Saturday, March 31, 2007

I went to my last regular season game last night. A co-worker was selling off some of her season tickets and I went in with a few buddies at work and bought a few games. Most fun thing ever! Here are my girls (Monica, Kathy, and Sue) celebrating after goal #4:

The first period was fantastic. The boys were doing everything they hadn't been doing consistently for a while - playing tight in the defensive zone, being aggressive and simple in the offensive zone, taking advantage of any and all mistakes made by the opposition - and it showed on the scoreboard. In the second period the Islanders came out a little bit stronger, particularly Jason Blake, and the Sabres went into lock-down mode which made for a really dull 20 minutes. I barely remember that period. I do however remember the third period because it was kind of ugly. The boys went back to some of the bad habits they've developed over the past couple of months - passing instead of shooting, trying to be too fancy, playing sloppy in their zone. Ryan also gave up his regular last minute goal - it's like he has an attention span of exactly 58 minutes and after that he's gone. Still... they hung on for the win.

Random observations: Chris Drury looked the most like himself he's looked since coming back from his concussion. Derek Roy is primed and ready for the playoffs. He's so much fun to watch. Henrik Tallinder got absolutely smoked on one of the Islander's power play goals which doesn't happen very often. I'm a little worried that his ankle is still bothering him. And with apologies to the Kalinin haters, Tri was once again one of the most solid players in the game. He's moving into playoff form as well, I think.

And Thomas Vanek. Geez. After his goal last night Monica and I looked at each other and said at the same time, "That was AWESOME." It was right in front of us so we had a great view. There was definitely skill involved but a lot of it was sheer effort. He wanted the goal and he was going to get it. Thomas handled his benching during last year's playoffs pretty maturely and he responded to it exactly the way he should have - he worked his ass off in the off-season and has improved just about every aspect of his game this season - but he's made it pretty clear that he didn't entirely agree with the benching. I'm hoping he carries a little bit of a chip on his shoulder about that into the post-season. I absolutely cannot wait to see what he does because man, it could be amazing. I hope to see him in Sabres blue and gold for a very long time.

Tonight: Montreal and potential clinching of first in the East.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

Since we have a few days off, I figured I'd take this opportunity to answer some questions about myself and my feelings about hockey and the Sabres so anyone who stumbles across this knows what they're dealing with.

Should the Sabres keep Daniel Briere or Chris Drury?
I'm so not having this discussion right now. We're still playing! We're heading into the playoffs! This team is awesome, totally capable of bringing Buffalo its first professional sports championship! I'm not interested in discussing the best way to break up the team right now. Can we please, please just enjoy le petit Briere AND Drury while we definitely have them both? Please?

No thoughts on the matter at all?


Okay, fine. Who are your favorite Sabres?

I'm happy to say that there's no one on the team I really dislike. There are a few guys I'm a little indifferent to - I don't mind them being around, I wouldn't be heart-broken if they weren't - but there's no one player I wish was elsewhere. (But you're on probation, Mair.) That said, I do have my favorites. I'll spare you a breakdown of the entire team and give you my personal top 5. Please keep in mind that I'm not saying these guys are the most talented or the most valuable. They're just my favorites.

1. Henrik Tallinder - I simply adore Hank. He's so steady and so dependable. He never panics and almost always does exactly the right thing with the puck. He goes one-on-one with the league's best offensive players as well as anyone in the NHL. And in addition to that, he's just a beautiful skater. I could watch that long, lean frame move effortlessly up and down the ice all night.

2. Tim Connolly - Watching Tim Connolly blossom last season was one of the most fun things I've seen since becoming a hockey fan. I'm afraid some fans are going a little overboard with the "Timmy will fix everything about our special teams!" stuff, but I'll take what he can give us, that's for sure. I've missed watching him this year and hope he comes back with a vengeance.

