NASHVILLE -- So welcome to All-Star Sunday and I can honestly tell you I have absolutely no idea what to expect today in Bridgestone Arena.
We're going to see three periods of 3-on-3 hockey and you wonder how serious guys will take this game today. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said last week he's hoping the $1 million prize to the winning team will up the ante some compared to the hideous 17-12 game we saw last year in Columbus that had many pundits saying scrap the whole thing.
The Atlantic Division, featuring Ryan O'Reilly, meets the Metropolitan Division in the 5 p.m. opener on NBCSN. Then the Central and Pacific stars meet in the other semifinal (essentially the second period). The "third period" will be the championship game.
The new format is uncharted territory, as I wrote in my game preview in today's editions. Here are some of my thoughts heading into it:
1). How will coaches work their trios? They have six forwards and three defensemen at their disposals. Will they stay with 2F/1D alignments or mix it up with 1 F/2D and double-shift a D, say, near the end of a period holding a lead.
2). Short lineup for the Atlantic. Jaromir Jagr didn't want to be playing 3-on-3 at age 43 and only came because he was elected to be a captain. You wonder if he only takes 1-2 shifts. There have been four Panthers OT games this year where Jagr hasn't played at all. How many more minutes does that put on guys like Steven Stamkos and Sabres rep Ryan O'Reilly?
3). The John Scott factor. The embattled Pacific captain is the talk of the town, getting standing ovations Saturday with another one almost certain to come during Sunday's introductions. But he really doesn't skate all that well and has obviously never taken a 3-on-3 shift in his career. Who does he play with and how often does he see the ice?
4). Woe to the goalies. This figures to be 20 minutes of odd-man rushes and breakaways and it will be interesting to see which netminder can survive and make a few saves for his team and which one(s) emerge as simply burnt toast.
5). Who would have ever thought? After all the hype surrounding last year's draft, we get to the midseason showcase and neither Connor McDavid nor Jack Eichel are here. Despite what you often might hear, nothing is guaranteed in this sports, folks. There are injuries. There is inexperience.
Here's all the links to your hockey coverage today:
---It's been a whirlwind seven months for Ryan O'Reilly, the Sabres' lone All-Star and soon to be the highest-paid player in Buffalo hockey history.
---Skills Night brings lighthearted fun -- My recap of the Skills Competition, complete with P.K. Subban in Jaromir Jagr wig.
---All-Star audio: Hear my interviews after last night's Skills Competition with O'Reilly and former Sabres enforcer John Scott, who is pretty much the No. 1 story here this weekend.
---My Inside the NHL column this week covers the particulars of Gary Bettman's annual All-Star press conference. The Commish, of course, puts on a happy face at these things. He certainly strained the grounds of credulity here Saturday with denials the league pressured John Scott and with his insistence that everything is going great in replay. (Memo to Gary: I don't complain about "a couple inches" offside on reviews. My gripe is by a toenail.)
---My NHL Power Rankings at the break still have the Capitals at No. 1 and the top six stayed the same. Big moves up by San Jose, Nashville and Carolina, with a big drop by Minnesota.
----Back on the homefront, John Vogl writes how Jack Eichel's first game jersey was a boon at auction for the Sabres Foundation.