It’s Buffalo Sabres Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

2018-19
33-39-10, 76 points (6th in Atlantic Division, 13th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Marcus Johansson
John Gilmour
Curtis Lazar
Colin Miller
Jimmy Vesey
Jean-Sebastien Dea
Andrew Hammond
Henri Jokiharju

OUT
Matt Tennyson
Kyle Criscuolo
Scott Wedgewood
Alex Nylander

RE-SIGNED
Evan Rodrigues
Zemgus Girgensons
Johan Larsson
C.J. Smith
Remi Elie

[MORE: Under pressure | X-factor | Three questions]

2018-19 Season Summary

It’s now been eight straight seasons since the Sabres made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the longest drought in the NHL. They’re now on their sixth head coach since 2011 and are hoping new head coach Ralph Krueger’s methods work in turning around a franchise that started off last season so well only to see it crash and burn.

The Sabres woke up on Nov. 28 tied for the most points in the NHL with 36 following a 10-game winning streak. Through 25 games they were 17-6-2, Jack Eichel led the team with 28 points and offseason acquisition Jeff Skinner was tied for league lead with 19 goals. Goaltender Carter Hutton was playing fabulous with a .928 even-strength save percentage. Things were looking bright for once.

The 10-game winning streak was followed by a five consecutive defeats as the Sabres began their fall back to earth. The next three month saw 26 losses in 39 games — and then March happened. Between March 2 and April 2, the Sabres recorded just four points 16 games, which saw only one victory. 

The fall was an historic one. The 2018-19 Sabres joined the 2016-17 Flyers as the only teams in NHL history to have a 10-game winning streak and miss the playoffs in the same season. It would ultimately cost head coach Phil Housley his job and open the door for Kruger’s NHL return.

There were a few bright spots from a forgettable season, though. Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, was a Calder Trophy finalist after a nine-goal, 44 point season; Jeff Skinner hit 40 goals and signed an eight-year, $72 million extension in June; Jack Eichel put up a career-best 28 goals and 82 points, and Sam Reinhart had another 20-goal season.

Depending on how the 2019-20 season goes, the change may not stop behind the bench. General manager Jason Botterill is certainly on the hot seat and there are nearly 20 players who could become unrestricted or restricted free agents next summer.

In trying to improve the blue line, Botterill went out and acquired Brandon Montour from the Ducks in February and picked up Colin Miller from the Golden Knights in a late-June trade. Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey were added up front in hopes of strengthening the forward group.

There’s a lot of work still to be done for Botterill and co., and this coming season will determine many futures inside the organization.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Plenty of playoff action, including a double OT Game 1

NHL scores Bubble Wrap playoff double OT around the NHL
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  • Hey, the Bruins and Hurricanes got to play, and it went to (double) OT. And Rod Brind’Amour got really mad, and less rich.
  • Barry Trotz got … uh, the latest laugh(?) against his old team, the Capitals.
  • Carey Price made a righteous save, but lost.
  • Plenty of Game 1 action, so let’s get rolling.

NHL scores from 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff Game 1 action

Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 [2 OT] (Boston leads 1-0)

After having their game postponed from Tuesday, the Bruins and Hurricanes made up for lost time by taking a lot of time in their Game 1. These two teams needed to reach a second overtime period to decide their Game 1, with Patrice Bergeron scoring the OT GWG after Petr Mrazek was just a tooooouch off of his angle.

Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (Isles lead 1-0)

T.J. Oshie scored two power-play goals to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. Then things fell apart. The Islanders took advantage of some sloppy play from the Capitals, and Anders Lee made some Capitals enemies with a fight, a hit that may have injured Nicklas Backstrom, and a goal. Barry Trotz’s new team took this one against his old pals.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (Colorado leads 1-0)

For much of this one-sided Game 1, it seemed like Darcy Kuemper might steal (another?) win for the Coyotes. It took until fairly deep into the third period for the Avalanche to get a puck past Kuemper. But when it rained, it poured, with three goals in about a minute and a half. As great as Kuemper’s been for the Coyotes, Arizona needs to do more than sit back and only fire 14 SOG against Philipp Grubauer and the Avs.

Flyers 2, Canadiens 1 (Philadelphia leads 1-0)

The Carter Hart – Carey Price hype seemed fairly justified in Game 1. While Price made the save of that Game 1 (see: highlight of the night), Hart got the best of his idol in this one. The 2-1 score might indicate that it was a slog. Not really; the two teams played with pretty solid pace. That said, the Canadiens couldn’t get a whole lot done in the third period, when the Flyers were really clamping down.

Canucks 5, Blues 2 (Vancouver leads 1-0)

Well, then. The Canucks never trailed in Game 1, building leads of 1-0, 2-1, and then a 3-2 edge that they would not relinquish. The Canucks’ power play did a lot of damage in Game 1, and Bo Horvat was a locomotive, scoring two goals (including a beauty to really put Game 1 out of reach). Not the greatest game for Jordan Binnington, who also saw some drop-off during the regular season.

Three Stars from Wednesday in 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

1. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

Really, hand it to “The Perfection Line” if you’d like. Bergeron scored the overtime game-winner, and also collected an assist. David Pastrnak (1G, 1A) and Brad Marchand (2A) enjoyed two-point outputs, as well. While the Hurricanes kept that line from dominating as much as they sometimes can in Game 1, they still made the difference. (Rod Brind’Amour would argue that the refs made a big difference, as well.)

2. Josh Bailey, Islanders

Here’s another award where you could hand it to forwards who made similar impacts. Still, Bailey came up big during the Islanders’ comeback, scoring the shorthanded goal that ended up being the game-winner, and assisting on the 4-2 goal that put things out of reach. Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal both came through with two-assist games, delivering as well for the Isles.

