Thursday, May 31, 2007

Oh, There's Still Hockey On?

I've missed the first two games of the finals due to my second job so I've only seen bits and pieces of the games, but I'm wondering if we should all really be that surprised at how the series has gone so far. Yes, the Senators are a great team. Yes, they deserved to win every series they won. But I've maintained from the beginning - you'll just have to trust me on this - that they had a fairly easy ride to the finals. They absolutely deserve some of the credit for their opponents poor play, but let's face it, every opponent they played, particularly Buffalo, gave them a lot of help. Every talking head who has talked about the Ottawa-Buffalo series like Ottawa rolled through a juggernaut should be slapped upside the head because he clearly wasn't paying attention. The Sabres did not end the season well. They did not play well in the first round, they did not play well in the second round. The Sabres team the Senators beat in the Conference Finals was not the Sabres team that was rolling through the rest of the league in October. I'm also really surprised at how many people talked about Ottawa shutting down Buffalo's powerplay like it was a huge accomplishment. I know it seems logical that a team with so much offensive ability would kill with the man advantage, but again, have you people watched any hockey this year? Because that hasn't been the case all season! Most nights I could've gone on the ice with a few of my sixth graders and WE could've killed off the Sabres powerplay. No one mentioned that in the last three games of the Buffalo series, the Senators powerplay disappeared. No one mentioned that the Spezza line didn't dominate 5 on 5 against Buffalo the way they did against Pittsburgh and New Jersey. No one mentioned that despite Buffalo playing like crap for much of the series, the series was still almost all one goal games. So while I thought I was cheering for Ottawa, it appears that I'm much more bitter and vindictive than I knew because I'm really enjoying watching another fanbase who was sure this was the year suddenly looking bewildered and wondering what the heck happened to their team.

Other random thoughts:

- Other people have pointed this out, but it's like the Senators picked up all of Buffalo's bad habits during that series. They're not skating, they're trying to avoid getting hit, they're turning the puck over, they're not getting the puck on the net, they can't score on the powerplay. Who knew that stuff was contagious?

- I'm befuddled by Spezza and Heatley's refusal to hit and be hit. I know they're skill players, but they are not small men. I hated watching Danny Briere duck away from hits, but atleast he has an excuse. He's 5'9", 177 pounds - maybe... both numbers seem like exaggerations to me. Either way though, he's a little guy. Spezza is 6'3", 200+lbs and Heatley is about the same. Guys, you're not going to get hurt, okay? Stand in there and hold your own.

Boy, Danny's stats make you realize how absolutely scrawny Ryan Miller is. He's listed at 5 lbs. lighter than Danny, but he's 5 inches taller! (That's if you believe Danny really is 5'9".) It's a good thing he gets to wear all that extra equipment.

- Scott Niedermayer's playoff beard is a thing of beauty. I almost feel like it's reason alone for the Ducks to win. As someone much wittier than me said, at this point you could shave it off, put it on skates, and watch it kill penalties itself.

- I've spent a lot of time over these last few days debating Teemu Selanne. Namely, is he really kind of beautiful or really kind of funny looking? I think I've finally decided on kind of beautiful, but it was a tough call. But how can you not love a guy who promised his friends back in Finland that if he ever played in the Stanley Cup Finals, he'd make sure they were there to watch him and then actually followed through by flying 16 childhood friends to Anaheim, paying all their expenses, and finding them game tickets? You can't do it! I'm beginning to feel like I might be able to put up with Chris Pronger winning a Cup if it means Teemu gets one.

- It's been entertaining watching Buffalo fans go from "OH MY GOD WE GOTTA GET A DOMINANT NUMBER ONE LINE LIKE THE SENATORS OR WE'LL NEVER WIN ANYTHING!!!!" to "Yeah, this is why you have to spread the scoring out" practically overnight.

- I know a lot of people complain about defensive hockey, but I don't mind it when the games are still entertaining and I have to admit, I do enjoy Anaheim's smashmouth hockey. I love watching all of my little skilled guys fly all over the ice, but it's nice to see some bone rattling hits once in a while. Hockey should never lose all its physicality. A teeny tiny part of me is glad we're not in the finals since it's very possible the Ducks might've killed one of us.

- It's a tough call, but I think my favorite thing in hockey is watching a team succesfully kill off a 5 on 3 powerplay. It's always exciting - blocked shots, big saves, missed nets, huge clears, constant movement... It's everything that's fun about hockey crammed into one heart-pounding, nail-biting block of time.

- I love Chris Drury and I love Daniel Briere, but I think Thomas Vanek has to be the priority right now. Get that kid locked up and get him locked up good. Then deal with the captains after that.

I'm actually going to be home to watch game 3 which means it'll probably stink.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

There's Always Next Year

Buffalo fans seem to be split into two camps right now. The first camp feels like the loss in the Eastern Conference Finals ruins the entire season. What's the point in playing so well all season if you're just going to choke when it counts? The second camp feels like, regardless of what happened in the playoffs, it was a great season, one that fans in Buffalo will remember for a very long time. I've bounced back and forth a little bit, but I've landed somewhere in the middle.

