Jeff Skinner

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‘Unacceptable finish’ sends Sabres to another loss

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With their most recent loss on Saturday afternoon, a 6-3 decision at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, the Buffalo Sabres continued their slide out of playoff contention. For as frustrating as this season has been in Buffalo, this latest defeat seemed to really sting because of how close they were to getting something out of it.

With 14 minutes to play in regulation they were tied in a competitive, entertaining back-and-forth game that seemed to be there for the taking.

It was at that point that everything started to unravel as they surrendered three unanswered goals,

“That’s definitely something we can’t accept,” said coach Ralph Krueger after the game.

“It was a hell of a hockey game until 14 minutes to go, and we turned it into a very painful, unacceptable finish. We know how they play, we respect their skill, and the way they push the game offensively. They like to play an open game. Somewhere through all that we ended up trying to play more their game than on our, and gave up on it. It’s very frustrating right now for all of us.”

He continued: “We have no time to feel sorry for ourselves. The comebacks from going down 2-1, going down 3-2, I thought we stayed pretty calm, we stuck with it, it was a good game going on. Just too many individual breakdowns today through the game, from beginning to end. We need to look hard at this. Those final 14 minutes we really, really have to put a mirror in front of our faces and figure out why we gave up on what is our game. There is just no sign of it.”

The Sabres are in a world of trouble right now. They are without two of their best offensive players in Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson due to injury, and they do not have enough depth after Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart to make up for it.

On top of that, they have now won just three of their past 12 games.

After starting the season with a 9-2-1 mark through 12 games, they are just 10-16-6 in the 34 games since. That leaves them seven points out of a wild card spot (with five teams ahead of them) before the rest of Saturday night’s games. If they do not get this turned around it is going to be the second year in a row they waste a fast start to the season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

PHT Morning Skate: The case for boring Buffalo Sabres; John ‘Norris’ Carlson?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Leaning toward a boring style of hockey might not excite Sabres fans, but injuries might force Buffalo’s hand. (Die By the Blade)

• Speaking of the Buffalo Sabres, how can they jumpstart Jeff Skinner once he returns. Travis Yost explains it pretty simply: put him back with Jack Eichel. (Buffalo News)

• Bill Daly admitted to ESPN on Ice that the league is concerned about Alex Ovechkin and others skipping All-Star Games. Frankly, it’s tough to imagine this trend ending during a time when sports teams are becoming more intrigued by “load management.” Maybe the NHL should expect less in this regard, at least for high-mileage veterans like Ovechkin and Marc-Andre Fleury? Just saying. (ESPN)

• The Flames signed defenseman Rasmus Andersson to a significant extension. It’s a six-year deal with a $4.55 million AAV. Wow. (Flames)

• The Predators fired Peter Laviolette, but GM David Poile blames the players, not the coaches, for the team’s predicament. (On the Forecheck)

• Capitals defenseman John Carlson continues to enjoy a season for the ages — and aged. Alex Ovechkin calls him “John Norris,” so is Carlson’s middle name Chuck? (Five Thirty Eight/Featurd)

• Add Dylan Strome to the concerning list of Blackhawks injury. If you’re like me, the screenshot of Strome’s injury will make you cringe. Yikes. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• The Stars loaned defenseman Stephen Johns to the AHL. Consider this a fantastic sign, as Johns hasn’t played since 2018-19 because of “post-traumatic headaches.” Here’s more information on post-traumatic headaches, as that term feels fairly new. In a nutshell, it sounds like migraines might rank among Johns’ concussion-related symptoms? A smart person can feel free to chime in on that. (Stars)

• Adam Gretz goes deep on “the Kris Letang discussion.” (Pensburgh)

• Which players should the Avalanche target at the trade deadline? (Mile High Hockey)

• Speaking of the deadline, Mark Borowiecki acknowledges being anxious about his fate with or without the Senators. (TSN)

• Micah Blake McCurdy posted an interesting thread that spotlights skyrocketing scoring in the NHL, among other trends. (McCurdy’s Tweets)

