Jason Brough

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Eichel practices with Sabres, glad to ‘get back in the swing of things’

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Jack Eichel was back practicing with his Buffalo Sabres teammates today. It’s still not certain when he’ll be able to play a game, but it’s progress all the same.

“It’s nice to get out there with a bunch of other people instead of myself,” said Eichel, per the Buffalo News. “That’s what you miss the most when you’re hurt. You miss playing but you miss your time with the guys, being in the locker room at the same time as them, just being around them. It’s tough to not be on the same schedule as them. It’s nice to get back in the swing of things.”

Eichel has been skating by himself for around a week. The 20-year-old center suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice on Oct. 12, the day before the Sabres’ season-opener. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, putting his earliest return date right around now.

The Sabres have missed their leading goal-scorer from last season, going 7-8-4 in their first 19 games. Buffalo will enter tonight’s home game against Detroit with the NHL’s worst offense, averaging just 1.89 goals per game.

Five goalies off to surprisingly tough starts

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We all know that Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, and Devan Dubnyk have been near unbeatable to start the season, but here are five netminders off to surprisingly* tough starts:

John Gibson — The Ducks, as a team, have failed to impress under new coach Randy Carlyle. At the same time, Gibson (6-6-3, .908) has been outplayed by his backup, Jonathan Bernier (3-1-1, .935). Gibson is still young, just 23 years old, but the Ducks saw enough from him last season to trade Frederik Andersen to Toronto. So far, Gibson just hasn’t found his groove. Twice this month he’s been pulled and replaced by Bernier. That will need to change if the Ducks are going to compete for a Stanley Cup. The plan was for Gibson to be their man.

Steve Mason — For the record, he was great last night, stopping 38 of 39 shots in a 3-1 victory over Florida. But the Flyers have to hope that’s a sign of things to come, because this season’s Mason (5-6-3, .895) has been far inferior to last season’s Mason (23-19-10, .918). With Michal Neuvirth out injured (after struggling even worse than Mason), the Flyers have recalled Anthony Stolarz from the AHL. No word yet who will start tonight in Tampa Bay, but expect to see Stolarz at some point soon, unless Mason keeps last night’s momentum going in a big way.

Petr Mrazek — Last year, he was arguably the Red Wings’ MVP, going 27-16-6 with a .921 save percentage. This season, he’s sunk to 4-5-1 with a .901 save rate, while veteran Jimmy Howard has outright stolen a few games for the Wings. Howard’s record may be a modest 4-5-0, but his save percentage is .940 and Detroit has been shut out in three of his losses. Mrazek, meanwhile, has had much better run support. In four of his losses, including one in overtime, the Wings have scored at least three goals.

Read more: Ken Holland makes argument to keep Howard

Brian Elliott — He was supposed to solve the Flames’ major weakness. But so far, he’s only exacerbated it. Elliott is a disastrous 3-9-0 with an .882 save percentage. A pending unrestricted free agent, this is not the way he wanted to start his time in Calgary. Lucky for the Flames that GM Brad Treliving signed a proven backup in Chad Johnson (5-3-1, .911), otherwise things could be even worse for Glen Gulutzan and company.

Jacob Markstrom/Ryan Miller — We’ll count these two as one, since they both play for Vancouver and they both have sub-.900 save percentages. The Canucks went into the season thinking that goaltending would be a strength of theirs. While that was the case early on, both Markstrom (5-3-2, .897) and Miller (2-7-0, .899) have struggled of late. While it’s certainly possible that the Canucks’ scoring issues caused the forwards and defensemen to cheat and get away from their structure, there have still been stoppable shots that have gotten past Markstrom and Miller. The Canucks aren’t good enough to win without solid goaltending. If they’re going to compete for a playoff spot, at least one of their netminders will have to get hot.

Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

Marc-Andre Fleury — Fleury allowed four goals in Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers, dropping his record to 6-4-3 and save percentage to .907. Meanwhile, Matt Murray has been excellent, going 5-1-0 with a .945 save rate. We all know the deal here. The expansion draft is looming and the Penguins may need to trade Fleury in order to protect Murray. Fleury, 31, is signed through 2018-19 for a cap hit of $5.75 million, so it would sure be advantageous to the Penguins if his numbers improved, especially if they try to trade him before the March 1 deadline.

Honorable mentions: Ben BishopFrederik AndersenSemyon Varlamov

*The Dallas Stars goalies do not qualify

Back under Carlyle, the Ducks are failing to impress

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The Anaheim Ducks were on the wrong end of a controversial call last night, and the result was a 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.

Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle was none too impressed with the officials, telling reporters afterwards, “I was under the understanding that you cannot score a goal in the NHL today by pushing the goaltender’s pad with the puck underneath it over the line, but I guess I was proved wrong again tonight.”

He might have had a point.