I'm definitely disappointed. I'm not disappointed so much in the fact that the Sabres lost - only one team out of 30 can win the Stanley Cup, the NHL playoffs are definitely the most grueling playoffs in pro sports, and we lost to a very talented, very motivated Ottawa team. I am disappointed that after having such a good season - a season full of heart and drive - the team looked so out of sync. I won't go as far as saying they didn't want to win because I doubt that's the case. The players certainly looked and sounded sad and disappointed about the way the season ended. But most nights, through all three rounds they played, they certainly didn't look like they wanted to win and they didn't appear to be concerned or angry about their play. By the time they snapped out of it, they were in a 3-0 hole to a very good team and there was no room for error. Maybe a Sabres team firing on all cylinders still loses the series to the Senators. I'm certainly not going to take anything away from the Sens. They're loaded with talented, they played like they wanted to win, they had each others backs on the ice. They were nothing short of fantastic. But even as crappy as we played (seriously, has there ever been a game more painful than game 3 of that series?) 3 of the 4 losses were one goal games and the first game wasn't as uneven as the final score suggests. If our powerplay is average (as opposed to unbearably craptacular), it's potentially a different series. Last year, when the Sabres lost to the Hurricanes, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that they left absolutely everything they had in them on the ice. This season, while the last couple of games were very good, most fans were left wondering where their team had disappeared to.

But it was a great season and not just on the ice. As Kevin has already said very well over on, no real Sabres fan can honestly say he came away from this season empty-handed. It's been said over and over, and I really don't know how to say it in a way that will make people outside of Buffalo understand or appreciate it, but the Sabres have become such a huge community thing over the past couple of seasons that it's mind-boggling. You could walk through any part of town and feel a buzz in the air on game days. Everyone walked a little lighter after a victory, everyone was a touch subdued after a loss. During the playoffs, thousands of people stood outside the arena and watched the game on a big screen TV because they wanted to be a part of things, they wanted to feel the incredible energy and community. For crying out loud, 10,000 people sat in HSBC Arena to watch a game that was going on in Ottawa! Ten thousand! The Sabres were the hot topic of conversation. I'm amazed at all the people I had hockey talk with over the course of the season - fellow passengers on the bus, the anti-social bus driver (the only time we ever spoke to each other), cashiers in stores, customers at the second job, and most amazingly to me, my students.

I've worked with 6th graders for 5 years now, and I've never, ever talked hockey with any of them. It just wasn't on their radar. We'd talk about football and basketball some (as much as I could since I'm a casual fan of football at best and not the slightest bit interested in basketball). We'd occasioanlly even get baseball in there though most of them were barely interested. Never talked about hockey though, not until this year. The interest was helped along by the previously mentioned Dylan, an awesome little hockey player himself and a real fan of the game. The two of us would sit down at breakfast every morning and talk about the previous night's game, upcoming opponents and amazing (or amazingly terrible) plays and eventually the other kids started to get sucked in. (If you're wondering why I eat with the kids every morning and why it sounds like there are so few of them it's because I work at a program for emotionally disturbed kids - highly supervised, very good staff to student ratio.) Most of them didn't turn into experts but they all knew whether the Sabres had won or lost, they'd all seen highlights on the news (some of them don't have cable so watching the games were out), and they all had favorite players - Danny Briere is very big with the sixth grade crowd - enter joke here about how it's because he looks like he could fit right in with them. The Sabres were a great talking point and a real bonding ritual with a bunch of kids that have been through hell in their short lives and are often reluctant to give any adult around them any part of themselves and boy, this is starting to sound extremely cheesy, but I'll always be grateful for that. And you know what's even better? The Monday morning after the team was eliminated the kids still wanted to talk about the Sabres at breakfast. What was it like to be at the game? Is Danny going to stay? Were there a lot of people outside? Is Danny going to stay? Did you cry when they lost? Ryan Miller is the best goalie in the world and I can't believe that loser Emery gets to play in the Finals! (They might've had some... uh, adult influence on that one...) Do you think we're still going to be really good next season? And hey, Heather, IS DANNY GOING TO STAY?!

So while I'm sure there are plenty of bandwagon fans who have spent the past week ripping the flags off their cars, tossing out their player posters, and listing their commemorative medallions on ebay, I know this current Sabres team has grown a lot of new fans who will stick with the team and the sport and that can only be a good thing, you know?

I told my kids during the first round that if the Sabres won the Stanley Cup, I was going to get a tattoo in celebration. A few days after the team's elimination, one of them asked me if I was still going to go through with the tattoo. "I don't know," I said, "the deal was they had to win it all which they didn't do." He thought about that for a long second and finally said, "I think you should get it anyway." "Yeah?" "Yeah. I mean, it's not like you don't still love the team, right?"

Right. Out of the mouth of babes and all.

Go Sabres!

