Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Tonight marks the fifth and final meeting this season between the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens. Since Les Habitants rolled over the Sabres in October by a 7-2 score Buffalo is 2-1-0 with 12 goals scored and nine surrendered. That good fortune for the Sabres happens to coincide with the injury to Habs starting goalie Carey Price which occurred in November. After the reigning Hart and Vezina winner went down, so did the Canadiens who now sit 6th in the division and 22nd in the league only five points ahead of the Sabres.
Buffalo has been playing well as of late and are just coming off of a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Rookie Jack Eichel took a 125' rainbow feed from Evander Kane and calmly slipped a backhand five-hole with :01 remaining on the overtime clock. It was his second goal of the game.
Kane was also in on Eichel's first goal as he and rookie Sam Reinhart worked a clean give-and-go at the Carolina blueline. Reinhart stopped on a dime at the right circle and fed a streaking Eichel for the tap-in.
That trio, reunited after an injury to Ryan O'Reilly caused some line shuffling, has been playing really well as of late but probably won't start the game as a trio. With O'Reilly expected to make his return to the ice tonight, head coach "Disco" Dan Bylsma busted out the polyester and did a line shuffle for the last two practices. From Sabres.com, these were the lines at practice yesterday:
Zemgus Girgensons, Eichel, Reinhart
Kane, O'Reilly, Nicolas Deslauriers
Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta
Daniel Catenacci, Cal O'Reilly, David Legwand, Matt Moulson
Bylsma isn't messing with the Larsson line which has been meshing very nicely for more than a few weeks now. The staunch, two-way line has produced some points, but more importantly has shown plenty of chemistry in putting the pressure on the opposition in a shut-down role. Deslauriers is a curious move by Bylsma, but he has seen top-six duties before as has pretty much every player on the team.
With Cody Franson still injured, the defense pairings should remain the same.
WGR's Paul Hamilton tweeted that Robin Lehner will get the nod in goal tonight.
The Buffalo Sabres finished last the past two seasons and lost the draft lottery both times so they've yet to get a No. 1 overall-pick. The Edmonton Oilers have had the first-overall pick four of the last six years--2010, 2011, 2012, 2015. Their finishes since 2010 are, respectively, 30th, 30, 29, 24, 28, 28, and they're looking to be in that 26-30 range again this season.
It's not their fault they won the lottery four times, nor is it their fans fault that they've had to sit through years of on-ice ineptitude from a management team that was even worse than the on-ice product. Although they'd welcome a shot to draft first overall with a shot at phenom Auston Matthews, some might agree that it's a preposterous scenario. The rest of the hockey world would probably throw up at the though of the Oilers getting yet another No.1 overall pick.
The NHL GM meetings are in Florida and amidst the many propositions being tossed around is a limit on the number of first-overall picks a franchise can have in a certain length of time.
No sure what the formula would be, but a good start might be for the league to work in three-year increments. First they could forbid consecutive first-overall picks. Should a team like the Oilers, who won last year's lottery, win again this year, they could receive a pick no higher than the second overall. Should they win the following year, a pick no higher than the third overall. And have the cycle begin again.
It isn't fool-proof, but it's a start, at least for this year and the immediate future.
Also at the meetings there's plenty of talk about increasing scoring. One of the easiest things they can do is to limit the size of goalie equipment deemed unnecessary for the safety of the goaltender. One of the most obvious is the cheater pad on the glove.
Another idea being knocked around is having a team play shorthanded for the duration of the penalty called against them. This was the way the game was played prior to 1956, according to TSN, before the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens were scoring at will with the extra man. Adding to that is the motion to call icing on a shorthanded team.
Both would change the dynamics of the penalty kill, with the latter leading to a change in personnel. "I think then you’re going to have more skill, guys flipping pucks (out of the zone,)" said Sabres GM Tim Murray to the media at the meetings. "Maybe you’re not going to have that one-dimensional penalty killer anymore. Maybe you have to have more skill killing a penalty because you have less options. It’s going to change things."
That scenario is actually a good thing for the Sabres. They have skilled players like O'Reilly, Kane, and Girgensons already logging big PK minutes and Eichel worked the PK in preseason.
Other things are being floated around but those are a few of the items that will probably gain immediate traction.
The NHL believes the 2016-17 salary cap will land somewhere between $71.4M (where it stands now) and $74M if the NHLPA kicks in the escalator clause. That $2.6M, or 3.67% increase, would represent a huge boost for teams balancing on the cap tight-rope.
For the Sabres, even if they were to sign a player like Steven Stamkos to a $10-11M/year contract, they'd still have plenty of space to do other things.
Finally, kudos to recently signed goaltender Jason Kasdorf.
Kasdorf put ink to paper on a pro-rated 1 yr NHL contract that will make him a restricted free agent July 1 although it would seem as if he's in the Sabres plans.
After finishing his college career at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Kasdorf signed his pro contract and will stay in Buffalo for the duration of the season. The plan is to have him observe and learn, slowly getting him into practice situations with the possibility of Kasdorf appearing in a game.
Bylsma talked of the arrangement to the gathered media yesterday. "The possibility, opportunity to get some NHL shots, to get into practice, to see the speed of the game and the quality of the shooters is going to be an adjustment for him and a great opportunity."
Needless to say, Kasdorf is ecstatic. "I'm incredibly excited," he said, via Sabres.com. "I'm just thrilled about the opportunity I have to be here, to be a part of the organization. It's a dream come true. It's what I worked for my whole life and now to be here with the big club, it means a lot. It's really special."
When he talks about opportunities, dreams and working his whole life he's as genuine as can be in the most optimistic way possible. I had the pleasure of interviewing him last summer and got to know him a bit as well as gain insight into his family.
His father emigrated to Canada from Brazil with his parents and he helped feed a family of 15 with his plumbing business. A young Jason had been helping his dad out with the business since the sixth grade and the two have a very strong bond. Although he was born in Winnipeg, Buffalo found it's way into the Kasdorf household as Jason's father, Ewald, was a big Sabres fan back in the Chris Drury/Daniel Briere days.
"The Sabres were my father's favorite team," he told me in August. "After the [2004-05] lockout I was in the seventh grade and I always remember he really liked the Sabres.
"It was very cool for him when I got traded to Buffalo."
For those interested in Kasdorf, here are links to my two-part piece: