Thursday Roundup + Expectations Changing?
There’s a little bit of a lull in the game schedule, so let’s take a look at what’s happening in Sabreland ahead of tomorrow’s 7 pm game against the Boston Bruins at KeyBank Center:
- This game will be shown on ESPN + and Hulu tomorrow instead of MSG, which is part of the new NHL broadcasting rights deal that took place over the summer. More and more content is shifting to streaming platforms as customers increasingly cut the cord from traditional cable and satellite packages.
- While some viewers don’t have access to those services, overall, it’s a good strategy by the NHL to market to a younger audience that is anecdotally less likely to have a cable package. Many people in their 20s and 30s do have Hulu or ESPN +.
- It’s likely that old friend Linus Ullmark will be between the pipes for the Bruins tomorrow as Jeremy Swayman has played the first two games. Ullmark signed a large 4-year, $20m contract over the summer and was presumed to be the starter at the time because of that commitment from the Bruins.
- Swayman has struggled in the early going, at least on paper, with his .885 save percentage and 3.02 GAA, but the Anchorage, Alaska native is a super prospect. I was hopeful at the time of the Hall trade that the Sabres may be able to get their hands on the goaltender. The Bruins were wise to say no, if indeed the Sabres did ask.
- Sabres forward Cody Eakin ran into a goalpost in practice yesterday and left the rink as a result. He did not return. If he’s unable to go tomorrow, then it’ll likely mean the debut of John Hayden, the truculent forward who came to the Sabres via free agency. Hayden’s arrival comes at a good time as the Bruins usually play with a rugged and pesky style.
- Vinnie Hinostroza was given a maintenance day yesterday and is expected to play tomorrow. It would be entertaining to see Mark Pysyk make the jump to forward if Hinostroza weren’t available. That potentiality will have to wait.
- The Sabres claimed Christian Wolanin off waivers earlier this week although it looks like he’ll need to wait a bit longer to get into a game (unless Pysyk moves to forward, just saying). Wolanin, a left-shot defenseman, had 3 assists in 18 games between Ottawa and Los Angeles last year. He’s a product of the NCAA system and played for the University of North Dakota. He’s a Quebec native which makes his choice to attend American university rather than play in the QMJHL somewhat unique.
- Dahlin looks ready to go after taking a nasty gash on the chops during Tuesday’s win over Vancouver. He was seen sporting a face shield in practice on Wednesday.
- No word on who will start in net for the Sabres. Anderson should be fresh with two days rest if the Sabres wanted to go in that direction.
With the Sabres at 3-0-0 and on a 164-point pace, it’s clear now that they’re going to win the Stanley Cup. The only question left is: Where will the Sabres host the parade? Traditionally, the thought has been that the parade would go down Delaware avenue and finish at the foot of City Hall in Niagara Square. That plan is fine, although utilizing the Skyway would offer much more dramatic aerial footage of Kyle Okposo carrying his Selke and Conn Smythe trophies while Zemgus Girgensons holds the cup.
I’m joking, obviously.
The Sabres are off to a nice start after the majority of the NHL media declared them dead in the water before the season. The year will, in all likelihood, trend toward the bottom after starting at the top. I originally forecasted the team to finish in 30th place, with a chance to end up as high as 25th if the goaltending managed to be league average for the duration of the season. That still feels right, despite the hot start.
Zemgus Girgensons is on a 109-point pace. That’s, um, unlikely to continue. Dustin Tokarski has a .952 save percentage and Craig Anderson sports a .954 save percentage. Those save numbers are as ripe for regression as Kyle Okposo’s 54-goal pace. Players like Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Asplund and Anders Bjork will need to pick up their point production to stem the tide when the veterans inevitably start to run out of gas.
And then there are the injuries.
Casey Mittelstadt is already lost for the foreseeable future along with defenseman Henri Jokiharju. Anyone who follows the Sabres even somewhat closely know that the organization is dangerously thin at the center position, and that has only been made worse with the loss of Mittelstadt. I honestly don’t want to put this bad juju out there, but I have to say it: Tage Thompson has a history of injuries. Losing Thompson – who has been an absolute revelation at center – for any length of time would torpedo the Sabres badly. They simply don’t have the organizational depth to contend with the losses of Mittelstadt and Thompson at the same time.
Perhaps all of this comes off as too much doom and gloom. It’s not intended that way. It’s just a reminder that this team is still an awfully long way from truly contending for the Stanley Cup. The Sabres need to keep bringing the type of intensity that fans have lauded them for during the early portion of the schedule. The team will at least be mediocre (rather than brutal) if they can maintain their level of passion throughout the long grind of an 82-game schedule.
There will be losses. The Sabres’ commitment to the high-tempo, high-intensity brand of hockey under Don Granato means that they’ll still be watchable even when the loss column starts to be populated.
In the meantime, I’ll keep working on parade route ideas.