Friday, May 25, 2007

I'm a 'Tri Hugger

I don't know if every sports fan has that one guy that they kind of inexplicably like and root for even when she can't really explain why or if it's just me, but that's totally how I feel about Dmitri Kalinin. I don't know what it is, but I like the guy and the more people attack him, the more that kicks in. Over the past couple of years - this last year in particular - I've developed a strangely maternal protectiveness toward him. I just want to find him and hug him some days.

Here's the thing: I get why some people would like to move him. He's probably never going to be the top 2 guy he was supposed to be when he came to Buffalo. He clearly lacks self-confidence and no matter how much he seems to build up, one mistake is often enough to undo everything. The boy totally unravels. One mistake turns into a bad game which turns into two bad games which turns into a week or more of struggle. It's extremely frustrating for me, and I like 'Tri. I can't imagine how frustrating it is to people who don't like him to begin with.

I don't really understand how and why Kalinin has become the team scapegoat though. The second he made a bad play in the Ottawa series, message boards blew up with threads about trading him, about cutting him, about doing bodily harm to him (exaggeration on the part of overly passionate fans I'm hoping), and I don't get it. Yes, it was a terrible turnover. Yes, it led directly to a goal. But guess what? It wasn't the first time in the playoffs that a terrible turnover or penalty led to a goal for the opposition. 'Tri was one of our best players down the stretch. He was one of the only players not named Ryan Miller who showed up every night of the first two rounds. His diving lifting of the stick move against Ryan Smyth (I think) was one of the best defensive plays from anyone in blue and gold in the postseason. I suppose it's a cumulative thing - fans have watched him come undone one too many times now - but overall he had a much stronger postseason than many of his teammates. Derek Roy, a guy I usually love watching, was absolutely brutal. Jason Pominville mostly looked flat and disinterested. Can we give those two a little of the venom being spit at Kalinin. Please? It would make me feel so much better.

I suspect this is one instance where the female part of "female sports fan" really starts to poke through because I just feel for the guy. I like him. He doesn't do many interviews, but when he does he always comes across as very shy and unsure of himself. He clearly doesn't have the confidence in his English that the other Europeans on the team have. He looks desperate to get the interview with over as soon as possible. Like I said before, I just want to hug him and tell him how adorable he is. Is that so wrong, people? Is it?

This is why I can't do those player profiles many blogs do in the off-season. My entry on 'Tri would look something like this.


Struggles with confidence
Unravels easily

Quietly consistent
Improved offensive instincts
Adorably shy
Self-concious English speaker
Seems huggable

Hey, maybe I should be writing these things. Atleast they'd be different.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dear Ryan Miller...

Dear Ryan,

Back when Marty Biron was traded, most people agreed that it needed to happen - he was getting paid an awful lot to cheerlead from the bench - but there were some rumblings from certain quarters. Rumblings that maybe you needed to know Marty was behind you to take over if your play slipped. Rumblings that you were too soft, too prone to getting tired halfway through the season to be relied on so heavily. Rumblings that the fragile kid who cried after losing in his hometown a few years ago was still too much a a part of you, that you hadn't quite grown up enough. Rumblings that you could be maddeningly inconsistent - great one game, soft the next. Heck, sometimes great one SHOT, soft the next. When the powers that be traded Marty everyone understood that they were saying, "Ryan Miller is the man we want in goal. We believe in him." We all waited to see if you would answer the bell.

Well, you answered the freakin' bell all right. You answered your bell and the bell of every single one of your teammates for most of the playoffs. Listen, us Buffalo fans, we're in a weird emotional state right now. I have about a million feelings jumping around. I'm frustrated that the coaching staff watched the powerplay struggle all season and seemed to feel it would be just fine in the playoffs - one powerplay goal in two of the Ottawa games potentially changes the outcome. I'm angry that the team who swore it was playing all season for the playoffs looked so damn uninterested for most of them, finally waking up when it was too late to do much but fight the good fight. I'm happy that they were able to wake up a put up a fight. I'm optimistic about the future of the team. All that "the Sabres must win now before Drury and/or Briere" stuff the media has been trying to feed us all year is bollocks. There's plenty of young talent on the team and it's possible that they just weren't ready this year. But mostly I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed that such a wonderful season came to such an unenthusiastic thud of an ending.

But you, Ryan... You were the bright spot. You were the joy for every Buffalo fan. You're the guy I feel disappointed for because you absolutely deserve to still be playing. I would almost loan you to Ottawa for the next round because you should be in the Cup Finals. (And anyone in Ottawa who wouldn't take that deal is an idiot. They got the win, but I think we can now definitively say that yes, you ARE that much better than Emery.) You deserved so much better than what you got from your team, even if you would never admit that in public. The Senators defense repeatedly bailed out Emery, making sure they were there when he needed them. Too often you were an island.

Thank you for showing up every night. Thank you for fighting even when no one else in blue and gold seemed very interested in doing so. Thank you for keeping the team in every game of every series. Thank you for standing in front of your locker after all of those games and answering question after question while some of your teammates - even one with a letter on his chest - refused to do so. Thank you for taking responsibilty for losses even though you would've been perfectly within your rights to point the finger of blame at the guys around you. Thank you for stepping up when it mattered, on the ice and off. Thank you for giving us your best, for giving us everything in you. Believe me, we know it and we appreciate it.

