Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Got a Rock

Watching this game in person was the equivalent of Charlie Brown's Halloween. Lots of other fans got pretty goals, impressive goaltending and shiny wins. I got a rock.

More tomorrow when I'm not tired and homicidal.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The NHL Confuses Me

Okay, here's one thing I don't get about the NHL:

Walking down the hallway and screaming and swearing at opponent = $2,500 fine

Major boarding penalty = $100 fine

Neither fine is particularly damaging to these guys' wallets and I am in no way endorsing Adam Mair's actions - he totally lost control of himself - but seriously, which one of the above infractions is potentially more damaging to the opposing player? I'm sure these guys swear at each other for 60 plus minutes. The only difference here is that Mair was screaming at players in street clothes.

I am the first person to criticize Fox's baseball coverage. I think it's consistently awful. But they did a really cool thing tonight after the Series clinching strike out. They replayed that last strike over and over, each time with the camera focused on a different Philadelphia player. First they replayed it with the focus on Brad Lidge, then they replayed it with the focus on Ryan Howard and they went around the field, into the dugout and even up in the owner's box. No musical cues, no commentary from the talking heads, just the sound of the crowd and the players celebrating over and over. It was really neat to see everyone's different immediate reactions. Mark and I decided when the Sabres win the Stanley Cup we want to see this although it is admittedly easier to do with baseball where all the players are in stationary positions waiting for the pitch.

Congratulations, Philadelphia! I guess.

Evil Might Be Afoot, Buffalo!

I'll be honest, I've struggled to get into a blogging groove so far this season. I'm not worried or anything - we're still early in and I definitely got out of the habit of blogging every day in the summer - but some nights it's been a battle to get some coherent thoughts down.

At first I thought maybe it was the varying game times. I'd definitely gotten into a routine for game watching and post-game blogging last season but that routine centered around a 7:00/7:30 start time. Every time we've had a couple of those times in a row this season we've suddenly had a 2:00 or 8:00 or 9:00 dropped in the middle.

And then I opened the online version of the Buffalo News this morning and I figured out what is really responsible for my slow-to-come mojo.

Bucky Gleason.

Seriously. Did you read Bucky's column about Buffalo being awarded the World Juniors? It's so friggin' HAPPY! He compliments the Sabres ownership group! He says nice things about TOM GOLISANO! And he's been like this all season! He likes the individual players! He likes the team as a whole! He's excited about the future of the franchise! He's being kind of funny and a little tiny bit self-deprecating!

This was fine for the week or so leading up to the season and after the first few games. I could enjoy that. I was right, Bucky was wrong and even he had to admit it albeit it in a way that totally avoided admitting he'd been wrong about anything. But now things have gone on too long and I'm starting to feel a little discombobulated. I practically built Top Shelf on ripping Bucky Gleason. Bucky Gleason writing stupid things is the very foundation of everything else. What's a girl to do when her arch rival suddenly goes straight? What would Superman do if Lex Luthor started pouring his millions of dollars into underfunded schools and the local arts? What would Batman do if Joker started walking little old ladies across the street and volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club? And didn't kill any of the little kids?!

Actually I've read enough comic books in my day to know the answer to this: They'd be suspicious. Reaaaaal suspicious. Even Superman, the big blue boy scout, would wonder what all those good deeds were leading to, what nefarious scheme Lex was cooking up. I can only hope Bucky is working on something really dastardly. When it breaks, I'll be here to watch over you, Buffalo.

I'm on to you, Gleason. (Please click to enlarge and read. It's worth it.)

Monday, October 27, 2008


Here's the truth about me, Heather B. As far as rivals go, I really like the Ottawa Senators. I love Dany Heatley, Anton Volchenkov and Mike Fisher and even though I held a grudge for quite a while after his blatant boarding of Henrik Tallinder, I even like Daniel Alfredsson again. Oh, sure there are Senators I hate - Chris Neil for obvious reasons, Jason Spezza for reasons unknown even to me - but I'm pretty okay with most of them. I've also never met a Senators fan I didn't like. Anytime I've seen the Senators play at HSBC their fans have been friendly and good-natured. At the draft we sat next to an Ottawa fan who spent almost all of the first round trying to tell Pookie and Schnookie that Brian Gionta is really good and the Devils aren't all that bad and he refused to give up even though they could not be convinced. In a league that is increasingly defensive, the Sabres and Senators usually still have very offense-driven, wide open games. I think they're fun.