3. Bo Horvat, Canucks

It’s tempting to go with Carter Hart, who outdueled Carey Price (his idol) on Wednesday. Maybe there’s an urge to reward Darcy Kuemper for his 37-save performance, nearly willing the Coyotes to a win before allowing three goals late against the Avs.

But Horvat scored the first goal to set the tone for the Canucks against the Blues in Game 1, and then the 4-2 tally with a beautiful move to make a St. Louis surge less likely.

Highlight of the Night

It has to be Carey Price’s diving, Nick Suzuki-saving stop, right?

Factoids

  • Shea Weber became the second defenseman in Canadiens history with a goal streak of three consecutive games or more (Weber’s now at four goals, one assist in three games). Guy Lapointe ranks as the other Canadiens defender to do so, meeting that mark in 1973. [NHL PR]
  • The Islanders are developing a knack for coming back against the Capitals in playoff games:

THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Blue Jackets vs. Lightning (TB leads 1-0), 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights (VGK leads 1-0) , 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Hurricanes vs. Bruins, 8 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Flames vs. Stars, 10:30 p.m ET (CGY leads 1-0) – NBCSN

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Flyers vs. Canadiens
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Bruins vs. Hurricanes
Stars vs. Flames
Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

First Round predictions
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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.

Canucks never trail, beat Blues 5-2 in Game 1

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The young Canucks didn’t look like they feared the defending-champion Blues, at least not in Game 1. The Canucks never trailed in Game 1, breaking a tied third period to win 5-2, taking a 1-0 series lead against the Blues.

Blues found themselves chasing Canucks in Game 1

When we look back at this First Round 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff series, we may say that the Blues eventually neutralized the explosive but inexperienced (and not particularly deep) Canucks. That was not the story of Game 1.

During the first period, both teams scored fairly similar power-play goals, with Bo Horvat and David Perron finding the net with quick shots from the “bumper” position. Vancouver’s power play continued to cause problems, as Elias Pettersson also briefly gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead during the second period. Jaden Schwartz quickly answered with a 2-2 goal as the last tally of that period, yet this would not be the last time the Blues found themselves trailing in Game 1.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In a moment Jordan Binnington would like to have back, Troy Stecher boomed a shot by the Blues goalie 5:37 into the third. About two-and-a-half minutes later, Horvat bamboozled Vince Dunn with a splendid move to score his second goal of Game 1, and make it 4-2.

While the Blues managed some pushes late in Game 1, they couldn’t come back against the Canucks. After St. Louis got whistled for a late penalty, J.T. Miller scored the 5-2 goal on a power play at first focused on clock-killing.

Vancouver managed one of the bigger Game 1 upsets of the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leaving the Blues with some serious work to do.

There was some nastiness in Game 1, including this ugly spear by Troy Brouwer on Antoine Roussel:

Will this series get nastier? Perhaps. Considering the makeup of this Blues team, the finesse-heavy portion of the top of the Canucks lineup would be wise to mostly avoid the fray. So far, Horvat, Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes didn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment in facing the defending champs.

One other side note: should the Blues keep an eye on Binnington? As great as Binnington was during that 2019 Stanley Cup run, his NHL sample size isn’t enormous. And, quietly or not, Jake Allen enjoyed a much better 2019-20 season than Binnington did.

Consider this comparison, via Hockey Reference:

Game 1 Canucks Blues Binnington Allen comparison

Just food for thought, particularly if the Blues struggle as the First Round progresses.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, St. Louis 2
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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.

Flyers beat Canadiens as Hart gets edge over Price in Game 1

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Carter Hart and the Flyers stayed hot in Game 1, holding off the Canadiens by a score of 2-1 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Hart, Flyers win Game 1 against Canadiens

The Flyers never trailed against the Canadiens in Game 1.

To start the scoring, Ivan Provorov scored a power-play goal as the lone tally of the first period. While the Canadiens got a goal back when Shea Weber connected with a PPG, it was a short-lived burst. Joel Farabee connected on his own deflection rebound to score 16 seconds later, scoring a 2-1 goal in the second period that ended up being the last of Game 1.

This wasn’t a stodgy, all-defense affair despite the low 2-1 score.

Instead, Carey Price and especially Carter Hart were sharp for the Canadiens and Flyers in Game 1. While Hart stood out, Price also made what was almost certainly the save of Wednesday night:

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Montreal’s biggest push of Game 1 happened during the second period. The Habs managed a 17-7 SOG advantage in the middle frame, but couldn’t make enough of a difference.

Chalk it up to some special teams play or not, but the Flyers actually fired more SOG in the third period (13-6) even though they were managing a lead against the Habs.

Overall, the Canadiens didn’t seem totally out of place against the Flyers. Even so, the Flyers stayed hot, and mostly thwarted any comeback attempts by the Habs. If this becomes a pattern, Carter Hart will really gain some esteem compared to his idol, Carey Price.

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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.

Canucks-Blues stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

Canucks-Blues stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s First Round matchup between the Canucks and Blues. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canucks-Blues stream at 5:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The defending champion Blues finished the regular season atop the Western Conference, becoming the first defending champ to finish the following regular season atop their conference since the 2000-01 Devils. But in Round Robin play, St. Louis  went winless (0-2-1), blowing a third period lead in all three of their losses.

The Canucks were the seventh seed in the playoffs based on regular season points percentage. After getting shut out in Game 1 in their Qualifying Round series against the 10th-seeded Wild, Vancouver won three straight to advance to the traditional First Round. The series win over the Wild was Vancouver’s first since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

The Canucks took two of the three games against the Blues this season. Two of their matchups went past regulation, while the final game was a one-goal game until an empty-net goal.

WHAT: Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 12, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canucks-Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver at St. Louis, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule