You wonder if the NHL and NBC have buyer's remorse on the Winter Classic right about now. The Rangers and the Sabres will be bringing a New York State of Mind to New Year's Day in Citi Field, but will anyone care to watch them by Jan. 1?
Both teams entered their games Saturday 1-5-2 (and then both won). The Sabres had been outscored, 32-20, and the Rangers by 30-20. The Sabres are trying to mesh new coach Phil Housley with a bunch of new players and are looking feeble at times. The Rangers are reeling from the summer trade of Derek Stepan and you're already wondering if old friend Lindy Ruff, now an NHL assistant for the first time since 1997, is going to be coaching them by the Winter Classic with Alain Vigneault on a slippery slope due to this start.
Of course, it's not all Vigneault's fault. The Rangers traded No. 1 center Stepan to Arizona over the summer in a cap move. Henrik Lundqvist is 35 and hit the weekend carrying a 3.05 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. New backup Ondrej Pavelec is at 3.76/.860 (The Sabres' net problems were similar with Robin Lehner at 3.14/.900 and Chad Johnson at 3.84/.881).
The Rangers also hit the weekend last in the league in penalty killing while the Sabres are ruining their games by giving up short-handed goals. The Sabres didn't get a point through seven games from Kyle Okposo while the Rangers had just one point, a lone goal, from Rick Nash.
Kevin Shattenkirk has been poor defensively but still has seven points – or the same total as the entire Buffalo defense corps. Meanwhile, what in the world has happened to Rasmus Ristolainen, who is far more inept at age 22 than he was at age 20?
"We’re a team that could easily give up the first goal and get down on ourselves and let the rest of the game slip away,” Shattenkirk told the New York Post. “But we’re hungry. We’re hungry for a win and it’s hurting just as much in here as it’s hurting everyone away from the rink.”
Neither team is doing anything at home. The Rangers have played six times at Madison Square Garden, going 1-3-2 and trailing by least two goals in five of those games. The Sabres (0-2-1) have been utter embarrassments in losing to the Devils and Canucks.
"I’ve been through a few of these situations, like any coach who’s been around a while," Vigneault said. "They want to succeed. It’s a little bit challenging, on the ice and mentally, but ... It’s a fine line, and right now, we’re on the wrong side of that line.”
Bolts' Brown ready for action
Tampa Bay forward J.T. Brown, one of around three dozen black players in the NHL, raised his fist during the national anthem prior to the Lightning's game against Florida on Oct. 7, becoming the first player in the league to join the protests that have swept the NFL and NBA. Brown wrote on Twitter last week that he won't do it again and is now moving his social statements to actions.
Wrote Brown: "I am now using this support, opportunity and platform to call out everyone who agreed or disagreed with me to help by sharing suggestions, continuing respectful conversations and looking for ways they too can help make a difference in their community."
Brown thanked his teammates, coaches and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for their support. He then said he his building a relationship with the Tampa Police Department that includes ride-alongs, is donating 600 tickets per game, meeting with police officers and kids and working with a Boys and Girls Club. Those are some terrific gestures.
Here’s what’s next. pic.twitter.com/IoXeUkacUZ
— Jt brownov (@JTBrown23) October 18, 2017
The Vegas experience
This corner's email and Twitter feeds have filled up with folks wondering what the NHL experience was like in Las Vegas. Here are some thoughts in the wake of the trip to Sin City:
• The location of T-Mobile Arena right behind New York-New York was super easy to get to by car or on foot. Lots of parking around, albeit expensive. Uber/taxi or walking is a better bet. The outdoor plaza and video board above the main entrance were spectacular.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) October 17, 2017
• Duty called, so I was not able to walk the concourses of T-Mobile Arena, but the main entry paviliion was spacious and the seating arenas were pristine. There were two skybars on the corners at the very top of the arena that must have been an incredible view.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) October 18, 2017
* The visiting locker room might be the biggest in the NHL. Same with the press box. Huge.
* The arena sound system was shake-your-seat booming. But it wasn't obnoxiously loud like it is in places like Boston and Toronto. No idea what the drum core with the funky glasses was all about. The arena host was one of the worst screechers in the entire NHL. The guy just roared into the microphone. Pretty sophomoric. Make it stop.
* The Golden Knights' new practice facility in Summerlin was top-notch, one of the best in the league. The players all live nearby and don't have to head for the Strip until game time. Potential free agents will love the setup.
Speaking of Vegas, the Golden Knights' official Twitter feed has created quite a buzz with its wit and sarcasm in its first year in the league, but the team had to offer its first apology this week after a tweet prior to Sunday's game against Boston.
The team tweeted the Bruins' lines using female first names quoting a scene from the Boston-based movie “Ted," but many followers simply took them as sexist remarks and protested before the team took the tweet down and apologized.