3. Brian Campbell - I just like him, plain and simple. There doesn't really seem to be any divas on the team, but Soupy comes across as particularly good-humored and down to earth. He's another guy I love to watch skate even in warm-ups and he always looks like he's having fun out there. Almost every game there's atleast one shot of him with a huge "Holy crap I can't get believe I get PAID for this" grin on his face.

4. Derek Roy - Little D, as he's known in my house, isn't perfect. While I'm glad to see he's cut down on the diving, I could do without the whining after every non-call. He's also prone to taking bad penalties when frustrated. That said, the kid is a dynamo. He plays as hard as anyone on the ice and he's turned into a really solid 2-way player. I love watching him kill 20 seconds off a penalty all by himself and I really love watching him mix it up with guys twice his size. Some fans are disappointed with his offensive output, but he has centered the most consistent line all season, even when his wings changed. Gotta give him some credit for that.

5. Chris Drury - Heart and soul of the team, no doubt in my mind. I think his value to the team was perfectly demonstrated by the response to Chris Neil's hit on him a couple weeks ago. Chris does all the little things night in and night out. You might have to watch him regularly to really appreciate how much he means in a game, but trust me, he means a ton.

Wait a second. Chris Drury is on your list of favorite players and Daniel Briere isn't. So you'd keep Chris, right?
Again with this?

What do you think of the Sabres' new unis?
They're godawful ugly. They were ugly when they were introduced, they're ugly now. The fact that the Sabres have sold a bajillion dollars of merchandise with that logo on it doesn't make it any less ugly. When the logo first started showing up on merchandise I half joked that I was boycotting it, but I still haven't bought anything with it for myself and now I'm going to see how long I can hold out. I did buy my husband the new blue Drury jersey he wanted but the only things I've purchased for myself this season are a t-shirt with the vintage logo and a vintage 3rd Tallinder jersey. After getting an up-close view of my husband's jersey, I don't hate the colors although I do think the bright vintage blue is much more distinctive. Half the teams in pro sports wear some variation of navy blue now it seems. But I don't like the design and the logo... well, it is just not pretty. And to the idiot who tried to tell me that my lack of support for the logo means I'm not a true fan, hey, you can bite me.

Dmitri Kalinin sucks, doesn't he?

Honestly, I think 'Tri has been one of the most consistent d-men this season. He does have the occasional horrible turn-over but he's hardly alone there. And chances are good that if a puck deflected off of someone and into our own net, it probably went off 'Tri but what are you gonna do? It happens. He's mostly solid and he's definitely been the best thing about our power play lately. He does still seem to struggle with his confidence, something that isn't new, but maybe it has something to do with every single game resulting in a "Kalinin SUCKS" thread on Sabres' message boards. I admit, I've developed a bit of a maternal protectiveness toward him. Ignore the haters, 'Tri and keep plugging away.

What are some of your favorite things about being a Sabres fan?
- sitting in a sold out arena even on a Wednesday night
- 18,000 fans yelling, "Chris! DRUUUUUUUUURYYYYYYYYY!" along with the PA announcer
- getting to watch a team grow up and mature together
- cheering for a team whose ownership appears to really understand and appreciate its fanbase
- Rick Jeanneret and the way he can make a pretty dull game seem a little more exciting
- all the great calls Paul Gaustad's nickname of Goose has led to, namely, "The Goose is really honking now" and "If you're out and about, give a honk for the Goose!"
- seeing one of the best young goalies in the league develop
- looking at the team and organization now, realizing how close Buffalo came to losing the Sabres as recently as three years ago, and feeling overwhelming relief and amazement
- screaming "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" It has a good flow and it even rhymes for crying out loud! Seriously, try it. It's fun.

I hate Sabres fans! They're obnoxious and they probably eat babies.
Some of us might but I assure you that most of us are normal, excited, enthusiastic fans. I know many of you have had very poor experiences with Sabres fans in your cities and buildings over the past year and a half but try not to paint us all with the same brush. Trust me, it bothers me to hear stories of obnoxious behavior as much as it bothers you. Probably more since I'm the one getting lumped in with these losers. My devotion is to my team first and foremost but I love watching a lot of other teams and players as well.