Have a great off-season. Try not to think about hockey too much. Training camp will be here before you know it. I, for one, am glad to know you'll be back between the pipes and I hope you're there for a long time to come.

Hey, how do you feel about quarterbacking the powerplay next season? Just something to think about...

Heather B.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Did I Say I Liked Ottawa?


1. I cannot stand Bryan Murray. I can't look at him. I can't listen to him. I have no logical explanation, I just don't like the guy. I get a knot in my stomach thinking about him having a Stanley Cup before Lindy Ruff.

2. I cannot stand Ray Emery. I can't look at him. I can't listen to him. I cannot read or listen to one more report about what a good goalie he is now. Because he isn't. He isn't a good goalie. He's a totally average goalie who would look ridiculous some nights if he played on a team with a defense that isn't as strong as Ottawa's.

3. I hate it when teams win a series on the visitor's ice. I was torn between wanting to hang around and salute my team after the handshakes and wanting to run so I wouldn't have to watch the carpet and tables being rolled out. Ottawa, the least you could've done was win in your own barn. You bastards!

4. Buffalo fans need company in the world of Repeatedly Watching Your Team Get Near a Championship and Then Having it Slip Through Its Fingers. Why should Ottawa win a championship before us? It's not fair!

5. I cannot stand Ray Emery. I can't look at him. I can't listen to him. Ryan Miller should be playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, dammit!

We'll have to wait until the Finals actually begin to see which post I meant more - the pro-Ottawa or the anti-Ottawa.


(More coherent, less vitriol thoughts later.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

You Never Know...

The Buffalo News has been printing full page posters of the Sabres throughout the playoffs. I have all of the weekday posters hanging outside of my classroom at school and one of the teachers in the building (I'm but a lowly aide) laminated and hung some of the posters on the columns in the cafeteria. When I sit in my usual seat at my class's table, I'm looking right at Derek Roy. At breakfast Wednesday I turned to Dylan, one of my students, and said, "Dyl, I cannot look at Derek Roy for another meal. He's making me nauseous." Dylan, who really follows the team and understood my frustration with Roy, laughed and then suggested that after everyone left the cafeteria we change all the posters on the column next to our table which sounded like a great idea to me. We switched Derek Roy for Ryan Miller (an excellent trade if I do say so myself) and also moved Campbell, Afinogenov, and Drury to our column. (No Tallinder or Connolly available or I would've insisted on them.) In the process of all that switching, tons of players moved all over the place. So clearly Dylan and I are responsible for the awesome penalty killing, the surprise power play goal, and the victory. We won't take credit for the amazing goaltending since it's been there all along. The dilemma today was this: Was the victory a result of the posters all being in the perfect spot or the result of the moving around itself? Should we leave them as they were or move everyone again? We decided to leave them all where they were so if the penalty kill suddenly sucks on Saturday, I'm ready to take full blame. The great thing about sports fans is that almost everyone I talked to about the game today had some story like the above - the one little thing they did that absolutely changed the course of the Sabres and will therefore not be changed before Saturday. We're ridiculous sometimes, aren't we?

Twenty-four hours ago I was just hoping the Sabres wouldn't be embarrassed while they were being eliminated. Now I'm actually feeling like they might have a chance. If we win on Saturday I think the pressure moves from us to Ottawa. Everyone will want them to wrap up the series in game 6 before the series is tied and back in Buffalo for game 7. How sick am I? I know I'm setting myself up for disappointment but what can I say? Hope springs eternal.

Good things that happened in game 4:

Ryan Miller continued his phenomenal play. I don't know if there's anything I can say about Ryan that I haven't already said. Unlike the rest of the team, he's been bringing his A game for the entire postseason. I definitely feel a Ryan-centric post coming on after the season is over. Regardless of what happens in this series, Buffalo fans have to feel good about having him between the pipes for the next few years.

We scored a powerplay goal! Yes, it was on a 5 on 3, but that hasn't really meant a whole lot to us this season. In fact, we were often twice as bad on 5 on 3s. At this point any positive that happens with a man advantage has to be considered a morale booster.

Derek Roy finally looked more like the Derek Roy I love watching. I've said before that I felt part of the team's struggles this postseason could be attributed to the difference between Roy's performance in the playoffs last season and his performance in the playoffs this season. In game 4, from what I saw which was admittedly not a whole lot since I was at work (grrrr), he was a bundle of energy, skating all over the place but without constantly turning over the puck and taking dumb penalties. I'm sure it was hard to even think about breaking up the RAV line while it was rolling through the regular season, but I really like Roy on Drury's wing. He should be stapled there next season. Welcome back, Derek!

The penalty kill was freakin' awesome. Ottawa is now 0 for their last 12 on the powerplay. Special teams have been the difference in every game in the series - one more powerplay goal for us or one less powerplay goal for Ottawa and every game is potentially different - so the penalty kill playing well is huge.