• “They’re coming for you one day — all of us, no matter what, you’re going to get fired.” That’s what Paul Maurice had to say about the many coaching firings recently. Interesting to hear that from Maurice, who is one of those coaches who’s quietly found work for a staggering amount of time relative to his teams’ modest successes. (Chris Johnston’s Tweet)

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Killorn, Schwartz highlight this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jaden Schwartz, Blues – LW: The 2018-19 campaign was a rough one for Schwartz, but he’s he’s more than making it for it this season. After being limited to 11 goals and 36 points in 69 contests last season, he already has 13 goals and 34 points in 40 games this time around. Part of that is thanks to his current hot streak though. He has four goals and 11 points in his last six games. He’ll certainly need to be re-evaluated after he cools down, but as long as he’s this hot he’s an easy pickup for those who can make the space.

Jake Virtanen, Canucks – RW: Virtanen is red hot right now with five goals and eight points in eight games. That makes him worthy of consideration at the moment, but I do caution that you should regard only as a short-term option. He averages just 12:19 minutes with Vancouver and has never been a major offensive contributor, so the odds of him being a significant fantasy asset in standard leagues for the rest of the season is low. All that said, I still like him as a short-term gamble. I recommend waiting until Wednesday before picking him up given that the Canucks are off until Thursday anyways. Then Vancouver will play against Chicago on Jan. 2nd, the Rangers on Jan. 4th, and Tampa Bay on Jan. 7th, which are all teams in the bottom half of the league in terms of goals allowed per game.

Alex Killorn, Lightning – LW/RW: Killorn had just two assists in his first six games, but he’s been great since then with 13 goals and 29 points in his last 29 contests. Over that 29-game span, he’s never gone more than two games in a row without recording a point. It’s true that Killorn was limited to 40 points last season, but his playing time has jumped from an average of 14:52 minutes in 2018-19 to 18:22 minutes this season. He’s still only owned in 48% of Yahoo leagues, so if he’s available for you then you should seriously consider grabbing him.

Tony DeAngelo, Rangers – D: DeAngelo is just someone to consider in general right now. He’s only owned in half of all Yahoo leagues despite having a very healthy eight goals and 28 points in 38 games. He’s been regularly chipping in throughout the season, never going more than two games in a row without getting a point. DeAngelo had 30 points in 61 games last season and with the strides he’s taken in 2019-20, he looks like he might be a great offensive defenseman for many years to come.

Tanner Pearson, Canucks – LW: Pearson has two goals and five points in his last three games, so he’s pretty hot right now, but beyond that he should be regarded as a good injury replacement, should you need one. Pearson isn’t going to turn heads for any prolonged period of time, but he’s a solid secondary scorer with 11 goals and 27 points in 40 games. If you’re hurting for a left winger at any point during the season, he’s a good fallback option until either you get healthy or you find an alternate solution, say on the trade market.

Sami Vatanen, Devils – D: I wouldn’t own Vatanen all the time, especially given how hot-and-cold he’s been so far, but he’s worth picking up during his hot streaks. He’s on one such run right now with a goal and seven points in his last six contests. It doesn’t hurt that the Devils also won’t be lacking for games in the short-term with them set to play eight times from Dec. 31-Jan. 14.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: For years Strome has had potential, but hasn’t been able to live up to it. After struggles with the Islanders and Oilers though, it seems like he’s found his way with the Rangers. He has 10 goals and 35 points in 38 contests this season. Of course, it helps a great deal that he’s averaging 19:34 minutes in 2019-20, which is by far a career-high for him. That increased ice time makes the notion of him surpassing the 60-point milestone this season seem feasible and with him still available in slightly over half of all Yahoo leagues, you should give serious consideration towards adding him if you have the option.

Nikita Gusev, Devils – LW/RW: Gusev was an elite player in the KHL, but he’s been slow to getting going in his first North American season. He had five goals and 14 points in his first 29 games while averaging a modest 13:25 minutes. He’s managed to hit his stride recently though with two goals and eight points in his last six contests. He only averaged 14:12 minutes over that six-game span, so his ice time remains unimpressive, but there’s a real chance that he’ll have a strong second half as he gets used to North American hockey. If nothing else he’s an interesting short-term pickup, but this is one player you might end up holding onto for the remainder of the campaign.

