New Jersey (48-26-4) at Buffalo (38-30-9), 7:00 p.m. EDT
BUFFALO, New York (AP) -- After losing six straight games, New Jersey was victorious Friday in a near must-win situation.
Now the Devils will try to build some momentum heading into the final week of the regular season as they travel to Buffalo on Saturday night to face a Sabres club fighting for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
New Jersey (48-26-4), which leads Philadelphia by six points for the Atlantic Division lead, arrives at HSBC Arena after snapping its longest skid in 23 seasons, defeating Tampa Bay 5-4 in overtime.
"Since I've been here, it's one of the toughest times I've seen," said fourth-year left wing Zach Parise, who snapped a three-game scoreless streak with a goal and two assists. "This stuff happens -- things don't go your way."
In overtime, though, it did as Parise scored the game-winner off a pass from Travis Zajac and helped the Devils avoid their first seven-game slide since dropping eight in a row from Dec. 19, 1985-Jan.6, 1986.
In the teams' last meeting in Buffalo, Parise scored a goal as New Jersey snapped a three-game losing streak to the Sabres in a 5-3 victory on Dec. 17.
Jamie Langenbrunner had two assists in that win. The veteran right wing recorded two goals and an assist versus the Lightning as the Devils reached the 100-point plateau for the fifth time in six seasons.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said. "It hasn't been a pleasant feeling around here for a couple of weeks."
The Devils trail Southeast Division champion Washington by two points for the second seed after Buffalo (38-30-9) defeated the Capitals 5-4 in overtime on Friday.
Jason Pominville scored the game-winner for the Sabres, who trail the New York Rangers by four points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with five games remaining.
"We needed this win," he said after extending his point streak to eight games with a goal and an assist. "We found a way."
Pominville has a goal and two assists as the Sabres have won two of three against the Devils this season -- both victories coming in New Jersey.
The Sabres still trail Florida by two points for the ninth seed, but return home where they've won five of their last seven.
Buffalo will likely face Martin Brodeur for the first time this season. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner missed the three previous matchups due to a torn biceps muscle in his left elbow that sidelined him for 50 games.
Brodeur was supposed to rest Friday, but entered the game with 19:02 left in the second period as Kevin Weekes injured his left leg on a save attempt.
"We played good enough," said Brodeur, who is 0-5-1 with a 3.65 GAA in his last six starts and stopped only seven of 10 shots in Friday's win. "We can't go out and play like that every night and think we're going to win a lot of games."
Brodeur is 12-3-1 with a tie in his last 17 starts versus Buffalo.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller made 33 saves against the Capitals and improved to 3-0-1 since returning March 27 from an 13-game absence with a sprained left ankle.
He is 1-1-0 with a 2.53 GAA against New Jersey this season.
Five of the last six matchups between the teams in Buffalo have been decided by one goal.
Anaheim went out and scooped up versatile winger Patrick Eaves on Friday, and the deal has serious potential to pay off for the Ducks, Dallas Stars and, most of all, Eaves.
Patrick Eaves is having a dream season. At 32, the veteran winger has managed to set a new career best in goals, scoring 21 through the first 59 games of his campaign. His 37 points are five points clear of his previous career high, and, up until Friday, he had become a legitimate top-six point producer for the Dallas Stars. He has been doing it all in what has, to this point, been the most notable campaign of his career. And his season just got that much better.
Eaves was acquired by the Anaheim Ducks on Friday at the cost of a conditional second-round pick, one which has the potential to become a first-rounder for Dallas if Anaheim makes it to the conference final. The trade itself is an undeniable win for both sides, too. The Stars nab a draft pick in what has sadly become a lost season at a time when the organization believed they were about to take a major step forward. And the Ducks, well, they land themselves a coveted asset at the deadline, especially with Eaves earning a mere $1 million this season. The biggest winner, however, is the winger himself, as Eaves has the chance to cash in big time come next season.
There isn’t a player heading into the deadline who has had a more perfect situation to be set for the deadline than Eaves. Not only was he playing the most productive hockey of his career on a contract that was palatable for everyone in the hunt to add a piece at the deadline, but through much of the season he has had the pleasure of playing alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, two of the league’s best scorers. There’s absolutely no doubt that Eaves benefitted from playing alongside the Stars’ all-star duo, but that doesn’t make his production any less impressive. Matter of fact, to the Ducks, it probably made acquiring him that much more attractive.
The duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf no longer consistently play together on a game-by-game basis, but for years that has been a go-to combination for Anaheim. That’s still the case, sure, but over recent outings the two have been split and playing on separate lines. One reason for that, among others, is that Anaheim has struggled to find a consistent fixture to play the other wing with the duo. Over the past five seasons, seven different players have occupied that spot for more than 150 minutes at 5-on-5, with everyone from Nick Ritchie to Rickard Rakell filling in alongside the Ducks’ duo.
What makes it difficult to find a third to play alongside Perry and Getzlaf is that not everyone is capable of filling in on a line with Anaheim’s two star players. Not even some players who are stars, or former stars, in their own right can be up to the task. Need an example? How about the Dany Heatley experiment? Heatley was one of the games premier scorers during his heyday and the thought in 2014-15 was the Ducks would bring him aboard as a reclamation project. He fizzled and flamed out, ending up in the AHL before being dealt away to end the season. So, while Perry and Getzlaf may currently be split, what Eaves represents is a player who understands how to play wing with two offensive players and he’s shown a proclivity for it this season. And even if he isn’t playing alongside Perry and Getzlaf, there are other combinations where Eaves could be a fit in the top-six.
That’s an intriguing aspect of Eaves’ game, too, because he’s proven this season just how versatile he can be. Unlike many of the fill-in players the Ducks have used to form a top line or bolster their top six, Eaves offers the ability to play from both sides of the ice and up and down the lineup. He’s equally sound at left and right wing, and that’s a skill that not every player has. In that sense, he’s an even better fit for the Ducks. If the lines need to be put in the blender, coach Randy Carlyle knows he can throw Eaves on either wing and make things work.
How does this all benefit Eaves, though? Well, not only does he go to a Ducks team in a position to make the post-season, but he goes to a club that’s set to attempt to make a run in a wide open Western Conference and what might be an even more wide open Pacific Division. He has a legitimate chance to finish the season with 30 goals — he needs nine to make that a reality and 20 games to do it — and then will follow that up with the opportunity to make noise in the post-season. And for Eaves, if there’s any way to get off of his current run of high-six and low-seven figure one-year deals, that’s exactly the path.
If the Ducks can make it through the first round of the post-season, or if they can piece together a two- or three-round run, and Eaves is a contributor, he’s almost certain to land himself a longer deal when he almost inevitably hits the open market this summer. In the past three seasons, the longest and most lucrative deal Eaves had was a one-year, $1.15 million contract, and his last long-term deal was inked in July 2011. It’s been a while since he’s had job security beyond one season.
Others have cashed in on one big season before, and while Eaves may be the rare case of a player doing so into his early 30s, that doesn’t mean he can’t pull off a nice finish to the campaign and payday come the summer. And if he manages that, the deal will have paid off for all parties. It could be the perfect storm for Eaves. Now all that’s left is for him to do everything in his power to make sure there’s a payoff on the potential.
The Eastern Conference used to be the land of opportunity, but now it’s the West that looks ripe for the taking if a team can get hot at the right time.
There’s a term, “Group of Death,” that’s usually used in soccer to describe a particularly strong collection of teams that will have to battle each other in order to advance in a tournament. To translate that to NHL terms, it’d be like if, heading into the post-season, one single division boasted the league’s first-place team, defending Stanley Cup champions and a squad that had gone on a 16-game win streak during the regular season. You know, like the Metropolitan Division.
Only one team can emerge from the group and represent the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference final, and right now the odds for the Eastern representative would have to favor whichever team escapes the NHL’s current powerhouse division. The Metropolitan teams have led the charge for much of the season with stacked lineups that are performing at the top of their game. That’s not to say the Atlantic Division teams stand no chance in the post-season, but rather that most of the favorites to represent the East — and, honestly, to win the Cup — are all in the Metropolitan.
That’s a change from the way things have been in recent years, however. Formerly, the Eastern Conference was the land of opportunity, almost entirely wide open with five or six teams who could be honest-to-goodness contenders. Heading into the post-season in 2015-16, for instance, the Penguins, Capitals, Lightning, Rangers and, to a lesser extent, Panthers were all considered teams with potential for a deep run.