The Spezza line was kept off the scoresheet for the first time in quite a while. I don't expect that to happen every night - I'm optimistic, not crazy - but again, considering how dominant that line has been throughout the playoffs, shutting them down for a game has to be considered a confidence booster.

We finally scored a ridiculous goal on Ray Emery - the game-winner no less. Hopefully that will kick us into gear, reminding the team that, "Hey, this guy isn't really that good. Why aren't we shooting on him more?" I know some Ottawa fans are having a coniption fit right now, but come on. Are you honestly going to tell me that Emery has had even one great game this series? He's getting the wins and in the end I suppose that's what matters most, but he's largely a product of the teriffic defense in front of him. Right now he's also getting a lot of help from a Buffalo team that would rather make a pass than take an imperfect shot. I can't count how many times a defender has bailed Emery out while he was lying on his back or out of position while the puck was still kicking around. Before this series I kept hearing Ottawa supporters argue that Miller isn't that much better than Emery. No matter what happens in game 5, I think we've established that yes, Miller is that much better than Emery. That much better and more.

Best thing about Saturday's game? I'm going to be watching it live from HSBC Arena! No more of this "straining to hear the radio while ringing up groceries for freaks who shop during playoff hockey" garbage for me!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Blogger Ate My Homework

I had a truly amazing post written about last night's game, but Blogger ate it. Thanks, Blogger! Anyway, I have to go grab a nap before reporting to job numero dos so you guys are just going to have to hold off until tomorrow. I know, I know.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Good Wishes From Me to You, Ottawa

I would never, ever admit this during the series with Ottawa if I didn't have to - especially a series as embarrassing as the current one has been - but the truth is, ever since I've watched hockey, I've had kind of a soft spot for the Ottawa Senators. That's wavered a tiny bit here and there this season, but the affection still exists. So for Sherry and the First Blogger Playoff Pool, here's my pro-Ottawa post.


1. Dany Heatley. Dany Heatley is one of my favorite guys to watch in the league. Some people have criticized him in the past for a lack of defensive play - though that would be an awfully tough assertion to make right now - but I don't really care. Offensively, he is absolutely amazing. He does what he does as well as anyone else in the NHL. How much fun did I have watching him and Danny Briere play on the same line together during the All-Star game this year? A ton. Heatley is one of a handful of guys who really scares me when he gets the puck. I hold my breath from the time he picks it up until the time he no longer has it and considering his manhandling of the Sabres over the past couple of seasons, I'm often letting my breath out with the puck in the back of our net. Love, love, love watching Heater play.

(Sidenote to every fan, Buffalo or otherwise, who insists on calling Heatley a murderer and other witty comments along those lines: Shut the hell up. Would Heatley have spent time in jail if he wasn't in the NHL? Yeah, probably. Does the lack of jail time make it any easier to live with the idea that he bears some responsibility for his best friend's death? Somehow I doubt that. Do you have the right to be outraged when Dan Snyder's family has been nothing but gracious and forgiving? No, you do not. Again: Shut the hell up.)

2. Daniel Alfredsson. I'm still a little peeved about his comments regarding Henrik Tallinder (see the below posts for more because this is a negativity free post), but I'll get over it and seriously, how can anyone not be happy for Alfie? The guy has taken the brunt of criticism from fans and media for Ottawa's past postseason failures. Some of that was certainly justified - his play did tend to suffer once the regular season ended, he did often look nervous and tense, and a team does take cues from its leader - but geez, you'd think he roasted and ate babies for all the garbage he's taken. While I hate the fact that he's destroying my team, I'm so happy to see him flying with confidence in the postseason. I don't know what changed, but he's clearly relaxed and, maybe for the first time in his playoff career, having fun. I don't know how anyone who calls themselves a hockey fan can not be impressed. He's just at another level and an absolute joy to watch right now. When Rod Brind'Amour was presented with the Cup last year, I was pissed for reasons I won't go into right now, especially since I'm not sure there's any logic behind them anyway. If Ottawa wins though... I'll stand up and cheer when Alfie lifts the Cup up over his head. Hell, I might even cry. He'll have worked through a lot of crap to get there and if it happens, it'll be more than deserved. (I really miss his hair though.)

3. I feel some kinship with Ottawa fans. While no city can top the tortured sports history of Buffalo - four straight Super Bowl losses, Wide Right, No Goal, a plague on the defensive corp just to name a few - Ottawa has watched an extremely talented Senators team dominate the regular season and waste away in the playoffs for a few years now. I'm genuinely distraught at watching a Sabres team with so much talent looking so panicked and defeated and Senators fans have done this for a multiple years. Geez, how have you guys survived? Ottawa is the fanbase I would most like to see get the Cup. Eleven people in Anaheim would celebrate a finals win (hyperbole, Anaheim fans), Detroit has done more than enough celebrating for a while (and also - Dominik Hasek). Ottawa fans understand the struggle and heartbreak involved in getting to the end game. They understand what a special and fleeting thing a championship is, how everything has to line up just so at exactly the right time. Ottawa fans would get the beauty and joy and they'd embrace it like few other fanbases in the league right now. If it can't be Buffalo, I'm okay with it being Ottawa.

