Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, NHL-US, WGN-AM 720
Don Beebe’s House Of Speed: Die By The Blade
Last month when the Hawks visited Buffalo for a Saturday matinee, surprisingly their hometown hero, the Prodigal Son, received less than a warm ovation, receiving boos every time he touched the puck. Since then, the Sabres’ own Kane, Evander, is now the subject of a rape investigation of his own, and it would stand to reason that those in attendance tonight would feel turnabout is fair play to return the favor because no one even tangentially affiliated with the Blackhawks has had any degree of self awareness for months. Fans on both sides of this equation who feel the need to do such things while not realizing the bigger issues would be well served just to stay home if not walk into oncoming traffic on the Eisenhower.
Since the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, Evander Kane had been a flash point topic among the local media, often chiding him for not playing the game the right (read: white) way with some of his flamboyant off-ice antics, such as flashing stacks and stacks of bills around, which was perfectly cute and hilarious when Mike Commodore (another known asswipe and totally would have made a difference for the 2011 or 2012 Hawks by the way) did the exact same thing with a giant mouthful of dip hanging out of his face. Kane getting traded to Buffalo while hurt seemed best for all parties involved, that is of course until about two weeks ago. And when news hit the wires about Kane being the subject of an investigation, hockey fans couldn’t wait to break out the dog whistles and blow as hard as they possibly could and espouse tacitly racist garbage.
Yes hockey fans, the important thing is that your previously held beliefs are now validated at the expense of yet another woman getting sexually assaulted.
None of this is to say that Evander Kane didn’t do this; statistics say he almost certainly did. It’s just interesting that “gotta hear both sides” and “due process” are only applicable for white players among hockey fans.
What continues to be sickening and sad here is that both athletes feel entiled to women’s bodies and continue to encroach upon them either sexually with violence or both because this culture not only permits but encourages it, and that league and teams continue to do fuck and all about them. There was news this week that NHL players will undergo education on the subject, but the horse has long since left the fucking barn, and even when they tried this shit in the WHL, it was basically a “look out for gold diggers” seminar. Evander Kane did not miss so much as a practice from any Sabres or NHL imposed sanctioning as this investigation continues, just as Patrick Kane did not. And acts of aggression towards marginalized citizens will continue to go unpunished because of the cynical bet that these million dollar industries make that this shit doesn’t matter to the average fan.
In any event, the Sabres enter tonight having not earned a point since Boxing Day in a 6-3 win in Boston. Their latest loss came at the hands of the PDO-surfing Panthers, and prior to that Detroit, The Island, and the Caps twice. So to say they’re going through a bit of a meat grinder portion of their schedule would be only slightly understating it. In general the Sabres have a relatively respectable record on the road at 7-8-2, especially for a young team, though their share of 5v5 attempts does dip well below their 49.3% at home and 48.2% overall to 46.9%, and they surrender 56.5 attempts to their hosts per every 60 minutes at full strength.
Up front Ryan O’Reilly is keeping the #1 center position warm for Jack Eichel as the #2 overall pick gets fully acclimated to NHL play. That’s not to say that O’Reilly is any slouch on his own, as he’s marginally carried the play for the Sabres despite being asked to look across the dot at the other team’s top centers nightly. Eichel hasn’t broken out and set the score sheet ablaze yet, but there are flashes of what his game could be once he grows into his lanky frame and gets up to speed playing against grown men. Twenty-six points in 40 games coming from Hockey East is not to be scoffed at. Another former first-rounder Sam Reinhart has also shown flashes in his first full time stint as he moonlight’s between center and wing and boasts the best share of 5v5 attempts among the forwards at 52% while not being all that sheltered. The rest of the forward grouping is a bunch of guys the Sabres are overpaying to keep to the floor like Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta, but Disco Dan Bylsma at least has them consitently moving their feet as a group. And Zemgus Girgensons is still just fun to say.
Speaking of Bylsma making his charges move, yesterday he apparently had Finnish Monolith Rasmus Ristolainen skating outside of the Sabres’ top 6 defensemen in practice presumably for disciplinary purposes after getting pecker slapped by their (somehow) division rival Panthers. But given that Ristolainen is a) being groomed to be the #1 defenseman his frame and game project him to be, and b) he’s tied with the aforementioned Eichel for 2nd on the team in scoring, it’s unlikely he gets pressbox popcorn tonight punitively. Defensemen need to fail and fail repeatedly before they finally get it, and the Sabres have enough time to allow Ristolainen to do so. He and partner Josh Gorges generally get the worst zone starts on the team, and that won’t change tonight with Bylsma not able to pick his matchups.
In net, both Chad “Not That One” Johnson and Linus Ullmark have done yeoman work waiting for Robin Lehner to get healthy, and Johnson in particular has returned to his backup-for-Tuukka form after a rough year last year on the Island. It’s Johnson who will get the start tonight, who sports a .912 save percentage on the road, a .924 save percentage at evens, and a .914 overall. While a young team such as this could probably benefit from plus goaltending, that they’re getting entirely average output for what they’re spending against the cap seems perfectly reasonable, and is still an improvement over the last couple seasons.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, though Marian Hossa did not skate this morning, all indications are that he will be in the lineup tonight, and that lineup will remain unchanged from Wednesday night save for Corey Crawford getting the cage back from Scott Darling.
True to form of a young team with high end prospects, the Sabres have an excellent power play and an absolutely horrendous penalty kill. The power play is 8th in the league with a 20.2% conversion rate, thanks not only to Eichel, Reinhart, and O’Reilly (who has 15 points on the advantage), but also to their glut of right handed shooting, puck moving defensemen in Ristolainen, Cody Franson, and the cannon of a shot from Zach Bogosian. However those skill sets don’t particularly transfer to the PK, and a 77% PK rate is only barely acceptable because the Sabres are the least penalized team in the league, something Dan Bylsma would have killed for when he was in Pittsburgh. So keeping the game 5 on 5 or better is the most ideal plan for the Hawks, but that’s easier said than done as teams built like this generally jump up and bite them.