Yeah? Like who?
Just to name a few, Dany Heatley, Vincent Lecavalier, Jarome Iginla, and while I don't see him as much as I'd like because he's in the Western Conference/not on a Candadian team, Scott Niedermayer.

You're a girl, you write for HLoG, and you're starting your own hockey blog. You're a puck bunny, aren't you?
Oh, yay, the one question I hate more than the Drury vs. Briere debate. Listen, I'm a red-blooded female and I'm not going to pretend I don't notice when a guy is good-looking. But I also understand what's going on the ice and appreciate the athletic ability and dedication required to play professional hockey. As a former athlete of decent talent, I'm in awe of the variety of skills necessary to play in the NHL. (Of course, it also helps that I don't really see the appeal of any of the Buffalo puck bunny favorites. Miller? No, sorry. Pominville? Eh. Totally average. Roy? Well, we're getting a little closer atleast. Henrik Tallinder and Paul Gaustad are the only Sabres I would consider above average, especially now that Jay and Marty are elsewhere.)

As for HLoG... If you've never checked it out, you should. You might be surprised.

Okay, you're not a puck bunny. But you MUST have an opinion on the Drury/Briere issue.
Okay, fine! Sign me up for Team Drury. Geez.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Thank You, Millsy

Ryan Miller speaks the truth:

“If we want to be the big, bad team we think we are, we’re going to have to show a little more effort, that’s for sure — early in games, at least,” Miller said. “We know we have the capability to score, but we got to start playing complete hockey.”

Good for you, Ryan. There's no reason you should have to stand on your head every friggin' night to keep us in games, especially at this point in the season. On one hand, I do believe there are guys who are coasting a bit now who will kick it up once the postseason starts. We've clinched a playoff spot, we have a good shot at home ice advantage. These games are largely gravy. But on the other hand, there are definitely some ugly habits developing and I worry about how hard those are going to be to kick if they continue. Why the heck is Ryan having to make 30+ saves every night while the other goalie is underworked? Why oh why did Raycroft only have to make TEN SAVES over TWO PERIODS?!?! Time to wake up, fellas.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Home Sweet Home

The good about tonight's 5-2 victory over the Capitals:

- A victory at home after 3 losses in our building, one of them so ugly it brought the boo birds out. (I'm personally not a fan of booing your own team under any circumstances but to each his own, I guess.) We have a great chance of having home ice advantage throughout the entire playoffs so it'd be nice to play well there, you know?

- Two power play goals! Our power play has been very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season - mostly Mr. Hyde - so it was nice to see some improvement. We were more or less keeping the puck in the zone, moving it around a little bit better, and actually putting some shots on goal. (Also on my list of things I hate are fans who yell, "SHOOOOOOOOOT!" through the entire power play but seriously guys, SHOOOOOOOOOOT!) Washington wasn't pressuring the PP units as much as some of the last few opponents have been so that probably helped but still... I think part of the problem has been a lack of confidence - guys are definitely gripping their sticks a little - so maybe a 50% night will ease some of the panic. Special teams in general were very solid tonight with the penalty kill shutting down the Caps powerplay.

- Drew Stafford getting two goals and playing like a man possessed. He had started to come down to earth some the last few games so it was nice to see his energy back up. I'm going to have to agree with Rick Jeanneret on this one: "He may never darken the doors of Rochester again." If any of the Rochester boys have earned the right to stay up and in the line-up, it's Stafford. His second goal was a beauty. We have to do something about the "Dreeeeeeew" chant though. That's Drury's thing. Stafford needs his own thing.