4. The Senators deserve it, plain and simple. They're getting a little help from a flat, panicky Sabres team, but there's no doubt that they're playing great hockey right now. Everyone's doing his part, they're really playing as a team and helping each other out, and they're doing everything right. On the couple of occasions that Buffalo took it to them, Ottawa went in the lockerroom, straightened themselves out and came back on the ice stronger and focused on getting back in the game. I'm still not super impressed with Emery (whoops - my negativity alarm is sounding!), but I cannot say enough good things about the defense playing around him. If Emery makes even the slightest mistake, someone is right there to bail him out. I have a very strong feeling that Buffalo never would've pulled off the goal that Ottawa scored in game 3 because the second the Sens realized Emery was out of position and the puck was doing flukey things, there would've been a swarm to the net. Somebody would've been trying to tie up the offensive player in front of the net, somebody would've been fighting to get to the puck, and somebody would've been guarding the net until Emery was back where he needed to be. The Sabres - as they have throughout the playoffs - left Miller all alone. The Senators are in this thing together and that's awesome to watch.

5. If Ottawa wins the Cup, there'll be a lot of cranky, pissed off Toronto fans in the world. How can anyone not want that? They can say what they want about being happy to have the Cup in Canada - I'm not buying it.

I'll admit, under the current circumstances, I had a much tougher time sitting down and writing this post than I should have. It's just a stupid pool after all! But I would like to assure any Senators fans who wander this way that despite the difficulty involved, I really do mean every word. If we can't do it, I hope you guys do.

Monday, May 14, 2007


My blog and I are officially in mourning.

We're in mourning for the team that was so pissed last season when the defensemen started dropping like flies in the Eastern Conference Finals, feeling like that series should've been theirs.

We're in mourning for that baby-faced team that lost but lost while leaving their heart and guts on the ice.

We're in mourning for the team that started the regular season on a vicious winning streak, taking down everything in its path.

We're in mourning for the team that insisted that the torrid start didn't mean anything - that the regular season as a whole didn't mean anything. The only thing that mattered was the playoffs.

We're in mourning for the team that used to play the man advantage like it was, well, an ADVANTAGE, though it's admittedly been a while since we saw that team.

We're in mourning for the loss of Jay McKee doing whatever it took to keep pucks away from his goalie to the point where he practically was a second goalie. Why did we give Jaroslav Spacek 3.3 million instead of him again?

Speaking of goalies, we're in mourning for the fact that Ryan Miller, the one guy who has shown effort and heart every damn night and has bothered to sound pissed at the team's play, has had to put up with this shitty team for the duration of the playoffs. (And I'm friggin' pissed at Ottawa for jeering him tonight since he was awesome.)

We're in mourning for the team that seemed to like scoring goals and understood that that required occasionally shooting the puck.

We're in mourning for the co-captains who seemed willing and able to put the team on their back when necessary. Who are these guys wearing the letters on their chests lately? You know, the ones taking stupid penalties and making terrible passes?

We're in mourning for the team that seemed to care about the outcome of the game unlike the current squad that just doesn't seem that interested in playing all that hard.

What happened to those guys?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Suck It, Alfie

I was feeling a little more generous toward Daniel Alfredsson today until I saw that Hank is still feeling pretty sore and might not play tomorrow night and that Alfredsson said the hit was fine and he felt like Hank was looking for a call. I'll be pretty happy to get Nathan Paetsch in on the powerplay, but losing Hank would be a terrible blow. I'd rather lose any other defensemen on the roster. And while I don't expect Alfredsson or any other player to stand up and say, "It was a stupid, unsafe hit and I'm sorry" - though it would be a nice change of pace - it really bothers me that he would question the integrity of a guy like Tallinder. He hit the boards pretty hard, he's broken the same bone in his arm twice on similar hits, and he has absolutely no reputation for embellishment or dramatics. He came back on the ice because it was overtime of the #$@!$% playoffs. Suck it, Alfie.

Hopefully Hank will be feeling okay tomorrow.

Sabres-Sens Recap: The Silver Lining Edition

First, let me get the negativity out of the way.

I can't even tell you how impressed I've been with Ryan Miller during the postseason thus far. On the ice and off the ice, he's conducted himself as a real leader. He's stood up after every game and answered every question, he refused to get into a war of words with any of the Rangers even when reporters were obviously trying to drag him into one, and he's played at a level that many of his teammates have yet to find from the beginning of the playoffs. He's the one guy who has played like he wanted to win from the word go. But his griping about the penalties last night was unbecoming. The calls on Campbell and Zubrus that led to Ottawa's 5 on 3 were not great calls. And the non-call on Alfredsson, especially in light of the previous calls, was HORRIBLE. But honestly, what was the team going to do with another powerplay? You cannot go 0 for 7 on the powerplay and complain that the refs lost you the game. One powerplay goal turns the game around and neutralizes Ottawa's much more efficient special teams.

