With the shortened NHL season now a week old, it seems hockey fans are forgiving both sides for the lockout and returning in full force. And Buffalo Sabres fans play a big part in that trend.
NBC recorded record non-Winter Classic ratings for last Saturday's openers. Regional coverage of the Blackhawks beating the Kings and Penguins beating the Flyers drew 2.77 million viewers The resulting 1.6 rating was the highest the network has ever recorded in the regular season (it picked up the NHL in 2006) and highest on any network since a FOX broadcast in April 1999. NBC ratings records were set that day in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago.
The next day, the Sabres' season-opening win over the Flyers drew a 20.1 rating, the highest ever in Buffalo in the regular season except for the 2008 Winter Classic. About 34 percent of all TV sets (127,000) in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls market were tuned in to the NBC broadcast.
NBC also set ratings records on the NBC Sports Network Monday night in Columbus (a 2.5 rating for the Blue Jackets' loss to Detroit) and in Phoenix Sunday night (a 1.44 rating for the Coyotes' loss to Chicago).
Then for the NBCSN debut of its "Wednesday Night Rivalry" game, the Rangers and Bruins drew 956,000 viewers. The resulting 0.53 rating made the game the most watched regular-season game in network history. It was also the most-watched cable NHL broadcast in the regular season since an ESPN broadcast in January 2002.
Through four national broadcasts, NBCSN is averaging 507,000 viewers, up 53 percent from last season. Buffalo will play six more games on the NBC family of networks.
Attendance is also doing well. The Sabres have sold out both home games so far and are playing to 101.4 percent capacity. Leaguewide, 21 of the NHL's 30 teams are playing to at least 100 percent capacity. The low is Phoenix, which has played two games to 75 percent capacity.
"We could be hopeful all we wanted, but we didn't take anything for granted," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We are grateful, and we are excited."