(AP) James van Riemsdyk scored two goals to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Thursday, spoiling the NHL head coaching debut of Ron Rolston.
Rolston, who until Wednesday was the head coach of the AHL's Rochester Americans, was hired as the Sabres interim coach following the club's decision to fire Lindy Ruff.
This unusual NHL season is already one third of the way over, and the firing of Lindy Ruff is only part of the surprises in the NHL these days:
THE HAWKS ARE HOT: The Chicago Blackhawks, still fueled by the core of their 2010 championship club, were certainly in the conversation this year about the league's elite. But nobody could've expected their opportunity to set the NHL record for most games in a row with at least one point. They'll play Friday to try to stretch the streak to 17. For any team, regardless of talent, to start so strong after a six-day training camp is a remarkable feat.
WILL THERE BE A CHANGE IN CHAMPS? : The Los Angeles Kings looked like a legitimate candidate to become the first team in 15 years to take consecutive titles with every significant player returning from last season's Stanley Cup winners, but they've required a recent 10-day surge of four victories in their last five games to even climb back in contention.
The Kings have begun to pick up the gritty wins that defined their championship run last spring, but the 7-6-2 record they took into the weekend was below the playoffs cut. Over their first 15 games, Jeff Carter was the only player with more than four goals, and only two teams had scored less than the Kings entering Thursday. Goalie Jonathan Quick, the backbone of last year's title team who led the league with 10 shutouts, doesn't have one yet. His goals against average, which was a robust 1.95 last season, has risen to 2.58.
FREE AGENTS AREN'T FREE: The Minnesota Wild caused the splash of last summer when they signed the prizes of the market, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, to $98 million, 13-year contracts. But despite the boost to their attack by the relentless Parise, who had seven goals in their first 15 games, the Wild are the NHL's lowest-scoring team. Suter had eight assists but no goals and a minus-5 rating entering Thursday.
Meanwhile, the clubs they left are faring just fine. The Nashville Predators are playing again like the perennial Western Conference playoff team they were with Suter. The New Jersey Devils have been near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, with David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk doing their best to make their fans forget about Parise.
THE HABS ARE HAPPY: The proud Montreal Canadiens, who haven't won the Stanley Cup in 20 years or won a playoff series in three seasons, have found themselves on top of the Eastern Conference.
Thanks to the resurgence of Rene Bourque, the energy of rookie Alex Galchenyuk and the grit of newcomer Brandon Prust, the Canadiens have a fresh outlook on the ice and off it with new general manager Marc Bergevin and the return of former coach Michel Therrien.
HAVE THE CAPITALS CRUMBLED: Alex Ovechkin hasn't played like "Alexander the Great" for three years now, so the demise of the Washington Capitals had already started before this season. After averaging more than 51 goals over his first five NHL seasons, Ovi has ceased to be an elite scorer. He had five goals in the first 15 games this season.
But the whole team, badly missing injured center Brooks Laich, has failed to find a rhythm under first-time head coach Adam Oates. The Capitals entered Thursday in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Lindy Ruff Speaks Out
Days after being fired as coach of the Buffalo Sabres, Lindy Ruff is expected to reflect on his 25 years in Buffalo in a news Conference Friday morning.
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Ruff, who also played 10 seasons for Buffalo, had been behind the club's bench since 1997 and was the NHL's longest-tenured head coach.
Despite taking Buffalo to the Stanley Cup finals in 1999 and the Eastern Conference finals in 1998, 2006 and 2007, Ruff's teams have reached the playoffs only twice in the previous five seasons. The Sabres lost in the first round both times.
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AP Sports Reporter John Wawrow
Van Riemsdyk's power-play goal at 14:28 of the third - his team-leading 11th - gave Toronto breathing room after Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller stopped Van Riemsdyk with a fabulous glove save earlier on the power play.
Dion Phaneuf also scored Toronto, which won its third straight home game. Ben Scrivens stopped 31 shots for his third win in five starts since James Reimer's knee injury Feb. 11.
Tyler Ennis scored for Buffalo.
Buffalo outshot Toronto 13-10 in the first and also had the period's lone goal. Ennis got his sixth of the season with high wrist shot to Scrivens' blocker side at 13:20.
Both goaltenders were sharp as Miller made a quality save on Toronto's Leo Komarov while Scrivens twice denied Thomas Vanek with a nice split-pad save.
Phaneuf's one-timer with four seconds remaining on a power play at 1:15 of the second tied it. The goal was the 100th of Phaneuf's NHL career.
Buffalo's Steve Ott put a backhand past Scrivens at 7:08, but it was disallowed because of a goalie interference penalty on Kevin Porter.
Van Riemsdyk put Toronto ahead 2-1 at 18:04, converting a nifty 2-on-1 break with Phil Kessel that beat Miller as the Leafs outshot Buffalo 15-6.
- Toronto wore its third sweater for the fourth of eight games this season.
- Toronto entered the game leading the NHL in hits (476) and fighting majors (20).
- The Sabres and Leafs will meet once more this season, March 21 in Buffalo.
- Rolston has been Rochester's head coach since the 2011-12 season, having compiled a 63-44-17 record.
- Prior to that, he spent seven seasons as a head coach with USA Hockey's national program, leading the under-18 squad to three gold medals and a silver in four world championship appearances.
It was two years ago today that team owner Terry Pegula introduced himself to Buffalo with inspiring words about winning. Leave your comments about his tenure- and anything else Sabres related- below