One of the biggest differences between last season's playoff run and this season's playoff run is the play of Derek Roy. He was a fiery little dynamo last year and this year he's been playing some really stupid, ugly hockey. He was a little better last night if you overlook the dumb high sticking penalty, but overall I feel like he's killing his line. Max and Vanek were both strong last night, but Derek is just not playing at their level. I don't know if you bench starters at this point, but I'd really like to see Stafford in the game somehow. Atleast he'll play hard for 60 minutes and we know he'll punch Chris Neil in the face if need be which is always a nice bonus.

I heard it mentioned again last night that the Sabres often feel pressure to "perform" for the home fans. Guys, listen... I love a pretty goal as much as the next fan, but all I really want to see is the puck go in the net. I feel pretty good saying that most of Buffalo agrees with me. I don't care if you bounce it off someone's head, if it goes in, I'm a happy, satisfied fan. Which reminds me, please for the LOVE OF GOD, SHOOT THE PUCK. You put lots of shots on the net in the first period. You put a pathetic number of shots in the next two periods and on all the powerplays. THAT SHOULD TELL YOU SOMETHING! Shooting a lot on Emery ----> Good things happen. Not shooting a lot on Emery ----> Nothing happens.

I still do not understand the startling lack of effort or desperation in most of the third period and the first overtime. If we lose this series, it's going to be pretty tough to say we didn't deserve to.

All that said, for some reason I'm still feeling very optimistic. (My husband: "You obviously didn't grow up in Buffalo.") I have no doubt that this team is totally capable of taking two games from Ottawa, even in Ottawa. Both of the first two games could've gone either way, even with us playing poorly for large stretches of time. If the Rangers can tie up a series after going down two games, by golly, so can we.

Which leads me to the silver lining portion of my post:

Danny Briere finally looked like Danny Briere last night. Even before the game-tying goal, he was buzzing around and looking for the puck in a way he didn't seem to be doing in the last few games.

Max has clearly taken his benching to heart. He had one dangerous turnover last night which is a great night for him. Vanek also looked really good. Ottawa has no answer for this line so if we can get Derek to stop taking dumb penalties, they can make a huge difference in the series.

Ryan, despite the (justified) criticism of a couple of the goals last night, is still playing very well. For the two soft goals he let in, he made three or four major saves. He's the only reason the game didn't end in the first overtime because Ottawa really controlled the play and he stood up to them. When the rest of the team finally realizes that Ryan alas, can't score goals as well as stop them, they might be okay.

Tallinder played Alfredsson more aggressively after the boarding. He didn't give him quite so much room to work with and he even shoved him around a little bit. Hopefully that carries over into the next game because the only weakness in Hank's game is that he isn't very physical and while we're hitting Ottawa, we're not hitting them when it matters.

Last night showed again that we are a better team 5 on 5. Let's work on staying 5 on 5, shall we?

So bandwagoners, get lost! Pessimists, go cry in your beer in private! For all you believers, let's go Buff-a-lo!

ETA this preview of Chris's lockerroom pep talk Monday. Totally ridiculous but it gave me a much needed laugh.

Another Saturday Night

I'm supposed to be writing a pro-Ottawa entry as part of a blogger's playoff pool I'm in (winner of each round gets to pick three other bloggers to write something nice about his or her team) but it's going to have to wait. I had pretty much narrowed the entry down to how much I like Daniel Alfredsson and how happy I am that he's playing well in the postseason this year, but that was before he blatantly boarded my favorite player in a vicious display of Swede-on-Swede violence. I think the calls on Campbell and Zubrus to set up Ottawa's 5 on 3 were chintzy but hey, whatever. But how the freaking hell do you call those two penalties - especially Campbell's roughing which had nothing to do with the play - and not call boarding on Alfredsson? Our powerplay sucks - at one point in the game the powerplay music started and the crowd went nuts and I turned to my husband and said, "Should we really be cheering?" to which he responded, "Probably not" - butgeez, it's nice to know the health and safety of the players mean so much these days. That's only our best defensemen crumpled in a heap on the ice.

So yeah... Alfie and I are not on good terms right now. The pro-Ottawa thing is going to have to wait and really at this point, I'm down to writing about how much I like their uniforms. Which I don't really like that much.

I just... I don't even know what to say. Part of me is thrilled that the boys did fight back and tie the game up, but part of me is absolutely appalled at the sloppy, nonchalant mess we got for almost all of the third period. Why couldn't they play the way they did in the last 16 seconds for the last thirty minutes? Or perhaps even an entire sixty minutes? Part of me is pissed at Lindy for letting the powerplay stay so bad ALL freakin' season though honestly I'm not sure what else he should do, but part of me thinks this is way beyond Lindy. He can't make guys play like they care. Part of me is cranky with Ryan for some of the goals he let in, but part of me - more of me, really - is annoyed with the team for putting him in a position where he has to win every game for us. Good lord, SHOOT THE PUCK! And that goes double for you, ROY! The one thing both sides of me agree on is that Drew Stafford needs to get in game three somehow. I don't care if we put him on defense at this point.