Side note: I love when a guy on the team with the lead has two goals and his teammates spend the last few minutes of the game making ridiculously stupid passes to him in an effort to get him a hat-trick. I can't think of a situation in any other professional sport where teammates go out of their way to give someone else on the team a little glory. Just one of the little things that makes hockey special.

- Le petit Briere scored his 30th goal tonight, making him the Sabres' fourth 30 goal scorer, Chris Drury (35), Thomas Vanek (35), and Jason Pominville (31) being the other three. If Maxim Afinogenov hadn't missed so much time with his hand injury, he would've been a lock for 30 as well. That means we have a 30 goal scorer on three different lines. Not too shabby.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Making of a Fan

I'm not sure exactly why I'm starting a Sabres blog now. I already have two blogs I'm more or less ignoring. I already post at Hlog: Hockey's Ladies of Greatness pretty regularly. I'm working two jobs these days so I don't always get to see the games live. There are only 10 games left in the regular season. There are a few very good Buffalo blogs out there already and I'm not sure I really have anything new to add. But here I am, joining the hockey blog fray despite all the reasons I probably shouldn't. As an introductory post, here's a little bit about how I came to love hockey in general and the Sabres in particular.

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, I was pretty oblivious to hockey. I still have family in the south so I think I can say fairly that even now hockey is more or less an afterthought for most people down there, if it's a thought at all. When I was a kid it was non-existent. I was a total tomboy so I was into just about every other sport, but hockey wasn't on my radar. Because my parents' family mostly lived in Pittsburgh I would say that I was a Penguins fan (and I did really like Ron Francis) but that was mostly just me talking. We never visited Pittsburgh during hockey season and we didn't see much hockey on TV. I liked it when I saw it, but I didn't see enough of it to seek it out in any serious way.

But then I fell in love with a boy from Buffalo. He was going through serious NHL withdrawl in the south, and I think he compensated by trying to get me interested. The Sabres weren't particularly good when we met so they were hardly on TV so lack of games still kept me from being a huge fan. Then there was the Cup run in '99 that ended with Brett Hull's skate CLEARLY in the freakin' crease. I liked that team a lot – they were a bunch of overacheivers, tough and gritty little players. I still remember what we in Buffalo call the "No Goal" game like it was yesterday. I was babysitting and while I was a wonderful babysitter who prided myself on really interacting with the kids, I remember watching the game over Amy, Andrew, and Nathan's heads and shushing them more than a few times so I could hear what was going on. I remember that when Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton came home, there were only a few minutes left in the first overtime and I actually hung around to see it through. I remember getting in the car and driving like a madman to get home before the next overtime started. I remember the exciting, excruciating feeling of watching post-season overtime hockey for the first time. And mostly I remember the soul-sucking, crushing feeling of watching Brett Hull's shot fly past Hasek. Honestly, I didn't even realize there was a controversy about the goal until the next day when I spoke to Mark, my then boyfriend. But I've made up for my lack of knowledge then by being pissed off and cynical ever since! I'm kidding, mostly, but Mark has said it's fitting that I was fully introduced to the world of Buffalo sports on that particular night. "Get used to it," he said.

Anyway, I married the Buffalo boy and he, longing for home, asked me what I thought about moving back there. He took total advantage of me by reminding me that every Sabres game would be on TV and we'd probably even be able to see a few games in person. Tricky bastard! I've only gotten more and more interested and fanatical about hockey and the Sabres over the past few years with the culmination being last year. A lot of the kids that had been very young when we moved back or drafted since then were finally blossoming at the NHL level and it was totally awesome to see. The team is young, fast, skilled, and really hard-working. Most of the current roster has come up through the system together and seems to genuinely like each other on the ice and off. It's cheesy maybe but while watching them on their best nights, you really get the feeling that they're playing for us and each other as much as they're playing for themselves. A real connection has developed between the players and the fans. It's a magical time to be a hockey fan in Buffalo and I think we're all just trying to embrace it while it lasts.

So that's me and that's my team. We'll see what happens from here.