Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The Buffalo Sabres return to the ice tonight against the division-leading Florida Panthers tonight for their the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs. The Cats lead the season series 2-1 and smoked the Sabres 5-1 early in January. It was one of the few outright clunkers that Buffalo has played this year.
From Sabres PR we come to find out that the Sabres have not had a lot of success against Florida as of late as they're a paltry 2-8-0 in their last 10 overall, 3-6-1 at the First Niagara Center.
The Panthers could be ripe for picking tonight as they've cooled down considerably. They're 5-4-1 in in their last 10 games but have dropped two in a row since a five-game winning streak which included wins over Chicago (4-0,) Tampa Bay (5-2,) Toronto (5-1,) Washington (5-2) and Detroit (6-3.) That 23-goal outburst represents about 17% of their output in less than 10 % of their games. Surrounding that five-game streak, however is a 0-4-1 record where they were shut out twice and scored a total of five goals.
Florida will be playing the second of a back-to-back after losing to Detroit last night, 3-0. Pavel Datsyuk got to Cats' back up goalie Al Montoya for two third period goals in 1:08 and his linemate, Henrik Zetterberg, added two assists. Not only did the Panthers lose the game, but they also lost their fourth leading scorer, Alexsander Barkov in the process. Barkov was skating with his head down early in the second period and was leveled by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader. Barkov would not return and was ruled out for tonight's game against Buffalo.
Abdelkader who also ended up fighting Derek McKenzie late in the game, was named the third star by the Joe Louis Arena selection committee.
Buffalo looks to have goalie Robin Lehner in net tonight. The fiery Swede was livid last game at Boston when the Bruins Brad Marchand was awarded a penalty shot in overtime and after getting beat on the game-winner he sent his mask the length of the rink to show his displeasure with the call.
Lehner's over it saying that "it's long gone now" after practice yesterday. He also commented when prompted by the gathered media about his poor overall record despite his stellar play. "What is it, 2-3-1," he rhetorically asked. "It's not that bad. We're trying real hard, we're competing as a team and we just have to keep getting better."
The Sabres just came off of a home-and-home with Boston and came away with two loser-points via a shootout loss and the OT loss. Via Sabres PR, they now have points in four straight games (2-0-2) for the first time since they registered points in nine consecutive from March 10-27, 2012.
Gametime is 7:00 tonight.
In his mid-season draft rankings (thx, SabresTaco,) TSN's Bob McKenzie had some very interesting notes on the group of prospects that will be headed to NHL Draft this year in Buffalo, NY.
The consensus top-prospect is Auston Matthews who was born in Phoenix, AZ. Fellow Arizonan Matt Tkachuk, son of Keith, is ranked No. 4 on McKenzie's list and at No. 5 is Jacob Chychurn who was born in Boca Raton, FL.
In addition, McKenzie points out that there are another nine US born players ranked in the top-30 of this year's draft. Conversely, there are only three Canadians and they're ranked 8, 9, and 10. A Canadian has never been picked lower than sixth (1999) but McKenzie thinks that "the potential exists for a Canadian to set that dubious record this year."
Not only does he name that section "Woe Canada," but it must be pretty disturbing to Canada-centric fans north of the border to possibly see three of the top-five picks this year come from the dreaded "non-traditional markets." Especially Arizona where for years they've been aggressively outspoken about moving the Coyotes to a hockey home in Quebec or Hamilton or any other Canadian city.
What's doubly worse for Canadians is that Gary Bettman's Southern expansionist theory has actually grown the sport of hockey in the US. In 1993 when Bettman became commissioner of the NHL, Canadians represented 157 of the 285 picks overall (55%.) They controlled all top-5 picks, 10 of the top 13 and 16 of the top 26. At last year's draft in Florida 80 of the 210 picks (38%) were Canadians. Although they still had three in the top-5, Canadians made up only six of the top 15 picks, and 12 of the top-30.
Canada's loss is hockey's gain as the world-wide talent being infused into the league makes for a true universal sport.
Speaking of prospects, Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/sabres.com released his weekly prospects update on Monday.
Amongst the individual exploits of players like RW Victor Olofsson (goals in three straight games including two game-winners) and goalie Cal Petersen (unbeaten in 14 of his last 15 starts) is the overall dispersion of prospect talent which features most of the prospects playing college hockey.
Of the 20 prospects Bakes mentions, 11 are playing college hockey, six are in the CHL and four are playing overseas.
That said, it's not all that surprising as the Sabres have had a bevy of picks since 2012 and have had to stash away some players in college. In doing so they can allow for a players like Connor Hurley, the youngest player selected in the 2013 NHL Draft (38th-overall,) to incubate in college for four years before he hits the pro ranks while still maintaining his rights.
Same with those overseas as they can play out their contracts for a few years before making the trek over to North America, which is what goalie Linus Ullmark did for three years after he was drafted in 2012 (163rd.)
The Sabres have five players drafted since 2012 in their lineup right now. Two were second-overall picks (Sam Reinhart, 2014; Jack Eichel, 2015,) one in the top-10 (Rasmus Ristolainen, 2013, 8th) and one drafted 14th overall (Zemgus Girgensons.) The also have a Jake McCabe who was drafted with the 44th overall pick in 2012. He spent two years at Wisconsin playing NCAA hockey before turning pro.
Those five players, especially Ristolainen, Eichel and Reinhart represent high-end talent and should be a part of the "new-core" moving forward and with 15 of 20 prospects playing outside the CHL, the long incubation period makes for an extended pipeline.
And that's a good thing.
For what it's worth, I've decided unequivocally that I can live without ESPN and their family of sports-based channels. You can keep their endless videos of dunk highlights and silly celebrations, their new AM set-up, their mostly bland talking heads, their flashy new sets and a parade of women standing in high-heels who they're trying to make sexy yet keep professional. You can have Mike and Mike, His and Hers, as well as First Take and any take they might have. You can take all of it and get it off of my TV. And while your at it, I'd like to see the $6 they charge the carriers taken off of my bill as well.
It's been this way for a while, but what really jostled me was watching CNBC this morning when they had some media analyst talking about Walt Disney, parent company to ESPN, and a 30% drop in their stock since hitting their 52-week high some months ago.
ESPN makes for a big chunk of their revenue and apparently it doesn't look as if they're helping the bottom line. The whole Disney phenomenon and my thoughts on them could make for a mini War and Peace diatribe, but to be honest, I'm glad they're getting hit. They took something that was once real cool and kind of quirky and homogenized it to the point for me, where no amount of high-tech flash, fancy props, stupid stats or active broadcasters will change it for me.
The way I see it, for me, anything they do when it comes to broadcasting can be found pretty much anywhere else. Sure they have some things like 30-for-30 which is top-notch, and Highly Questionable is a little off-beat in a Chuck Barris kind of way, highlights can be found anywhere now, like on Fox or NBCSN or anywhere else on the net for the most part. If I miss something, cest la vie. It probably isn't that important anyway. And as for commentary, how many hours can be dedicated diplomatic responses that are afraid to offend those caught up in controversy.
What it comes down to is that ESPN is boring and has been for a long time.
Send me my $6 a month and get it off of my carrier package.