Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Does Pegula Own The URL Too?: Die By The Blade
Another home opener, another over the top red carpet ceremony on Madison before the game, another protracted pre-anthem introduction, all minus the banner raising that should be happening. And tonight’s guests, the Buffalo Sabres, are just the second milepost of 82 until when the games will actually be of consequence again.
For the visiting Sabres, there’s almost no conceivable way they could be as terrible as they were last year. But ironically enough, they’ll probably want to be just to increase their chances of landing consensus #1 overall pick for the last 3 years Conor McDavid. This rag tag mix of of castoffs and children is helmed by Ted Nolan, whom the hockey community is still enamored with despite the fact he’s never won anything at any level and is a proven asswipe. But hey, the progressive hockey revolution has descended upon the league, right?
That’s part of the reason while Mikhail Grigorenko has been toiling in Rochester despite the fact that this team has nothing to play for, is because Nolan doesn’t know how to develop offensive talent, only GRITHEARTEFFORTDIARRHEA. Plus he’s Russian, so game over already, right? This isn’t to say that the Sabres are devoid of young talent up front, with Zemgus Gergensons already putting something on the highlight reel night one against the Jackets, and top draft pick Sam Reinhart is at least getting a look in the early going here with the big club. But the rest of the corps is populated by has-beens and never-weres, all of whom are overpaid for the sake of the Sabres reaching the salary floor and giving the appearance that they’re not actively trying to suck eggs. Hometown dwarf Brian Gionta captains this rudderless ship on ice as a victory lap to his career, along with Matt Moulson, who could have actually contributed to a winner had he chose to this past off season. Tyler Ennis is bafflingly making over $7 million dollars this season. Drew Stafford and Cody Hodgson have never put it together as pros. Chris Stewart, Cody McCormick, Marcus Foligno, Tory Mitchell, and the deplorable Patrick Kaleta round out the group by bringing nothing in particular to the table collectively or as individuals.
On the blue line, Rasmus Ristolainen appears to be staying with the club for good, and has all of the tools to project as a true #1 defenseman in the league at 6’4″ 219 lbs at only 19 years old. On top of that size he’s mobile, angry, and has vision. All qualities the Sabres thought they had in their Ent-ish one time Calder winner Tyler Myers, but has done nothing but show that season was a fluke since, all while getting paid gobs of money. Josh Gorges was such a dyed-in-the-wool Hab that he denied a trade to the Leafs and accepted one to Buffalo, where he’ll eventually end up on LTIR anyway as usual.
In net the Sabres start the season for the first time in over a decade without Ryan Miller as an option in the crease. This leaves the job to a platoon of Jhonas Enroth, Michael Neuvirth, and potentially Matt Hackett, none of whom exactly inspire confidence backstopping the misfit toys in front of them.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they’re coming off an opening night win in Dallas, where Corey Crawford outdueled the throbbing brain of Jim Nill. While the first forty minutes were certainly not ideal, closer inspection overall shows that the Hawks ended up much closer than anyone would have thought in the possession battle, carrying 48% of the Corsi share after all was said and done.
The most alarming thing to come out of Thursday’s game was once again Joel Quenneville shortening his bench to chase points ON OPENING NIGHT, with Duncan Keith skating an absurd 29 minutes, and Hjalmarsson 25. If there is indeed an orgainizational commitment to rolling four lines and three pairs at all times, even if youth has to be served and mistakes will be made, that’s fine in the first two months of the season. But once again Quenneville falls quickly back into old habits and just doesn’t know how to take his foot off the gas within the context of the game for the sake of the big picture.
The lines and pairings figure to be the same tonight at least to start, and with no official word yet, it would be safe to speculate that Corey Crawford gets the net again, even if this is one of the few instances where Antti Raanta in net wouldn’t cause acid reflux.
It’s not antagonism or arrogance to say that the Hawks are about a couple of dozen parsecs ahead of the Sabres in the grand scheme of things in the NHL. But Ted Nolan does have them playing hard shift to shift almost every single night, and they cannot be taken too likely. But the hope is that the Hawks jump out to a bit of a lead behind a Saturday night home opener of a full house and simply take an overmatched team out of the conversation strictly for the purposes of not giving Quenneville any reason to have to put any more wear on the veterans he’s going to need six months from now. Anything less than two points in regulation is an abject failure. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re heading to the UC tonight, make sure to pick up a copy of our game program. Our vendors are at all four corners of the arena, four on Madison and one each on Wood St. and Damen. If you’re not going to the game, you can get the PDF version right here.