So... down 2-0, headed back to Ottawa. It's not impossible - we've shown (in spurts) that we can play with Ottawa, we've been a very good road team all season, and it's not like teams have never come back from a 2-0 deficit - Carolina did it last season against Montreal and we all know how things ended for them. But taking 4 of 5 from Ottawa is definitely what I'd call a tall order. That said, show a little optimism for once in your lives, Buffalo fans. You might even like it!

And now for something completely different... HEATHER'S RULES FOR BUYING AND WEARING YOUR NHL JERSEY.

1. Do not tuck your jersey in. This makes you look stupid. If you're wearing an Afinogenov jersey, a half tuck is acceptable.

2. Do not buy a jersey and put your own name on it. This also makes you look stupid. If you really must wear a jersey with your name on it,atleast refrain from assigning yourself a letter. This makes you look really stupid.

3. Do not pair a player with a jersey he's never worn. A Danny Briere white vintage? No. A Gilbert Perreault slug? Hell no.

4. A player must be gone for atleast 3 years before it's okay to wear his jersey again. I really want to say 5 so I'm being generous here. I love Jay McKee but I don't know, he's still active and on another team. Pony up for a current jersey or wear a t-shirt. This doesn't really make you look stupid, I just don't like it.

5. Dare to be different. If Ryan Miller is really your favorite player (and I wouldn't question that, especially lately) go for it. But if Ty Conklin is your favorite player, then wear his name loud and proud.

A special thumbs up from me if your jersey is that of a defensemen. Two thumbs up if it's a defensemen not named Campbell. I assure you it's total coincidence that I happen to fall into both of those categories.

All right, now that my husband is asleep it's safe for me to go to bed. I've heard enough talk about curses and Buffalo for one evening.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Is It Thursday Night Yet?

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?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Way It's Mean to Be

NOW the playoffs are really beginning. Islanders, it was fun, thanks for the warm-up. Rangers, nice job, you had me a little worried there for a few games. But Ottawa... Oh yes, Ottawa. Brad Riter said it about a million times on the radio this afternoon, but it's true: Doesn't it feel like the whole season has been leading to Buffalo and Ottawa duking it out for the right to move on to the Cup finals? Starting with Buffalo beating Ottawa in the playoffs last year, moving onto to Ottawa's dominance of Buffalo throughout most of the regular season, and of course the Chris Neil hit on Chris Drury and all the craziness that followed... It's all led to here.

It appears we'll have a few days before the next series starts so I'll probably post some more in-depth thoughts later, but here's my first, gut instinct when thinking about this match-up: It's all about the goaltending. If both teams play at their highest level, things are pretty even. Both teams have multiple lines that can score, and good skating, mobile defenses. Both teams can play wide open hockey, both teams can tighten things up defensively when necessary. I reallly think the series comes down to goaltending and in that case, I like our chances. Emery is a good goalie - definitely better than he was a year ago - but I don't think he's going to play as well as DiPietro did in the first round and I know he's not going to play as well as Lundqvist did in the second round. Emery has the flashy shutouts but Miller is locked in and ready to go. He did a wonderful job against a dangerous Rangers offense and I know he'll do the same against the Senators. I don't think Emery has been challenged too much yet and I think this is the series where we see how far he's really come.

Should be a good one for sure, hockey fans

Friday, May 4, 2007

Captain Clutch

Geez. I am not sleeping tonight. More when I'm feeling coherent.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Paging the Buffalo Sabres...

That goal review was bull. Complete and utter bull. I don't see how there was any question about whether or not the puck went over the line. The game should've been tied and we should've seen some overtime hockey.

That said, I'm getting a little tired of saying, "We didn't even play that well and the Rangers still barely beat us" because you know what? All that really matters is that they beat us. Why are we only playing ten minutes a night? Why?! The Rangers are playing about as well as they can and barely beating us, yes. We are capable of playing much better, yes. But we have to actually do it! I didn't see most of the game tonight so I am basing this on what little I saw and what I've read from other people, but I really expected to see a totally different team tonight. I would love to say that the boys are going to come out firing Friday night, jacked up and pissed off about their lackluster performance in NYC, but looking at them tonight, they don't seem to care. They look totally indifferent. Where oh where is my team of young, passionate players, burned by getting so close last year and bound and determined to win it all this year? Because I'm really missing them.

I know the Shanahan goal was the result of some miscommunication between defensemen behind the net, but I think the defense has been very solid this series, especially Tallinder and Lydman. They've done a very good job of containing a dangerous offensive team with some huge help from Miller, of course. It's time for the offense to step the hell up. Throw some bodies around, fight for the puck, pay attention to what jersey the guy you're passing to is wearing, shoot the puck and for crying out loud DO IT FOR SIXTY MINUTES. Geez. I'm dying here.