James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Buffalo's not bluffing

Thursday, March 08, 2012

I mentioned this a couple days ago, but it really is a bit comical how drastically different day-to-day game totals are during many NHL weeks. It’s understandable from an economic standpoint – people seem more likely to attend a hockey game on a Thursday and Saturday night, which basically creates a domino effect for the rest of the week – but it still seems a little ridiculous sometimes. To give you a little context, here’s what this week presents:


Monday: three games

Tuesday: 12 games

Wednesday: two games

Today: 12 games

Friday: four games

Saturday: 11 games

Sunday: eight games


A heavier Sunday schedule actually opens the door for a more balanced set of games next week, but the every other day pattern seems like a pretty reliable one. Even with the imbalanced schedule, there actually were some rather interesting developments from Wednesday. Sure, I wasn’t forced to ignore or summarize otherwise big stories because of a heaping glut of contests, but there are still some noteworthy and interesting bits.



It’s amazing how much of a difference a goal can make. If Jason Pominville failed to score in overtime and the Carolina Hurricanes won in the extra frame or a shootout, the story would have been about how the Buffalo Sabres choked up a great opportunity to advance their cause. Obviously, Pominville did score that goal and with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ regulation loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (see below), things are looking awfully rosy for Buffalo.


The win places the Sabres 10th in the East, as the ninth place Washington Capitals have a game in hand while the eighth place Winnipeg Jets have two more points. Those squads have a great chance to outlast Buffalo, but both the Jets and the Caps face some serious scheduling challenges that bode well for Buffalo’s chances. In fact, here’s a quick explanation of why things are looking good for Buffalo:


  • The Sabres are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, clearly making them the hottest team on the playoff bubble.
  • Nine of the Jets’ remaining 15 contests are away from home; the team has just 11 wins away from Winnipeg.
  • The Capitals face a very challenging stretch, which you can read all about in this PHT post. (If you don’t feel like clicking, here’s the Cliff Notes version: they might be done altogether after the next two weeks.)
  • The Lightning lost their only competent goalie (more on that in a moment).



The next would-be bullet point is that the Toronto Maple Leafs lost another tough game to a strong contender last night. A day after losing a one-goal game to the Boston Bruins (5-4) in Randy Carlyle’s home debut, the Pittsburgh Penguins overwhelmed the Buds in the third period for a regulation 3-2 win. Toronto carried a one-goal lead into the final frame and was 20-0-1 in such situations before losing on Wednesday.



If that wasn’t bad enough for the Maple Leafs, the team lost their second-best winger for an extended period of time thanks to an injury incurred on Tuesday. Joffrey Lupul is expected to miss three to four weeks with a wrist issue suffered thanks to a hit by David Krejci.


Even considering Lupul’s past issues with Carlyle, this is a huge blow to Toronto. One could argue it’s a bigger loss than the literal one they suffered against the Penguins as the resurgent winger has produced some amazing work alongside Phil Kessel this season. Pessimists might point out that Lupul may not get another chance to conjure more magic alongside Kessel in 2011-12.


Either way, the Maple Leafs will need to stay in the picture without Lupul for most of their remaining regular season games.



Speaking of fading playoff teams losing integral players, the word is that Mathieu Garon’s save-related injury will keep him out about the same amount of time as Lupul: three to four weeks. Dwayne Roloson absolutely got lit up on Tuesday after Garon departed and with Tampa Bay lacking much in the way of other options (sorry, Dustin Tokarski), things aren’t looking too great. Perhaps the Bolts might follow the Bruins with Marty Turco by picking up a short-term fix via free agency, but it looks pretty grim right now.


It also makes you wonder if teams will start cringing any time a goalie really extends his body to make a save considering the injuries to the likes of Garon, Tuukka Rask and Niklas Backstrom.



Pascal Dupuis had a great two-goal, one assist performance last night, factoring into all three of the Penguins’ goals … Cam Ward lost, but he’s been a dangerous spoiler waiting to happen the past two nights. He frustrated and beat the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and stopped 39 out of 42 shots against the Sabres in a losing effort on Wednesday … Jonas Gustavsson looked reasonably respectable in his loss to the Penguins – relatively speaking, of course … Jeff Carter will make his awkward return to Columbus tonight. The Kings better watch out against the Blue Jackets, too, as CBJ has spoiled things for the Coyotes lately … Sharks-Stars should be an interesting test for Dallas, the improbable Pacific Division leaders … Marty Turco did indeed clear waivers to become a member of the Bruins … The Penguins unveiled a Mario Lemieux statue on Wednesday.



Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek probably won’t play tonight. The most surprising bit is that it seems like Voracek has a better chance to make it in the Flyers’ lineup. No suspension for Niklas Kronwall’s hit on Voracek, by the way … No update on Matt Duchene just yet – aside from the fact that he’s sitting out Thursday’s Avs game … The word is that Brandon Dubinsky hurt his nose, not his hand in an ill-advised fight on Tuesday … No suspensions for Dmitry Orlov or Jordin Tootoo for shoving referees … Cal Clutterbuck is day-to-day with a leg problem. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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