Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: Bruce Boudreau has some thoughts on the ‘Die Hard’ franchise

— Up top, relive last night’s overtime between the Capitals and Sabres. That was a pretty long shift by Marcus Johansson, but good thing for Washington he didn’t change.

— Bruce Boudreau knows his movies, and he’s got some opinions. “The first ‘Die Hard’ was great. After that, they became phonier and phonier. By the fifth one, when they’re going up a ramp in a car and it’s hitting a helicopter, Yeah, right. I can understand kids loving that, but I look more for the story now that I’m older.” The Wild’s new head coach recently saw “Hell or High Water,” which is really good, by the way. (StarTribune)

— Dispatch columnist Michael Arace on the hottest team in hockey: “This is a new storyline for the Blue Jackets. They have had small sips of success in the past — the distant past, it seems now. Forever, the problem has been summarized as having to do with the culture. There is a sizeable enough sample through 24 games to say they may be in the throes of change.” (Columbus Dispatch)

Henrik Zetterberg is leading the Detroit Red Wings with 19 points in 26 games, and he’s doing it at 36 years old. “Z has been real good all year,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He is one of those funny players that, the more ice time he gets, the more juice he has in his legs.” (Detroit Free Press)

— The Maple Leafs have been piling up the shots this season. “After their young offense pumped 40 shots at the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, Toronto moved up to third in the NHL in shots per game at 32.6.” Too bad for the Leafs that they’re also allowing 32.6 shots per game. Only the Arizona Coyotes (35.4) have allowed more on average. Toronto is sure fun to watch, though. (Postmedia)

— A Q&A with Jack Eichel, who will play against Connor McDavid and the Oilers tonight in Buffalo. Here’s a good bit of advice that Eichel has for young players: “Just make sure you enjoy the game. Don’t get caught up in being stressed over what you’re going to do. I’ve seen so many kids who kind of overthought it. Hockey’s a game. Go to practice every day and try to get better. I’m a big believer that if you want success, it’s up to you. Your own success is all in your own hands.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

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    Eichel is good to go against McDavid and the Oilers

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    The Buffalo Sabres played the Washington Capitals close last night, giving themselves a chance to beat one of the best teams in the NHL — on the road to boot.

    Though the Caps eventually won in overtime, it was another encouraging performance by the Sabres, who’ve been a much better side since Jack Eichel returned to the lineup.

    Buffalo (9-10-6) has gone 2-1-1 in the four games Eichel has played. Tonight, another big test, as Connor McDavid and the Oilers pay a visit to KeyBank Center.

    “We have to try and fight our way up the standings,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told reporters last night. “You might have some lulls in the season, but we already had ours. We have to make sure we’re pushing forward and doing everything we can to get two points. Getting a point is OK, but we had the lead in the third.”

    Eichel will indeed play tonight. He confirmed that this morning, after there was concern he’d tweaked his ankle against the Capitals.

    “I’m fine. I’m good,” Eichel said, per the Buffalo News. “Going through an injury like this, you know it’s going to come back and bother you at times, but it’s fine now.”

    With Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, the Sabres have a formidable one-two punch down the middle. When Eichel was out with his ankle injury, it was a serious challenge to fill his spot, and the Sabres just couldn’t manage it very well.

    Now, with Eichel back, it’s about finding that belief — a belief that the Sabres are good enough to compete, that they don’t need to go into a shell as soon as they get the lead.

    That’s what seemed to happen last night in Washington, where the Caps outshot the Sabres, 16-9, in the third period and Marcus Johansson‘s goal at 13:42 sent the game to sudden death.

    “I mean give them credit, they’re a good team, but I think we’re starting to sit back and they have speed, you know?” said goalie Robin Lehner. “I think we see that we can play. We’ve just got to stop changing, changing how we play.”

    The Ottawa Senators are getting tested

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    We’ve gotten pretty good at identifying vulnerable hockey teams these past few years as the analytics movement has taken hold. The 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs were due for a regression, and regressed. Ditto for the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche and 2014-15 Calgary Flames.

    Sometimes, teams can survive an entire season while bucking the odds. Which is why the Ottawa Senators will be interesting to watch the rest of the way in 2016-17.

    Under new coach Guy Boucher, the Sens are an impressive 15-9-2, good for second place in the Atlantic Division.

    But the Sens also have many of the statistical markings of a vulnerable team:

    — A score-adjusted Corsi that ranks 27th out of 30
    — A 9-0-2 record in one-goal games
    — A goal-differential of minus-3

    After last night’s 8-5 loss in Pittsburgh, the Sens head to California with just one win in their last four, and without their starting goalie, Craig Anderson, who’s taken another leave to be with his wife.

    Anderson has been brilliant this season, going 12-6-1 with a .924 save percentage. He’s been a huge key to their success, twice earning the NHL’s first-star-of-the-week honors.

    The starting duties will now fall temporarily on Mike Condon, who’s gone 3-1-1 with a stellar .943 save percentage since coming over from Pittsburgh. The Sens’ No. 3 goalie, Andrew Hammond, has been recalled for the road trip, which starts Wednesday in San Jose, continues Saturday in Los Angeles, and wraps up Sunday in Anaheim.

    “It’s a good test to see where our team is at,” forward Derick Brassard told reporters prior to last night’s defeat. “We’re going to play four of the best teams in the league. It’s good for the team to get together and battle through this.”

    Despite winning record, Rangers ‘very aware’ they must be better

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    The New York Rangers may be winning, but their head coach, Alain Vigneault, knows they need to be better.

    Hmmm…this feels familiar for some reason.

    Oh right, that’s because it was the same story last season, when the Rangers got off to a great start before tailing off then fizzling out in the playoffs.

    The Rangers head into tonight’s game in Brooklyn with a record of 17-8-1. That’s the good news.

    Here’s the bad — in five of their last six games, they’ve been held to 25 shots or fewer. On the season, their score-adjusted Corsi has fallen to 26th in the league.

    “We’re very aware and very conscious of the areas we need to be better at,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “We’re playing a team that’s playing real solid hockey.”

    Indeed, the Islanders are 3-0-1 in their last four, including wins over Pittsburgh and Washington.

    To be fair to the Rangers, they’ve been without Mika Zibanejad for the past seven games, and he was a big part of their early success. Tonight, they’ll also be without Michael Grabner, who’s gone back to Austria for his grandmother’s funeral.

         Read more: The new-look Rangers are dangerous on every line

    But the Rangers aren’t looking to make excuses. They’re looking instead to get back on track.

    “It’s definitely a five-man thing for us and communication and just getting on the same page again,” forward Jimmy Vesey said, per the Daily News. “It’s definitely something we need to get back to, and I think that’s kind of like the recipe for being a good team down the line and in the playoffs.”

    Justin Schultz is having a pretty good season

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    It was Justin Schultz‘s kind of game last night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins beat the Senators, 8-5, in a fun, back-and-forth affair.

    Schultz was in on a pair of Pittsburgh goals, scoring one and assisting on another. The 26-year-old defenseman now has three goals and eight assists in 26 games. And on a good team that can put him in a position to succeed, he’s a plus-13.

    Schultz, of course, joined the Penguins last season in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. He won a Stanley Cup in June, then re-signed for one year and $1.4 million in July.

         Read more: Justin Schultz quietly making big impact on Penguins power play

    “He deserves a lot of credit for the effort, the commitment level he’s shown,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Friday, per the Post-Gazette.

    Sullivan too deserves credit, for playing Schultz to his strengths and bringing out the best in an imperfect player. An offensive defenseman, Schultz is not being asked to do much of the heavy lifting defensively. He starts a lot of shifts in the attacking zone, and he doesn’t play very often against the opposition’s best.

    Last night, Schultz displayed his offensive instincts and abilities, jumping up in the rush to take a pass from Evgeni Malkin, then burying it for the go-ahead goal.

    Schultz ended up logging 19:54 of ice time, including 16:20 at even strength, the most among Penguins d-men.