In the West, however, years of dominance by a handful of teams has led to the conference boasting a few teams as contenders entering the post-season with a number of also-rans. From the 2009 post-season until this past season, the Blackhawks appeared in five Western Conference finals, the Kings in three and the Sharks in three. Those three teams account for more than half of the total appearances in the Western Conference final over the past eight campaigns, and the Kings and Blackhawks, especially, were the biggest road blocks en route to the Western Conference title for several years.
It would seem that’s starting to shift, though, and we could be in for a Western Conference that’s more wide open than we’ve seen in some time. The defending Western Conference champion Sharks look like a threat to go deep in the post-season again, without a doubt, and the Blackhawks are still contenders, but they’re not as faultless as they’ve been in the past. Each team has it’s pros and cons, giving to reason to believe it’ll be their year to take home the West title or a season in which they come up just that much short.
The Minnesota Wild, for instance, are the top team in the Western Conference, and the strength up and down the roster is near unquestionable. That includes the crease, especially, where Devan Dubnyk is turning in an outstanding season that is almost sure to end with him receiving the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The Wild also boast more depth than possibly any other team in the league and few teams will be able to roll four lines against Minnesota. In the same breath, though, that depth is necessary because the Wild lack that one, game-breaking star. Zach Parise has shown that ability, for sure, but he’s not in the same category as a Connor McDavid, Vladimir Tarasenko or Patrick Kane.
And when it comes to Kane, his Blackhawks have been on fire of late and he’s been no small part of that. Chicago is going to enter the post-season as the favorite for some simply because the team has been atop the league so often of late they seem a constant threat. You mix in the talented core group that has remained in tact and the goaltending the team gets from Corey Crawford, and the Blackhawks are a contender. But the depth can be questioned, and there are a handful of rookies who haven’t seen playoff action before.
Rounding out the top three in the Central Division is the St. Louis Blues, a team which most expected would be competing for a division title, not barely holding onto one of the three divisional playoff spots. The issue in St. Louis has been goaltending. The Blues have one of the West’s more prolific offenses, but their 172 goals against are the most of any team currently holding onto a playoff spot in the West. Things have been looking up under coach Mike Yeo, and the Blues will be very dangerous if goaltender Jake Allen gets hot.
Then there’s the Pacific Division, led by the aforementioned Sharks. The two wily veterans, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are still chugging along in San Jose, but the team has been led this season by an absolutely outstanding performance by Brent Burns. The defenseman is on pace to have one of the greatest offensive seasons by a blueliner we’ve seen in recent years. Captain Joe Pavelski has also cracked the 20-goal plateau once again, but the depth contributions have been sporadic. The Sharks really were hoping for more from Mikkel Boedker, too.
South of San Jose, the Ducks have stumbled of late under coach Randy Carlyle, but this is still a team with enough top-end talent that a close game can be taken over in an instant. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are still a remarkable one-two punch up front, and the depth on the back end is excellent. Cam Fowler is having a great year, and Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have been as steady as ever. The recent injury to John Gibson is worrisome, but if he’s only out for a short period of time, it shouldn’t hinder the Ducks down the stretch. Relying on Jonathan Bernier might lead to disaster, however.
And, of course, everyone is going to be paying close attention to the Oilers. For some, Edmonton will be the Pacific Division favorite solely because of the McDavid factor. His first full season has been a treat to watch and the Oilers have benefited big time from his league-leading point total. Edmonton would probably love a boost to their back end and maybe some bottom-six scoring punch, though. They’re top heavy right now, and if the Oilers match up against a defense that can slow down McDavid, that could result in an earlier exit than some are expecting.
Even in the wild card, the teams appear threatening. The Predators were early season favorites after their acquisition of P.K. Subban, and you’d still be hard done by to find a defense that is better, top to bottom, than that of Nashville. Trouble is the goaltending has been below average, which is the same issue that has plagued Calgary despite the Flames holding onto one of the wild-card spots. Short of acquiring Ben Bishop from the Lightning, there isn’t a quick fix for Calgary in goal, but they’re still competitive. And this is to say nothing yet of the Kings. Los Angeles is still well within striking distance of the post-season, and getting Jonathan Quick back and finding some scoring at the deadline could be a game-changer.