The team's apology said in part: "By no means were the tweets intended to disparage females or female hockey players in any way. We do not condone sexism in any form and fully support the inclusive culture of hockey that makes our sport great. We accept full responsibility for our actions and apologize to those who were offended.”
Housley, Tocchet not so hot now
Housley and Rick Tocchet were the hot coaching candidates on everyone's mind during the Stanley Cup final in June. They've started their careers with the Sabres and Coyotes a combined 1-11-3.
Housley was more agitated than at any point this season following Tuesday's overtime loss in Las Vegas and has to be embarrassed by what his team brought to the rink at home Friday against Vancouver. Tocchet's team, meanwhile, is 0-6-1 and he went scorched Earth on his club following a 6-2 home loss to Boston.
"I'm kind of embarrassed for the fans,” Tocchet said. "You don’t want to babysit players but it’s just got to get harder around here. Whether it’s harder practices, whether you want to put curfews, all that baby stuff. I hate doing that stuff but if that’s what it takes, we might have to do it.
“Some coaches in the NHL, they skate the hell out of their guys and for whatever reason they come back the next night and they play well so maybe I’ve got to do that."
The Coyotes were to host Chicago Saturday and their season could really spiral out of control as they head on a five-game road trip to Brooklyn, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Detroit. The next home game after that? Nov. 2 against the Sabres in Gila River Arena.
* Remember by how encouraged we all were with the Sabres' opening shootout loss to Montreal because they played fast like Housley wanted them to? Where has all that gone? Maybe Game One looked so good because the Canadiens just plain stink too.
The Habs are 1-6-1 and have been outscored, 33-13, in the eight games. They gave up seven third-period goals in their losses Thursday in Los Angeles and Friday in Anaheim. Carey Price thus far: 1-5-1, 3.94, .881.
*The Sabres' opening video is an ode to their history full of great highlights from the last 45 years but they took it up a notch Friday night by setting it to "Courage" by the Tragically Hip in a tribute to the late Gord Downie. It was beautifully done. They should keep it for many games to come.
Our open tonight.
Thank you, Gord. pic.twitter.com/AkVruJf7bc
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 20, 2017
* This week's game in Columbus is part of NBC Sports Network's "Wednesday Night Rivalry" Series. Seriously? A rivalry to who? Most of the games on that schedule are true rivalries. The Sabres and Blue Jackets? They have exactly zero going with each and never have since Columbus entered the NHL in 2000. And now they're forced to wait until 8:10 p.m. to play. Thanks for nothing, NBC.
* An all-time great in St. Louis, Calgary and Toronto, Doug Gilmour's 20-year NHL career had a forgettable 82-game stop in Buffalo as he scored just 10 goals in 81 games over two seasons in 2000-2001. Gilmour, now president of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, has written a book called "Killer: My Life in Hockey". In an interview partly centered around the book last week with The Athletic, Gilmour had a blast for Buffalo and his time in then-HSBC Arena.
“I figured out what HSBC meant,” he said with a smile, “'Holy bleep, Buffalo's Cold.'”
Gilmour recalled buying a snowblower and attacking his Clarence driveway during a snowstorm that winter. It sounds like he might have been talking about the monster burst that struck in November, 2000. Pointing to his hip, Gilmour said, "All of the sudden, it's like a movie: Pieces start flying off the snowblower. And I can't find them. The snow's this high.”
Around the rinks
• Auston Matthews is red-hot and so are the Leafs, but they have to be worried about a sophomore slump from Mitch Marner. After 19 goals and 61 points as a rookie, Marner has just one goal, four points and a minus-7 rating in his first seven games this year.
• Speaking of Matthews, here's a tweet from Bruins star Brad Marchand about him: "At what point do that (sic) @MapleLeafs have to start playing Matthews 1 vs 5 to make it fair for other teams??" Matthews hit the weekend with six goals, 10 points and a plus-10 rating in seven games. He's been on the ice for just one even-strength goal against.
• Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, who tied for second in the NHL with a career-high 40 goals last year, scored in each of the Lightning's first seven games this year. That had not been done in 25 years, since Mario Lemieux did it for the Penguins in 1992. Kucherov's streak ended Thursday in Columbus -- but he assisted on the first goals of the career of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev as the Lightning won, 2-0, to improve to 6-1-1. It's their best start since opening their 2003-04 Stanley Cup season at 7-0-1.
• Longtime NHL standout Red Berenson had the playing surface at the University of Michigan's Yost Ice Arena named after him on Thursday. The Red Berenson Rink honors the man who coached the Wolverines for 33 years until retiring in July. He has long been a mentor for new Sabres GM Jason Botterill, who won a national championship as a player under Berenson in 1996.