Jason Brough

AP

Sabres fans are still suffering, and that’s not acceptable anymore

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The Buffalo Sabres have been a better team with Jack Eichel in the lineup.

But not by as much as they’d hoped.

When Eichel was hurt to start the season, they went 7-9-5. Since he’s been back, they’ve gone 5-4-3 — a decidedly “meh” improvement.

The Sabres entered the Christmas break with no wins in their last four. They got embarrassed, 5-1, by the Islanders on Dec. 23. And to make matters worse, now they’ll be without Ryan O'Reilly (appendectomy) indefinitely.

“We have to figure out what kind of team we want to be,” captain Brian Gionta said after the debacle in Brooklyn. “We have to be a simple team, creating offense, passing and executing.”

It has to be frustrating for Terry Pegula, whose other Buffalo team isn’t doing so well either. Pegula became the Sabres owner in 2011, with much fanfare and optimism.

“Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup,” he famously said at the time.

But the team hasn’t come close yet. It has missed the playoffs the last five seasons, and barring a heck of a comeback in 2016-17, it will miss them again.

To be sure, there are the makings of a better team. Eichel is still only 20; Sam Reinhart is 21, and Rasmus Ristolainen 22. Alexander Nylander, the eighth overall draft pick in 2016, has yet to make his NHL debut; he’s only 18.

Still, the Sabres had higher hopes for 2016-17. They’d signed Kyle Okposo and traded for Dmitry Kulikov. GM Tim Murray said the goal was “to make the playoffs, and we actually do expect that we can do that.”

And yet, they will enter tonight’s game in Detroit in last place in the Atlantic Division, eight points back of third-place Boston. Their offense ranks 28th; their goals-against 11th.

For Murray, major questions abound. Why can’t this team score at five-on-five? Is it time to move on from Evander Kane? How can the blue line be bolstered? Is Dan Bylsma the right head coach?

It has been a long time since the Sabres were Stanley Cup contenders. They went to the Eastern Conference Final in 2007, but haven’t won a postseason series since.

While the fan base largely accepted the “suffering” that went with a tear-it-down rebuild, it will not, and should not, accept much more losing.

Women’s league announces policy for transgender athletes

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The National Women’s Hockey League today announced a new policy for transgender athletes.

“This is an opportunity to move the conversation forward and accelerate social progress,” said NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan in a release. “The NWHL wants to be a reference point and resource for the next player or league that may feel uncertain or underprepared for their moment.”

For those players designated female at birth, it has been ruled that they “may not take testosterone hormone therapy. Athletes transitioning to male who undergo hormone therapy will be ineligible to compete.”

For athletes transitioning to female, the “athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum is within typical limits of women athletes.”

Click here for the full guidelines.

And read more in this story by the New York Times.

Bad news for the ‘Canes: Faulk week-to-week with lower-body injury

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Justin Faulk is hurt again. The Carolina Hurricanes’ top-scoring defenseman is reportedly week-to-week with a lower-body injury after getting hurt Friday against Boston.

Tomorrow in Pittsburgh, Faulk’s spot in the lineup will be taken by Ryan Murphy, who’s played just four NHL games all season. Murphy’s last appearance in a Carolina uniform was all the way back on Nov. 10.

Faulk goes on the shelf with seven goals and nine assists in 30 games. He missed three games in November with an upper-body injury.

The ‘Canes (15-11-7) went into the Christmas break on a three-game winning streak. But stuck in the Metropolitan Division, they sit seven points back of a playoff spot.

Even if they do regress, the Wild have built a nice playoff cushion

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Devan Dubnyk isn’t the only reason for the Minnesota’s Wild’s success.

To be sure, Dubnyk has been excellent, going 17-6-3 with a .948 save percentage. But the netminder doesn’t have much to do with the Wild’s offense, which currently ranks fourth in the NHL (3.06 goals per game), up from 18th last season (2.60).

“The pucks are going in,” forward Mikko Koivu told reporters after Friday’s 7-4 win over the Rangers. The Wild only registered 21 shots in their 10th straight victory. They chased Henrik Lundqvist, who made just nine saves on 13 shots.

“Once we started winning [consistently], they started to believe in the things that we were trying to accomplish. And then when we didn’t do well, our confidence was there to bail us out,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said recently, per the StarTribune. “You gain confidence, it’s a crazy thing, but when you believe you can win all the time, it usually happens.”

So far this season, only two teams — the Rangers (11.2%) and Blue Jackets (11.1%) — have registered a higher shooting percentage than the Wild (10.6%).

This, of course, has led to predictions of a regression. Minnesota is a middle-of-the-pack team based on puck-possession stats.

But then, with a record of 21-8-4, the Wild can afford to fall back to earth a bit. Heading into tonight’s game in Nashville, they’re 11 points up on the Predators, the closest non-playoff team in the Western Conference.

Related: Who has been the NHL’s MVP?

Lundqvist has the flu, did not join Rangers for morning skate

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Henrik Lundqvist has the flu and did not join his New York Rangers for the morning skate ahead of tonight’s home game with Ottawa.

There’s been no official word yet, but it seems likely that Antti Raanta will get the nod against the Senators.

Raanta struggled in his last start, allowing seven goals on 47 shots in a 7-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 20. He then relieved Lundqvist three days later, allowing two goals on seven shots in a 7-4 loss to Minnesota.

Obviously, losing 7-2 then 7-4 was no great way to head into the Christmas break.

“There’s no excuse,” head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the loss to the Wild. “We had one line — (Stepan’s) line — bring out their ‘A’ game and the rest weren’t good enough from the goaltender on out.”

Despite the back-to-back defeats, the Rangers still have a very respectable record of 23-12-1. Their next game after tonight’s is Thursday in Arizona. They also play Saturday in Colorado before returning home to face Buffalo next Tuesday.