Alex Iafallo, Kings – LW: Iafallo had 25 points as a rookie and 33 points in his sophomore campaign. With six goals and 21 points in 41 games this season, he’s well on his way to taking another step forward, but he’s still not a great option in standard fantasy leagues. In the short-term though, he’s not a bad gamble given that he’ll be going into Tuesday’s contest against Philadelphia on a four-game point streak. I wouldn’t recommend keeping him much beyond this point streak though so be prepared to swap him with a different option once he cools down.

Lucas Wallmark, Hurricanes – C: As is the case with Iafallo, Wallmark is a player who typically isn’t worth having on your squad, but is of temporary use given how hot he is. In the case of Wallmark, he has four goals and eight points in his last six games. If you have a slot open for a short-term pick and are debating between Wallmark and Iafallo, it really does just come down to positioning. Which forward position do you more need to fill over the next week or so? 

Players You May Want To Drop

Jake Muzzin, Maple Leafs – D: Muzzin has been okay, but not great offensively this season with three goals and 13 points in 38 games. I’d could still see the benefit of holding onto him under normal circumstances, but he hasn’t done enough to just hanging onto him while he’s recovering from the broken foot he sustained on Friday. Circle back to him once he’s healthy and if he’s still available at that time, consider picking him back up, but for now I’d drop him if the alternative on my team was him occupying a bench slot.

Jeff Skinner, Sabres – C/LW: Similar to Muzzin, Skinner is a recently injured player that I don’t think it’s worth holding onto for the duration of the injury. I feel stronger about Skinner than Muzzin though because I’d lean towards parting ways with him regardless. In fact, I recommended dropping Skinner two weeks ago while he was still healthy. Skinner scored 40 goals last season, but he’s fallen back to Earth in 2019-20 with 11 goals and 19 points in 39 games. Now that he’s set to miss the next three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury, the chances of him bouncing back in any significant way this season have been further diminished.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal got off to an amazing start with nine goals and 10 points in his first eight games, but since then he’s been nothing special. Over his last 10 contests, he has two goals and three points and overall he has 16 goals and 23 points in 41 games even with that stunning start accounted for. If you picked up Neal early on hoping that the switch from Calgary to Edmonton would lead to sustained success, you should cut your losses at this point.

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Burakovsky has enjoyed some big hot streaks this season. From Oct. 10-18 he had four goals and seven points in five games and from Nov. 14-23 he scored six goals and nine points in five contests. The problem is that he’s been very inconsistent with lows that have matched those highs. He has a goal and no assists over his last nine games. Keep an eye out for him for his next hot streak, but don’t bother holding onto him in the meantime.

Antti Raanta, Coyotes – G: Darcy Kuemper suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 19th and was regarded as week-to-week as a result. It was a blow to the Coyotes, but it was also an opportunity for Raanta, who had been relegated to the backup role.  Unfortunately Raanta hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunity thus far. He’s 0-3-0 with a 4.37 GAA and .877 save percentage in his last three starts. It made sense to give Raanta a try, but it might be best at this point to look elsewhere for goaltending help.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Sabres lose Jeff Skinner for 3-4 weeks with ‘upper-body injury’

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The Buffalo Sabres are fading fast, and now they are going to have to stop their current slide without one of their best offensive players.

Jeff Skinner will miss the next 3-4 weeks due to an upper-body injury, the team announced on Saturday.

He was injured in the third period of the Sabres’ 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Friday night.

Skinner joined the Sabres before the 2018-19 season and went on to have a career year, scoring 40 goals. That helped him land an eight-year, $72 million contract to prevent him from hitting the free agent market. So far, things have not gone as planned for Skinner or the Sabres. As of Saturday, Skinner has just 11 goals and 19 total points in 39 games this season. That is pace that would fall far short of his production from his debut season in Buffalo.

