Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
In case you haven't heard, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane is the subject of a sex offense investigation as reported by Lou Michel and Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.
Michel and Graham reported that three police sources said the Buffalo Sex Offense Squad were investigating an incident that occurred early Sunday morning at a downtown hotel near the First Niagara Center. From their article, a Buffalo police source said, “We have an investigation ongoing. We are not naming the suspect, and we do not expect it to be resolved in the very near future.”
Kane missed practice Sunday morning for "personal reasons," the club said, but he was front and center today to address the allegations in front of the gathered media.
Jon Vogl, who was there for the media scrum reported that Kane addressed the media briefly saying, "Obviously, you guys are all aware of the situation that occurred or that’s going on right now," the Sabres forward said in First Niagara Center. "There’s not a whole lot I can say. I just want to say I’ve done nothing wrong. I look forward to clearing my name.
"I respect the legal process and unfortunately at this time there’s not much more I can talk about it."
Said head coach Dan Bylsma who held his usual morning skate presser (via the Vogl piece,) "He was happy to be on the ice with his team this morning. Evander did speak to the team this morning before the morning skate. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment on what went on and what he said in the room."
Vogl wrote that Bylsma said he had "worries about Kane's mindset heading into [tonight's] game.
How this all ends up is yet to be determined, but it casts a pall over a Sabres team that's really starting to find it's groove. The Sabres are 3-1-1 in their last five games including two third period come-from-behind wins, both of them coming on the road. In the first one, Buffalo was down 1-0 at Detroit with less than five minutes to play when forward Ryan O'Reilly tied the score. Barely a minute later, Johan Larsson scored his first goal of the season and the Sabres left "The Joe" with a 2-1 victory over the Red Wings.
Coming out of the Christmas break, a six-day long hiatus for Buffalo, the Sabres fell behind 3-1 in the third period to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden before scoring five unanswered goals with less than 10 minutes left in the third period. Once again O'Reilly was the driving force as he started the onslaught with 9:39 left then had the primary assist on linemate Jamie McGinn's game-winner just over four minutes later.
During the stretch, the Sabres had only one bad game, a 2-0 shutout loss to the New Jersey Devils. However they followed that with a 3-0 shutout of the Anaheim Ducks and came within :34 seconds of defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in a game they ended up dropping in the shootout.
Tonight they face a smokin'-hot Washington Capitals team that's 14-1-1 in their last 16 games, a stretch that catapulted them to second in the league with 54 points, only three points behind the Dallas Stars with three games in hand. At 3.12 goals/game the Capitals are second only to Dallas in that category while their 2.12 goals against is the best in league.
Caps goalie Brayden Holtby's 1.92 GAA is best in the league out of goalies with 10 or more starts while his .932 SV% ranks 5th amongst goalies with 10 or more starts.
Facing a Caps team with full focus would have been a task in an of itself, but with the Kane investigation hanging over the team, it makes things that much more difficult. "The bottom line is when we’re in this room we have to worry about hockey, and that’s what we have to do," captain Brian Gionta said via Vogl. "Lots of things happen. That’s for him to deal with. It’s part of being a professional is trying to separate things."
Kane has been on a bit of a roll himself lately with two goals and an assist in his last three games. His linemate, Jack Eichel (three-game point-streak) had a breakout game in Boston with two goals and two assists and it really looked as if the speedy duo with mad puck-skills was finally beginning to find some chemistry especially, after Tyler Ennis returned from injury two games ago.
It will be interesting to see how the team responds to the situation, but with the way they've been playing lately, and with their never-say-die mentality, the affects will should be minimal.
Washington does have an big edge in talent augmented by experience and the number of years their core group has been together, but the Sabres have been a tough customer no matter what the situation. Buffalo is 4-3-3 in their last 10 versus Washington, 5-3-2 at home. And in an even stranger quirk, during the last two seasons when the Sabres were in the midst of their scorched-earth rebuild Buffalo is 3-1-2 overall, 2-0-2 at First Niagara Center.
According to an earlier tweet from WGR's Paul Hamilton, the lines and defense-pairings remain the same for tonight:
Jamie McGinn-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Tyler Ennis
Zemgus Girgensons-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta
Nic Deslauriers/Matt Moulson-David Legwand-Marcus Foligno
Josh Gorges-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Zach Bogosian
Mike Weber-Cody Franson
Bylsma told the media that Linus Ullmark will be in net. Ullmark, unfortunately, was last in net during the Devils 2-0 shutout over Buffalo on December 15. The 22 yr. old rookie has posted a respectable 5-7-2 record with a 2.64 GAA and .911 SV%.
One final note, as reported by the Buffalo News goalie Robin Lehner is on the ice facing shots and the team is preparing a schedule for him to return to practice. Lehner suffered a high-ankle sprain in the very first game of the season and was expected to be out 6-10 weeks.