Buffalo, Carolina playing beer league-caliber hockey – with no end in sight

Matt Larkin
The NHL hasn't fielded two teams this poor at the same time in more than 20 years. (Getty Images)

The before: my summer conversation with Buffalo Sabres right winger Chris Stewart.

“You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly. There’s nothing we can do now. We can worry about the future. I hear everybody talking about tanking for Connor McDavid. That’s not in my DNA, personally.”

The after: my conversation with Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It didn’t go our way because we didn’t work. That was an embarrassing effort, top to bottom, from our group, including myself. We hung out our goalie (Michal Neuvirth). He battled as much as he could, and we didn’t give him any help.

“Something’s got to change. This is probably the worst we’ve had it.”

It’s not like optimism in Buffalo was sky-high entering 2014-15, but there was a glimmer of hope the team would improve. General manager Tim Murray brought back Matt Moulson and added a cadre of veterans, including Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros. Maybe, just maybe, the Sabres would trudge their way up the basement stairs.

But, goodness, Tuesday in Toronto was a sight to behold. The Sabres’ 10 shots set a 44-year franchise low. They’ve been shut out four times in six games and are on pace to double the record for the most donuted team in one NHL campaign. They average 1.1 goals per game. After posting an NHL-worst 41.0 Corsi Close percentage last season, they sit at 36.6 percent after 10 contests.

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Connor McDavid did this to a puck. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Adam Proteau
Connor McDavid's shattered puck (via Jay McKee's Twitter account)

No, the picture you see above you is not computer-generated trickery. That is a shattered puck. Junior hockey phenom Connor McDavid did that. Not with the assistance of any explosive materials, but with his hands and a hockey stick. Is the NHL ready for this kid? Pucks, apparently, are not.

McDavid didn’t break this poor, innocent puck during a game. He was at practice Tuesday with his Erie Otters team, when, according to assistant coach and former NHLer Jay McKee, the consensus No. 1 pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft did something he’d never seen in all his time at hockey rinks. Read more

Hockey icon Gordie Howe suffers major stroke

Adam Proteau
Gordie Howe (Getty Images)

Hockey icon Gordie Howe is resting comfortably at his daughter’s home in Texas after suffering a major stroke Sunday, but the 86-year-old, famously known as “Mr. Hockey”, has lost significant function on the right side of his body and is having difficulty speaking.

Dr. Murray Howe, one of three of Gordie Howe’s sons, told the Detroit News Tuesday his father fell ill early Sunday morning and is being cared for by Gordie’s daughter Cathleen and her husband Bob at their home in Lubbock, Texas.

“He’s unable to stand without help,” Murray Howe said of Gordie. “He’s able to speak, but (it’s) very, very difficult to speak. He knows who he is. He knows the people around him. But it is very difficult for him to get up and walk around. So he is pretty much confined to his bed right now.” Read more

Sergei Bobrovsky breaks finger. Here’s why Columbus will be OK

Matt Larkin
Sergei Bobrovsky has landed on the I.R., but his recovery timetable is short. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The hits – and breaks – just keep on coming for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Nathan Horton’s degenerative back condition may cost him his career. Ryan Murray missed the first three weeks with a lingering knee injury. Boone Jenner broke his hand. Brandon Dubinsky had abdominal surgery. Nick Foligno sustained a stinger in a dangerous collision on the weekend. Matt Calvert landed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Cam Atkinson got cut across his eyelid and cheek by a skate and needed 40 stitches.

Despite all the maladies piling up, the Jackets and their fans could take solace in the fact they had Sergei Bobrovsky. He was the great equalizer, having posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .925 save percentage across 104 appearances since joining the Blue Jackets in 2012-13. He almost carried a talent-thin team to the playoffs two seasons ago, winning the Vezina Trophy.

For the second straight year, however, ‘Bob’ will miss a meaningful chunk of time. He fractured a finger Monday when a puck hit him during practice. The team hasn’t indicated exactly how it happened. The initial prognosis is just 1-2 weeks, which isn’t too bad at all, but it seems overly optimistic for a goaltender. You need that finger to be tip-top any time pucks fly toward it. The short timetable suggests it’s just a hairline fracture and/or an injury to a non-significant digit (i.e. blocker hand instead of catching hand).

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Leon Draisaitl has a chance to be part of the solution in Edmonton this season

Ken Campbell
Leon Draisaitl (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

After seeing what the Edmonton Oilers accomplished in their past four games, it’s tough to argue that the Oilers aren’t actually built better to compete in the Eastern Conference than the West. Their 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens Monday night was their fourth straight, all against eastern teams, squads against which their skill and speed comes to the fore without the tight checking and physical play that seems to make them shrink.

This four-game stretch could not have come at a better time for the Oilers, who desperately needed to string some wins together to calm a very, very nervous fan base. And the wins could not have come at a better time for Leon Draisaitl, who will almost certainly appear in his 10th game this season when the Oilers host the Nashville Predators Wednesday night. Read more

Pair of Rangers could be in line for suspensions after questionable hits

Adam Proteau
Chris Kreider (Getty Images)

NHL chief disciplinarian Stephane Quintal and the rest of the NHL department of player safety will have a busy Tuesday after a pair of questionable incidents and ejections took place Monday night in the same game between the Rangers and Wild.

The first took place late in the first period, when Rangers winger Chris Kreider drilled Minnesota defenseman Jonas Brodin into the end boards with a hit from behind that left Brodin in a heap on the ice:

Kreider received a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct; Brodin had to be helped off, but returned to play in the second period. However, the nastiness only got worse from there, because for some inexplicable reason midway through the second, Blueshirts defenseman John Moore decided to throw an elbow at the head of Wild center Erik Haula: Read more

NHL suspends Sharks’ John Scott two games for leaving bench

Adam Proteau
John Scott (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As expected, the NHL handed out its first suspension of the season for a regular-season on-ice incident Monday, hitting San Jose Sharks winger John Scott with a two-game ban for leaving the bench to start a fight with Ducks winger Tim Jackman Sunday.

As the NHL department of player safety made clear in a now standard video explanation it hands out after each suspension, Scott left the bench on a legal line change, but made no effort to play the puck and instead instigated a fight with Jackman. Scott himself admitted he had no intent to join the play and was strictly interested in throwing fists: Read more

Pens’ Olli Maatta diagnosed with thyroid tumor, but full recovery expected

Adam Proteau
Olli Maatta (Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Penguins sophomore defenseman Olli Maatta heard the words nobody wants to hear at any point in their lives, let alone at barely 20 years of age: doctors discovered a tumor that could be cancerous. Fortunately for the native Finn, the overall diagnosis sounds far less ominous: he’ll have surgery next week to remove the tumor, which is on his thyroid; he’s healthy enough to play until he goes under the knife; and he’s expected to return to action within a month.

“Even if (the tumor) is found to be cancerous, we do not expect that he will need radiation or chemotherapy, and we anticipate a complete recovery,” said Penguins team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas. “In all likelihood, Olli will go on to live a healthy life and this should not affect his ability to play hockey long-term.”

Maatta didn’t seem at all fazed when he spoke with reporters after the announcement, and that’s in part because he first learned about the tumor three weeks ago. He’s already had a physical challenge after undergoing shoulder surgery in May, and although this is an altogether different type of ailment, he appeared ready at a press conference Monday afternoon to move ahead and take this one on: Read more