This might not be a one-off in the West, either. With the changeover that’s going on throughout the conference, from the Blackhawks’ in-house retooling to the Oilers’ resurgence and continued build around McDavid, there are more teams in the mix with a real, honest chance to represent the West in the final than we’ve seen in some time. That stands to continue for a few years until one team establishes Western Conference dominance. But until that happens, it’s going to make the playoff race and post-season battles all the more exciting to watch.
The Calder Trophy race will likely come down to Patrik Laine vs. Auston Matthews, which means in this Year of the Rookie, a lot of really good freshmen will not even be finalists.
There will be one winner and three finalists for the Calder Trophy this season and based on how impressive the rookie crop has been, it all seems inadequate. But hey, these kids are elite athletes and they don’t want your participation ribbons anyway. But for the sake of putting into perspective just how good this year’s Calder race is, I’d like to present you with the top five players who will not win rookie of the year this season.
In order to set this field, let’s first deal with the actual contenders: Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are your favorites. Zach Werenski, Matt Murray and Mitch Marner are your dark horses, yet all have very nice cases to be made. When us writers fill out our awards ballots, we get five slots to fill out and I would presume this cohort would be on the majority of them (so as you will note, two of these players will be “snubbed” from the announced list of three finalists, even though they probably got a ton of lower-ranking votes).
But who will be the true snubs? My top five:
Matthew Tkachuk, Flames: He’s the heavy on Calgary’s most effective possession line and one of the Flames’ top scorers. Tkachuk’s chemistry with Mikael Backlund and Mikael Frolik has been a great boon for the team and the rookie’s combination of skill, aggression and ability to agitate is unparalleled among his rookie peers. Most other years, he’d be a finalist for sure. Ranks fifth in rookie scoring right now.
Ivan Provorov, Flyers: Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev is the only rookie to average more ice than Provorov and has slightly better stats, but I’m not a psycho: no voter outside of the 416 area code is going to put four Leafs on a ballot. Provorov plays against top lines and averages nearly a minute more of penalty-kill time than Zaitsev, so it’s not exactly tokenism to put him ahead of his Russian countryman. Offensively, he’s only slightly behind Shayne Gostisbehere among Flyers blueliners and offense is Ghost Bear’s thing.
William Nylander, Maple Leafs: As I just mentioned, you can only have so many Leafs on the ballot, but Nylander has compelling arguments for inclusion. He is now Toronto’s best possession forward and has more points than all rookies outside the Big Three forwards Laine, Matthews and Marner. Nylander leads the NHL in power play points among freshmen (which you can take as a positive or a negative – I call it the Dave Andreychuk Gauntlet) and is now playing alongside Matthews, which could increase his numbers. One weakness? He has been shuttled around the lineup by coach Mike Babcock – which is normal for a rookie, but doesn’t help his Calder efforts.
Brandon Carlo, Bruins: As the Bruins ponder life without Zdeno Chara, another tall drink of water with great reach and shutdown ability comes to town. Carlo is playing with ‘Z’ and more than holding his own, playing against top lines and logging lots of minutes. Only Zaitsev and Provorov skate more among rookies. Carlo is also chipping in offensively, with all of his 14 points coming 5-on-5 except for one shorthanded, and he ranks second on the Bruins in penalty-kill time. Boston has the best PK unit in the NHL, to top it off.
Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes: A solid possession player and one of the top scorers on a bad team, Aho is definitely off the radar in terms of Calder buzz, but again; in a regular year he’d at least be in the conversation. Already has his first NHL hat trick and is playing on Carolina’s top line, while logging some penalty-kill time on the league’s second-best unit.
As we count down to the March 1 trade deadline, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
We're now one week away from the trade deadline, which means the entire league is being divided into buyers and sellers. This year, there's far more of the former than the latter, so much so that it might throw the market into chaos, or maybe lead to a very quiet week.
Still, most teams know where they stand by now. If you're a Cup contender or desperate for a playoff spot, you buy. If you're already toast, then you look to the future and let the firesale begin.
But what about those teams that are stuck somewhere in between? Even this late in the season, there are still some teams that could make a good case for either side of the equation. Maybe they're not quite sure if they're still in the running, or maybe they can't decide if this is the right year to make a push. But either way, they've got a few days left to make up their minds.