Even with Skinner the Sabres have some pretty significant problems that do not seem to be going away. After starting with an 8-1-1 record, the Sabres are just 9-14-6 in the 29 games since. The Detroit Red Wings are the only team in the NHL with a worse points percentage during that stretch.

Because of the weakness of the Atlantic Division the Sabres are still just one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for a playoff spot. The problem is they are also just one point ahead of a Lightning team that has four games in hand.

They are five points back of the Wild Card teams.

In other words, they have a lot of work to do to end what is now an eight-year playoff drought.

If things do not turn around this would be the second year in a row a fast start has turned into disappointment. The Sabres had the best record in the league at the end of November a year ago thanks to a 10-game winning streak, only to miss the playoffs by 22 points.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Rust, Zadina among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Filip Zadina, Red Wings – LW/RW: This obviously isn’t the Red Wings’ season, but Zadina is a big part of what Detroit hopes is a bright future. He started the campaign in the AHL, but he made his NHL season debut on Nov. 24th and has been chipping in regularly with two goals and seven points in his last seven games. He’s definitely a gamble, but he has the offensive upside to make him worth the risk. It doesn’t hurt that the Red Wings are incentivized to give their younger players healthy minutes given that the idea of making the playoffs is already long gone.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: If nothing else, Duclair is worth taking a shot on right now given how hot he is. He has an incredible seven goals and eight points in his last four games alone. He’s been really good for a while though with 17 goals and 24 points in his last 25 games. He does have a 20.5 shooting percentage over that span, which is a pretty big red flag, but I do think he’s still worth taking a chance on. Duclair is a forward who has shown promise before and might be hitting his stride now that he’s getting a bigger opportunity with Ottawa.

Jordan Eberle, Islanders – RW: Eberle left something to be desired last season, but he did end it on a positive note that gave us hope for the 2019-20 campaign. Unfortunately he got off to a rather rough start this season too and plenty of fantasy owners ditched him as a result. He’s shown signs of life in December though with three goals and seven points in seven games. This might just be a hot streak, but Eberle’s a player who has bounce back potential so if you pick him up now, there’s at least a chance he’ll be a valuable asset for the rest of the campaign.

Josh Bailey, Islanders – LW/RW: If you want to double down on Islanders, Bailey is another option. Like Eberle, Bailey is owned in under 20% of Yahoo leagues at the time of writing and like Eberle, he’s red hot right now. Bailey has a goal and eight points in his last eight games. Just as an aside, while Eberle and Bailey obviously are on the same team, they aren’t typically on the ice together. In fact, Bailey has 22 points in 31 games in 2019-20 while only combining with Eberle four times. This is all to say that Eberle and Bailey aren’t linked, so it’s entirely possible that one will stay hot while the other cools down.

Tyler Toffoli, Kings – LW/RW: Los Angeles is taking a breather on Monday, but when they face Boston Tuesday night, Toffoli will be entering the contest on a four-game point streak. He has an impressive three goals and seven points over that span. Taking his season as a whole, he has nine goals and 20 points in 34 contests, which is good for third place on the Kings scoring race, but is pretty borderline in standard leagues and his lack of contributions on the power play or with hits makes him not a terribly viable long-term option. Still, he’s at least an option worth entertaining while he’s hot.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: I’ve mentioned Rust before as a possible add candidate, but I feel justified in mentioning him again given that he’s still available in over half of Yahoo leagues. He’s just been a great contributor this season with 12 goals and 22 points despite being limited to 19 games. He’s also hot right now, scoring three goals and five points in his last three contests.

Jason Zucker, Wild – LW/RW: Zucker isn’t particularly hot right now with a goal and three points in his last five games, but he’s been a regular contributor throughout the season. His 12 goals and 24 points in 34 games aren’t amazing, but it’s solid and his eligibility on both wings is a great bit of flexibility. If you’re been battered by injuries or have an underperforming winger, Zucker is a pretty safe stopgap measure.