That established, I've been getting a huge kick out of Ottawa continuing their struggles from the second half of last season and I was super excited about them coming to Buffalo while we were playing so much better than them. I hate losing to them. This was... not the game I anticipated.

In some ways I guess it was bound to happen. Once again the Sabres had gotten a little comfortable with playing off and on in the first forty minutes and turning it on in the last twenty and tonight it finally bit them in the ass because they put themselves in a five goal hole instead of a two goal hole. They were just on a road trip that involved traveling across time zones and getting back in town early, early, early yesterday morning. I think they also might have finally hit the wall as far as injuries go. A couple of seasons ago we lost a lot of bodies at one time and adrenaline and energy carried the day for a period of time before missing so many starters finally caught up with them and they started to struggle. The Sabres are currently without three centers and two defensemen which is certainly enough to make a difference most nights. And then ... well... some nights just stink. Over the course of 82 games it happens. There's also the inexplicable fact that Alex Auld is some kind of Sabres killer. Seriously, I feel like we've never, ever beat that guy. Mark and I both groaned when we saw he was starting in net tonight.

But still. Did it have to be Ottawa?

The thing I find the most annoying is that while the Senators certainly outplayed us, they didn't look that good. We set the bar pretty low. Three of their goals came directly off horrible turnovers and while yes, good for them for capitalizing on those turnovers generally we do a better job of not clearing the puck softly in front of our own goalie, Jaro. No hustle, no fight, no passion. Once the score was 5-0 Mark changed the channel which rarely happens in our house. Hopefully this will be a reminder that winning in the NHL requires a sixty minute effort even against teams that are struggling. This was the first real clunker of the season so I'm not going to read too much into things yet.

A few other quick hits:

I think the penalty on Maxim Afinogenov was questionable since he appeared to already be in the wind-up of his shot when the whistle was blown but it's ridiculous that he got a call while Jason Smith got nothing for manhandling him to the ice. I totally understand what Smith was doing but come on. I'm also still not sure why Mike Weber got a penalty for checking the puck carrier.

I know it drives some people crazy when Rob Ray refers to the Sabres as "we" - we need to show more hustle, we're not winning the battles - but it doesn't bother me. I think it's cute. A little unprofessional maybe but cute.

Speaking of Rob, over on Sabres Edge tonight John Vogl mentioned the classic game that was being shown on the jumbotron and around the arena before the game and included a clip. This same game was shown before a Senators game that Mark and I attended last year and while it's a fun game - it features a baby-faced Jay McKee in his very first NHL game - I'm pretty sure it's bad luck. The Ottawa game it showed before last season was the one toward the end of the year where we gave up an 18 goal lead in the last 75 seconds. And then of course it showed before tonight's Ottawa game. I think it's time to retire that particular 1996 game from rotation.

Before we retire it however here's an awesome clip from it. I love Rob, helmet shoved down over his eyes, big grin on his face, high-fiving the goalie as he leaves the ice. And those are some serious punches he's throwing.

I love, love, love the commercial for Roswell (I think - it's some kind of cancer center) with Teppo Numminen. I love that they shoved "TEPPO NUMMINEN" on the front of his jersey even though it goes from one armpit to the other like we wouldn't know who he was if it just said "TEPPO." How many Teppos does Roswell think there are in WNY?

The intermission "interview" with Tom Golisano and Gary Bettman was embarrassing. I realize Bettman was in town for the announcement about the World Junior tournament and that his appearance during the broadcast was a big PR thing but we were basically treated to five minutes of Tom and Gary seeing who could kiss the other's ass more. It was a total waste of time and I actually felt a little bad for Mike Robitaille.

Before tonight the Sabres penalty kill only allowed two power play goals in 34 opportunities. Tonight alone they allowed two more. I'm pretty sure that means the entire Buffalo penalty kill revolves around Henrik Tallinder.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Immature But Funny

I've been a lazy blogger this weekend and now other bloggers have already said the things I would've said so let me sum up:

Not playing a full 60 minutes and putting yourself in a hole = BAD

Having the confidence and mental strength to come back even in the waning minutes of the game = GOOD

Giving up a point that really should have been won = BAD

Earning 3 of 4 points on the road against good teams = GOOD

Henrik Tallinder getting hurt 8 games into the season = BAD

Henrik Tallinder not breaking any bones or lacerating any tendons, arteries, vital organs etc. = GOOD

Participating in what feels like 18 shootouts already = BAD

Doing much better in them than last season = GOOD

Flyers fans throwing stink bombs on the ice = STUPID AND IMMATURE. BUT ALSO A LITTLE BIT FUNNY.