As we count down until March 1, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The case for buying: One year into the Auston Matthews era, the Leafs have been better than most expected and are right in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot – and a run at home-ice or even a division title isn't completely out of the question. The team has access to a ton of cap room and plenty of picks and prospects to work with.
And maybe more importantly, they have a three-year window while Matthews and Mitch Marner are on their rookie contracts. James van Riemsdyk's cheap deal runs for one more year after this one. William Nylander needs a new contract after next season. The time to strike could be soon.
The case for selling: "Soon" doesn't mean now. The Leafs have been patient during this rebuild, and waiting another year to really swing for the fences would be the smart play. And with a handful of rental options like Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, collecting a few more future assets might be a smart way to prepare for what's to come.
Where they'll end up: You never know with Lou Lamoriello and his fortress of silence, but for now it sounds like they're not planning to do much.
The case for buying: After making the playoffs last year, the Flyers have taken a step back and are fading from the race. But this team is good enough to do some damage, as they showed earlier this year when they won nine straight and briefly moved into the mix with other elite teams in the Metro. Ron Hextall has been patient since taking over the GM's job, but this team hasn't won a playoff round since 2012 and Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are in the late stages of their prime. At some point, it's time to take a step forward.
The case for selling: Timing is everything, and this year's Metro Division is so stacked that taking a run at it seems foolish. Better to move rentals like Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto (and maybe even Steve Mason) and regroup for next year.
Where they'll end up: Their next two games are against the Capitals and Penguins, if they lose those, Hextall likely folds his hand.
The case for buying: We've been talking about the Jets as the NHL's team of the future for years now, but that future never seems to arrive. The West is wide open this year, and the path out of the Central doesn't seem as daunting as it has been in recent years. Their biggest need is goaltending, and there could be some good ones available, even as short-term rentals. With the team on the edge of the playoff bubble, this could be the year to make a push.
The case for selling: This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but are they really a threat to do much damage once they're there? The franchise has been patiently building up a young talent base since returning to Winnipeg, and abandoning that approach now just to get swept in the first round could seem like a panic move.
Where they'll end up: History tells us that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets won't do much at all, no team has been as reluctant to trade in recent years. This could be the year that changes, especially if a goaltender shakes free as a decent value buy. Then again, it feels like we've said that before.
The case for buying: They've been bad for five straight years. Some of those were strategic, granted, but that phase of the rebuild was supposed to end in 2015 and give way to progress. There's been some, but not as much as fans probably hoped, and they're on the verge of missing the playoffs yet again.
But they've been better since a rash of injuries torpedoed their start, and they've got assets to work with to plug some holes. And in an off-year for the Atlantic, a push into the playoffs isn't far-fetched.
Again, most teams don't want to load up at the deadline just to make the playoffs and go out early. But this isn't the same situation as a team like the Jets, who didn't have to endure hitting rock bottom like the Sabres did. In Buffalo's case you wonder if even a first-round exit wouldn't represent a worthwhile investment, if only to offer long-suffering fans some hope that things are moving in the right direction.
The case for selling: They're not winning it all this year, and the roster is still young. Sure, missing the playoffs again will be frustrating, but there's no need to rush. Trust the process, trust Jack Eichel and the young core, and most of all, trust Tim Murray. At least for one more year.
Where they'll end up: Murray might tinker here or there, but any big moves to improve now would also have to extend to next season and beyond.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The case for buying: They're the Lightning. They went to the Cup final in 2015, and to the conference final in 2016. Plenty of us picked them to win it all this year. They'll be facing a cap crunch soon and their window may be closing, but on paper this team is still good enough to win it all, especially if Steven Stamkos comes back by the playoffs.
So of course you're buying. This team can win the Stanley Cup. They're the Lightning.
The case for selling: They're also terrible.
I don't know why. You don't know why. I'm not sure Steve Yzerman knows why. But they just haven't clicked all year, and they remain outside the playoffs with multiple teams to pass. Better to accept that, recoup some assets for guys like Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle, and maybe even figure out a way to dump some deals with term. For whatever reason, this just isn't their year, so start setting the table for the next ones.
Where they'll end up: Yzerman's earned the benefit of the doubt over the years, so you figure he'll make the right call one way or another. The betting is with two more home games before the deadline, he waits as long as he can before throwing in the towel. But I have them in the "sell" column.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.