But the fact remains, it was another disappointing result for the Ducks, who allowed the Islanders — with just one win in their last eight — to come into Honda Center, play them close and get the game to a shootout.

With the shootout loss, Anaheim’s record fell to 9-7-4 — good enough for second place in the Pacific Division, but not the kind of record a team with Stanley Cup aspirations can brag about.

Based on their possession stats, the Ducks’ record is about what they deserve. Under Carlyle, their scored-adjusted Corsi has fallen to 48.9, 19th best in the NHL. Last season under Bruce Boudreau, it finished at 53.2, second to only Los Angeles.

While stats like Corsi can never tell the whole story, this was the concern when the Ducks brought their old coach back. Carlyle’s effect on the Maple Leafs’ possession stats was well-documented during his days in Toronto.

But this past June, Anaheim GM Bob Murray — calling Carlyle a “proven winner and motivator” — believed he’d hired “the coach who can lead us to playoff success and our ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup.”

Carlyle and Murray, of course, won a Cup together in 2007, when Carlyle was Anaheim’s head coach and Murray was working under then-GM Brian Burke. So describing Carlyle as a “proven winner” was not inaccurate.

So far this season, however, the Ducks have not looked like strong Cup contenders. The best one could say is they’ve looked okay. Not great. Not even good. Just okay.

The Ducks have three big tests coming up, starting Friday when they host the Blackhawks. Saturday they’re in San Jose, then it’s back home to face the Canadiens on Tuesday.

It’s only been 20 games, so there’s still plenty of time for Anaheim to round into form. The Ducks got off to a horrible start last season, before finding their identity and finishing strong.

But make no mistake, this is a very important year for Murray’s group. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are 31 now, Ryan Kesler is 32. When Murray got Hampus Lindholm signed, he said he “wanted to give this group another shot, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it that way.”

The way he put it, another early exit this spring and it’s not hard to imagine significant changes.

Bruins say Chara has a lower-body injury, ‘doubtful’ for next two games

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Zdeno Chara will not travel with the Boston Bruins for Thursday’s game in Ottawa. The B’s said this morning that Chara suffered a lower-body injury last night against St. Louis and that a further update would be provided Friday prior to their home game against Calgary.

Chara logged 9:04 against the Blues before getting hurt and leaving in the second period. The Bruins had leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but would go on to lose, 4-2.

Colin Miller was a healthy scratch against St. Louis, so he could come in against the Sens. The Bruins also expect to get Kevan Miller (hand) back shortly.

But even at 39, Chara is still the Bruins’ best defenseman. He’s been paired all season with rookie Brandon Carlo, who admitted he “struggled a little bit” without his veteran partner against the Blues.

“It’s definitely a little more responsibility on myself to to get in better positions there and keep those ones out of the net,” Carlo said, per CSNNE. 

“We just have to keep it simple, and that is something I was struggling with you could say. Moving the puck up – I needed to do it a little bit faster and be a little bit stronger out there for sure. Definitely not happy with the end of my second period, you know, but I think that’s just mainly my responsibility to keep playing the way that I can no matter who is across from me.”

Carlo finished minus-2 on the night, while Torey Krug logged the most ice time among the Bruins at 24:44.

Based on this morning’s practice, Carlo could skate with John-Michael Liles against the Sens, with Krug and Adam McQuaid together on the other top-4 pairing.

Update:

With five straight wins, the Hurricanes are ‘building some momentum’

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Two weeks ago, we wrote about the curious Carolina Hurricanes, who couldn’t seem to translate their strong possession stats into victories. At the time, the ‘Canes were 3-5-4, dead last in the NHL.

How quickly things can change.

Today, after five straight regulation wins, Carolina is 8-6-4, just two points back of a wild-card spot.

How have they done it?

Well, they’re finally getting the saves. Cam Ward was in goal for all five of the wins, and he’s allowed just five goals on 131 shots, for a save percentage of .962.

As for the offense, it hasn’t exactly taken off, save for one five-goal outburst against Washington. But the ‘Canes are scoring just enough. Last night in Toronto, Jeff Skinner (power play) and Viktor Stalberg (shorthanded) potted goals in a 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs.

“I think we’re obviously building some momentum here,” Ward told reporters, “and just carrying it into the next game.”

Two weeks ago, it looked like the decision to re-sign Ward was a mistake by GM Ron Francis. But Ward is now 7-4-3 with a .919 save percentage.

“When we looked at the options that were out there, we felt this was the best option for our team,” Francis told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “We didn’t have to give up picks or prospects to get somebody else. We had a guy that wanted to be there and was excited to be there. It’s great to see him playing well.”

The ‘Canes play tomorrow in Montreal and Saturday in Ottawa, before returning home to face Florida Sunday.

Perhaps their winning ways can lead to some bigger crowds at PNC Arena. Their last home game, a 3-1 victory over the Jets on Sunday, drew just 10,809. And, of course, there were those relocation rumors earlier in the week.