. It also snaps a two-game slide as they prepare for three games in four nights beginning Friday against the Winnipeg Jets.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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The Buzzer: Milestone night in Vegas, Johnson backstops Sabres to first win

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Player of the night: Malcolm Subban, Vegas Golden Knights

There were a few candidates tonight, particularly from the Vegas Golden Knights victory over the Boston Bruins. Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov both made their debuts for the expansion team and both scored their first career NHL goals.

Vegas goalie Malcolm Subban also recorded his first career NHL win, stopping 21 of 22 shots faced as the Golden Knights held on in the end for a 3-1 victory. Subban was solid. He made a difficult stop in close off Brad Marchand and helped defeat the team that put him on waivers only two weeks ago.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Subban, per NHL.com. “I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I’m just happy to get the win.”

Boston selected Subban in the first round of the 2012 draft, but he spent the vast majority of his time in the American Hockey League. Putting Subban on waivers prior to the start of this season was a risk the Bruins were well aware of, and he was claimed by the Golden Knights. He started Sunday, while Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on injured reserve.

Highlight of the night:

The Buffalo Sabres finally have their first win of the season. They received a goal from recently recalled forward Justin Bailey and a 25-save performance from Chad Johnson. He had the glove working in this one, but arguably his best save of the night was this pad stop on Nick Ritchie to keep his team in the lead, at least at the time, during the second period. The angle from behind the net shows just how close this puck came to going in, but Johnson managed to trap it right against the post before the mayhem ensued.

Factoid of the night:

Cam Fowler, selected 12th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010 and still only 25 years of age, achieved a career milestone and made franchise history on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Scores:

Buffalo 3, Anaheim 1

L.A. 3 – NY Islanders 2

Vegas 3, Boston 1

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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