Robby Fabbri, Red Wings – LW/RW: Fabbri didn’t have a spot with the St. Louis Blues, but he certainly has one in Detroit. He’s averaged 17:07 minutes since being acquired by the Red Wings and he’s paid them back for the opportunity by scoring eight goals and 15 points in 18 contests. Fabbri is still owned in just 17% of Yahoo leagues, so he’s flown under the radar to an extent, but he’s had some decent value since the trade and should continue to be a significant contributor with Detroit.

Christian Dvorak, Coyotes – C/LW: Dvorak has been decent this season, but he’s dialed it up lately with two goals and nine points in his last 10 games. I don’t expect him to maintain that kind of pace, but he’s an asset while it lasts. Once he cools down though, I’d lean towards dropping him in favor of some other option.

Eric Staal, Wild – C: Staal had 22 goals and 52 points in 81 games in 2018-19, which was his worst showing since coming to Minnesota. This season is shaping up to be better though. He has 12 goals and 26 points in 34 contests. He only had an assist in his first seven games this season, but since then he’s been an excellent and relatively regular contributor. His center-only eligibility is a definitely knock against him, but he still has use in standard leagues.

Players You May Want To Drop

Adam Fox, Rangers – D: This is a bit of a tough one. He’s having a great rookie season with five goals and 16 points in 32 games, but that might not be quite enough reason to hold onto him if you’re in a standard league. A lot of that production comes from a great run that occurred from Oct. 29-Nov. 30, but more recently he’s been limited to two assists in seven games. Rookies can have more extreme hot-and-cold spells than veterans, so it’s a little riskier to hold onto one while they are cold. That said, even if you do decide to part ways with him for now, he’s definitely still worth keeping a close eye on.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman enjoyed a big hot streak from Nov. 13-28, scoring six goals and 10 points in eight contests. He hasn’t done much else this season though. In fact, if you take away that streak, then he’s left with three goals and six points in 24 games in 2019-20. He’s a decent secondary scorer and was certainly worth having during his hot streak, but there’s not much incentive to keep him now that he’s cooled down.

Jeff Skinner, Sabres – C/LW: Skinner has surpassed the 30-goal milestone four different times in his career, but never in back-to-back seasons. It’s looking more-and-more like that unfortunate trend will continue. Although he scored 40 goals last season, he’s been limited to 11 goals and 18 points in 34 contests this season. It gets worse if you look at what he’s brought to the table since mid-November. He’s scored just three goals and six points in his last 16 games. His shooting percentage is just 6% over that span, which is pretty low for him, so it seems reasonable to believe he’ll eventually bounce back, but not necessarily to the levels that some are hoping.

Kaapo Kahkonen, Wild – G: Kahkonen has spent most of the season in the minors, but he’s been with the Wild during Devan Dubnyk’s absence for personal reasons.  The Wild had a full schedule last week with four games, including three contests in four nights from Dec. 12-15, so Kahkonen has seen plenty of action lately. He saved 31 of 33 shots in an overtime loss on Dec. 10th, but then he allowed five goals on Dec. 12th and four markers on Dec. 15th. In other words, he’s been a mixed bag and even if he wasn’t, his stint with Minnesota would probably be coming to a close anyways. Dubnyk didn’t participate in Sunday’s game, but there’s a fair chance he’ll be back soon and once he is, Kahkonen return to the AHL.

Martin Jones, Sharks – G: This has been a pretty shaky season for the Sharks and Jones has certainly been impacted by that. He has a 3.30 GAA and .888 save percentage in 27 games, which would both be career lows if this continues. That said, I’m a little hesitant to recommend dropping or otherwise getting rid of him at this time. The Sharks shook up their coaching staff just two games ago and part of that change was bringing in former Sharks starter Evgeni Nabokov as the new goaltending coach. It’ll be interesting to see if those changes can help San Jose in general and Jones in particular turn things around. However, I do see this as something of a final opportunity as far as the 2018-19 campaign is concerned. If Jones hasn’t rebounded in the next few weeks then it would make sense to explore other options.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.