Sabres exploit Maple Leafs’ goaltending at 2022 Heritage Classic

A Maple Leafs-heavy crowd in Hamilton, Ontario saw more of the team’s goaltending problems, as the Sabres won the 2022 Heritage Classic by a score of 5-2.

Auston Matthews lost his cool at the end of the game, and it remains to be seen if he might cost himself a suspension. Matthews delivered a dangerous cross-check on Rasmus Dahlin late in the loss.

TSN’s Chris Johnston reports that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will review Matthews’ cross-check on Dahlin. Here’s footage of that exchange:

Heritage Classic dress-up: Sabres go ‘Semi-Pro,’ Maple Leafs bring work pails

Not sure who decided to make outdoor games pseudo-Halloween, but they should be applauded.

Heading into the 2022 Heritage Classic, both the Sabres and Maple Leafs went with themed costumes. The Sabres went the extra mile evoking the 2008 Will Ferrell comedy “Semi-Pro.” Apparently it was Cody Eakin’s idea.

Gotta admit, didn’t think “Semi-Pro” was popular enough to receive such an homage. Guess it makes more sense than drawing on wounds, “Step Brothers”-style, though.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs arrived dressed up like construction workers.

Considering the weather, the vintage basketball short shorts were a bold choice by Buffalo. Temperatures in Hamilton, Ontario were at about -3 Celsius, or 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Conditions seemed reasonably decent for a hockey game, albeit with light snow. Wind was also, at times, a factor.

Of all the clothing talk, it was hard not to linger on Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan looking dismayed in “Peaky Blinders” hats.

An action-packed second period, Sabres pull away in third

Following a dull first period, the Sabres and Maple Leafs began the middle frame on fire.

Ondrej Kase scored from in close on a rebound to make it 1-0 for the Maple Leafs, but Peyton Krebs tied it for the Sabres 41 seconds later.

[Krebs, Alex Tuch showing early returns in Sabres’ side of Jack Eichel trade]

Not long after Craig Anderson robbed him with a nice glove save, Auston Matthews restored Toronto’s lead with his 45th goal of the season. The Maple Leafs and Sabres combined for those three goals less than three minutes into the second period.

Later on in the second, Vinnie Hinostroza scored an odd goal that resulted from a heady play, and some bad luck for T.J. Brodie.

During the third period, Vinnie Hinostroza made it 3-2, collecting his third point of the Heritage Classic. Could a performance like this drive up 2022 NHL Trade Deadline interest in Hinostroza?

Ultimately, the Sabres exploited the Maple Leafs’ goaltending crisis to pull away in the third period. More on that soon, but first, some praise for Auston Matthews. Even if he likely won’t want to hear about it.

And even if Matthews’ cross-check on Dahlin could “end” his goal streak with a suspension.

Auston Matthews keeps building Hart Trophy case

In or outdoors, Auston Matthews is playing at a historic level. It’s tricky, though, to make any bold arguments about Matthews being a slam-dunk Hart Trophy choice. That’s not a slight on Matthews; instead, it highlights just how special an era we’re experiencing.

(Frankly, the Matthews vs. Igor Shesterkin debate may be even tougher.)

Beyond already-impressive full-season numbers, you can zoom in on even hotter pockets of play for Matthews. Over the last 39 games, Matthews has scored an outstanding 38 goals. Matthews also extended his goal streak to five games (8G, 1A) at the 2022 Heritage Classic.

Zooming out provides additional perspective, too. After starting the season without a goal through three games, Auston Matthews hasn’t experienced a goal drought longer than two games during any other stretch of the season.

Special stuff from Matthews.

Maple Leafs goaltending remains a major concern

There’s an uncomfortable thought lingering around the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. While plenty of teams could use a goaltending upgrade, is there really one available? Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs might just have to hope for the best at the trade deadline, whether that means gambling on an improvement or counting on rebounds from Petr Mrazek and/or Jack Campbell. (Once Campbell’s healthy?)

Facing a shaky Sabres opponent at the 2022 Heritage Classic did not erase that thought for Maple Leafs fans. Goals like the one Mrazek allowed against Hinostroza only make it tougher to bank on a turnaround.

Since a wild 10-7 win against the Red Wings, the Maple Leafs’ wins or losses have boiled down to their ability to overcome leaky goaltending. During the past eight games, the Maple Leafs have allowed at least four goals on seven occasions. In that one exception, they gave up three while beating Washington.

Credit Matthews, Mitch Marner, and other Maple Leafs skaters for grinding out wins despite goaltending failures — on occasions. All things considered, salvaging five wins out of their last nine games (5-3-1) is something of a backwards accomplishment.

You know that thought about Matthews being elite in and outdoors? It looks like the Maple Leafs’ goaltending problems may follow them wherever they go.

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.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.