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On a day when any positive element carried more weight than usual, the Sabres provided a boost, however small, to a city in pain. This isn't the space to get into such sentiments, but it's easy to state the entire continent was cheering on Buffalo's 6-5 shootout victory over San Jose on Friday night. Sure it's only hockey, but judging from the standing ovation from fans that followed the win, even a game can provide some relief when we hurt.
Lindy Ruff's group performed much better, offensively, in their second game without Thomas Vanek, than they did in their first. The Sabres went 0-for-12 on the power play Wednesday (that's right; zero for twelve) and lost to the Senators 3-1. Clearly, something had to be done to amend for Vanek's absence in front of the net while playing with the man advantage; especially with Paul Gaustad out of the lineup as well. Well, something was done, and the action taken paid dividends immediately.
According to MSG's Rob Ray, Thursday's entire practice was devoted to honing the power play with Drew Stafford or Matt Ellis firmly planted in the opposition's crease. The initiative worked. Three of Buffalo's five goals in regulation came with the extra skater and the strong presence in front of the net was one big reason why. Although Stafford and Ellis came away with only an assist each, this plan bodes well for both, in terms of their respective values down the stretch, at least until Vanek returns in mid-March. While Stafford is already somewhat of a popular fantasy fella with 67 percent ownership, Ellis is essentially available across the board. He's worth grabbing in deeper leagues, especially if you need power-play points.
Another dark horse in Buffalo who may deserve a second glance is the recently recalled Nathan Gerbe. At even strength, the tiny (5-foot-5!) 21-year-old is playing on the top line with Stafford and Derek Roy. Getting opportunities with the man advantage as well, he registered three shots in almost 20 minutes of ice-time Friday. Sure he's a long shot, but it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on him. And hey, it's fun to root for the little guy.
The Sabres also got a boost on defense as Andrej Sekera returned to the lineup after missing a month with a high ankle sprain. Sekera registered a shot in more than 18 minutes of ice-time, appearing completely comfortable from start to finish.
As for the Sharks, it would be remiss not to make mention of Joe Thornton. The center earned four helpers in the loss; he now has 49 assists on the year.
As hockey analyst Mike Brophy proclaimed late Friday, it was "a great night to be a Mason." While Blues netminder Chris Mason shut out the Blackhawks 1-0, Columbus' Steve Mason (no relation) returned from a week off due to mononucleosis to help close the door on the sizzling Red Wings 3-2. Mono-shmono; Steve's reflexes were as sharp as ever and he didn't seem any worse for wear, despite being run over and crowded by Detroit skaters throughout the contest. Seriously, if this guy is still feeling crummy, you'd never know it. Activate him at will. Marty Turco registered his eighth win in 10 games, helping to quash the surging Canucks 2-1. Turco has allowed more than two goals just twice in that 10-game period. Tomas Vokoun put in a second outstanding performance in as many nights, allowing only a single goal on 35 shots in the Panthers' 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers. This follows a 5-0 shutout performance over Carolina from the previous evening, so it's safe to say Vokoun is seeing beach balls at the moment. But the immediate outlook isn't all that rosy for Florida -- the Panthers face Washington, New Jersey, Chicago and Boston over the next week. Yikes. The Canadiens can credit goaltender Jaroslav Halak for their victory versus Colorado. The Avalanche outplayed Montreal, but Halak stopped 46 of 48 shots to secure the 4-2 win. Considering how badly Carey Price has played since returning from injury in January, you may see a lot more Halak in the next while. And don't get too excited about Tom Kostopoulos' position on the top line with Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev. The grouping is only in place until Tomas Plekanec completes his two-game suspension. According to rumor, Kovalev and Koivu aren't too fond of hanging out together, both on and off the ice, so that situation won't likely last long. Some positive news for the Avalanche: Paul Stastny is slated to return to practice next week and could see game action the following. Stastny broke his forearm at Christmas. It's unfortunate New Jersey couldn't have had Martin Brodeur breathing down Scott Clemmensen's neck all season long. Not that the Devils' backup hadn't played well beforehand, but once everyone started talking about Brodeur returning to practice and such, Clemmensen went on to post back-to-back shutouts, his only two of the year. The second, a 1-0 affair, was against the East-leading Boston Bruins. Honestly, don't expect to see Brodeur playing every game once he's healthy. Pittsburgh defenseman Philippe Boucher had surgery on his foot on Friday. He's out indefinitely and is worth basically nothing for the remainder of the season. Phoenix activated Peter Mueller off injured reserve. He has missed the past seven games with a concussion. Look for Mueller in the Coyotes' lineup on Saturday versus Calgary. Oilers' blueliner Denis Grebeshkov will miss the next four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain. Considering Lubomir Visnovsky is gone for the season as well, this is crushing news for Edmonton altogether.