Back in January I picked up a part-time job in order to clear some of the credit card debt we've been chipping away at forever and a day. This was poor planning on my part for a couple of reasons. One, we didn't have a car and it was the middle of winter. Things were very mild at the time, but really, this is Buffalo. I should've known better. Turns out it's not very easy to bike through snow and ice - and while most of you are probably thinking, "Yes, that seems pretty obvious, Heather," I did actually attempt it, almost killing myself in the process. Twice. (Slow learner.)
The second reason is the killer though. We were in the middle of hockey season! What was I thinking? I was pretty lucky during the regular season. From January on I only missed 3 or 4 games. But I've missed that many already during the playoffs and because the series schedules aren't released until just before the series starts, it's nearly impossible to request game days off. After imploring people to watch the Buffalo/Ottawa series over at Hlog, I'm going to miss game one myself! I got lucky with game two being a night game. I'm not sure yet what's going on with games 3 and 4 but it's too late for me to get those nights off so I'm guessing I'm screwed. I took a stab at when game 5 might be and requested a cluster of days off since we're planning on attending that game so I'm good there. And I have time to request off games 6 and 7 if necessary. But I can't believe I'm missing the first game! I feel like a traitor! Atleast I get to wear my jersey while ringing up people's groceries. And incidentally, a note to all you people buying groceries in your Sabres gear WHILE THERE'S A PLAYOFF GAME GOING ON - you are not real fans, and nothing you say will convince me otherwise. Atleast I'm missing the game because my employer is making me. No one HAS to buy milk and asparagus during the third period of a playoff game, okay?
I think any Ottawa or Buffalo fan will tell you they're pretty pumped about this series. I think the teams are pretty evenly matched and I think it has the potential to be a real dogfight. A couple of random thoughts:
Ottawa needs to get more secondary scoring. For all the talk about them being three or four lines deep, the Spezza-Alfredson-Heatley line has provided a huge chunk of their scoring. In Buffalo they'll be facing one of the best shut-down lines of forwards (Druy and Co.) and one of the best shut-down defensive pairings (Tallinder and Lydman). Those guys did a very good job of slowing Jagr's line down at even strength. (I'll get to the penalty kill in a second). I don't expect our guys to totally neutralize those three - Heatley in particular has always been a Sabres killer - but I do think they'll have to fight to dominate the way they did in Pittsburgh and Jersey. If Ottawa's second and third lines don't kick in their share of points, they could be in some trouble.
Buffalo's special teams have to be more consistent, with emphasis on the penalty kill. The power play has been anemic, but let's face it, that's been the case for most of the season. It would be nice to see things finally kick into gear, but I'm not super stressed because it's not like one of our biggest weapons during the regular season has dried up. The Sabres have found a way to win all season with a craptacular power play so who says they can't keep doing so? The penalty kill though... well, that's going to be pretty important against Ottawa. In the Rangers series there were games when it was awesome - everyone was kept to the outside, shots were limited, bodies were kept clear of Miller - but then there were games when it was so poor that the contrast was startling. It would also help if Buffalo stayed out of the penalty box as much as possible. I think some of the calls in the last series (on both sides) were chintzy, but some of the Sabres could play smarter. As Lindy has said more than once now, if you put a stick in a guy's midsection, you're asking for a call. Use those noggins!
The Senators haven't played the Sabres since the Sabres added Dainius Zubrus. That could be a ton 'o fun. Hit 'em hard, Zubie.
I still say the series is very likely to come down to goaltending, and I still say Buffalo has a clear edge there. Listen Ottawa fans, I know Emery has more experience now. I know he had a good regular season. I know his playoff GAA is similar to Miller's. I know Emery has two shutouts and Miller has none. I also know this. Miller has been the Sabres best player so far. He clearly came to play and he was on even when it took a while for his teammates to realize the playoffs were going on. He and Emery have let in the same number of goals so far but Miller has faced 40 more shots, played behind a team that wasn't quite all there, and played against tougher opponents. The Penguins were clearly in over their heads. The Devils are a one line team, lacking in offensive killer instinct. If you think the Sabres aren't going to be swarming the net, looking to pounce on those big, juicy rebounds, you're crazy. As someone who watches Ryan Miller on a regular basis, I'll tell you this. He might never have great personal stats, especially while playing on a team where all five players go down the ice which results in a lot of odd man rushes and good scoring opportunities for the opposition. But he almost always does what he has to do to win. He may let in 3 goals, but if his team has 4, more often than not, he'll find a way to keep that tying goal out of the net. I'll be the first to admit that he's been prone to giving up softies in the past, but I can only think of one poorly time, arguable softie he's let in so far during the playoffs - Straka's goal in game 5. I just don't think Emery has the same level of focus and stability. I certainly don't think you can argue that based on the series he's played in so far. The Sabres have already beat one goalie who played very well in DiPietro and one goalie who played like he wasn't human in Lundqvist. If Emery brings it, I'll be the first to say good for him. But I admit, I'll be surprised if that happens.
Some quick blog pimping before I go. For a great blog from the Ottawa point-of-view check out Scarlett Ice. Sherry's an unabashed Sens fan, but her posts and recaps are always smart and observant. One of my favorite blogs during this postseason has been Interchangeable Parts. Pookie and Schnookie keep running diaries of all the games and they are gut-busting funny and sometimes even insightful if you look past their affection toward the Buffaslug. They're actually Devils fans but are putting their fandom behind the Sabres from here on out. Fans of Drew Stafford and Crunchy - er, sorry, Ryan Miller will especially get a kick out of their blog.
Is it Thursday night yet?