All the hub-bub about Sarah Palin's puck drops: WHO CARES?

Doug Weight's hit on Brandon Sutter: VICIOUS BUT LEGAL.

Doug Weight's hit on Brandon Sutter being legal: BAD

The NHL even pretending to care about hits to the head at this point: AN EFFIN' JOKE

Playing Ottawa Monday night: GOOD. I LOVE PLAYING OTTAWA.

Ottawa currently being 14th in the conference: AHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHA!

This year's Winter Classic jerseys: BAD. AND VERY BAD.

God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch: BAD

Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch: GOOD.

An American Idol commercial using MLB postseason highlights: FOX, YOU ARE SO SHAMELESS THAT IT'S REALLY A LITTLE EMBARRASSING.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I promise I would've said this regardless of the outcome but Ryan Miller dumping the puck into his own net? Easily one of the best things I've ever seen. I've seen some goalie brain farts but that is definitely way up there on the list. Even when I was sure it was the death knell I was rolling on the couch laughing.

I don't know where the heck that win came from but I can tell you this: Henrik Tallinder had the primary assist - a really nice one too - on the game-winning goal and Lindy Ruff said afterwards that he did a great job on that shift. I can sleep a contented and peaceful sleep, resting easy in the knowledge that tonight is not the night Hank will be traded while I dream. Hey, sometimes it's the little things.

More in-depth thoughts tomorrow evening when I don't feel like I'm about to pass out on my keyboard.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quick Hits

From the comments:

I blame you all (particularly Heather and her God-fooling ways) for causing Rivet's knee surgery.

Hold up there, Matty. Captain Craig was hurt BEFORE I wrote this post. I'm not ready to take full blame here. What kind of gods can't take a little good-natured sarcasm?

(But I'm not going to mention Derek Roy scoring/not scoring again just in case.)

Far be it from me to delight in someone being mean to a former Sabre who left me with some pretty negative feelings but I did have a little bit of a chuckle at this comment from a Comcast Sportsnet interview with Jeremy Roenick about whether or not the Sharks miss Brian Campbell:

No, especially when we picked up Boyle,” Roenick said. “A lot of guys on this team would prefer Boyle [for] his overall playing ability. Campbell is an unbelievable hockey player. Probably didn’t play as well as he should have in the playoffs which might have left a bad taste in the fan’s mouth … we wish him the best, but life goes on.

Heh. Most hockey players would probably just roll around in their big fat pile of cash until they felt better but Campbell, he's a sensitive soul. I'm pretty sure he's out there somewhere crying.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Memo to the Hockey Gods

Listen, Hockey Gods. I'm on to you, okay? I write about how I think Henrik Tallinder is going to have a great season and he struggles right out of the gate. I write about how it's kind of tough thinking of things to say about a team that's playing so well and the next day they play a complete clunker. I write about how excited I am about the Sabres perfect penalty kill and the next game they give up a power play goal to friggin' Phil Kessel who is one of those guys that I randomly hate for reasons I can't recall much less relay. Well, guess what Hockey Gods! Two can play this stupid opposite game!

I'm so excited that Derek Roy hasn't scored a goal yet and looks kind of sloppy and all over the place! I wonder how long he can go without a goal! I hope it's a really, really long time!

I'm really enjoying this seemingly new habit of playing half-heartedly for part of the game and spotting the opponent a couple of goals before pulling it together! It's very entertaining! I didn't really like it when we played hard for 60 minutes anyway.

Boy, shootouts are great, aren't they? It'd be awesome if we keep up the pace of half our games finishing that way!

The Boston Bruins are awesome too! I wish we could play them EVERY SINGLE NIGHT!

I love how most of Henrik Tallinder's best plays are made to compensate for the mistake he just made. I mean, who really needs to just make a good play to begin with? That's soooooo boring!

I wish Ryan Miller and Patrick Lalime weren't playing so well! It really takes a lot of the excitement out of the game when you're confident in your goalie. I miss that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach every time an opposing player takes a shot from the blue line.

It was a lot more fun booing Vanek every night and yelling about how much we were paying him. Vanek as a potential bargain? Bor-ing!

Clearly the Sabres are fine without Jochen Hecht. I hope he doesn't come back any time soon. I certainly don't want him back in time for the next game, un-uh, no way. I don't miss him AT ALL.

Really, I hope Derek Roy never scores again! Never! He definitely should not break out with a hat trick because I HATE stopping play so all the hats can be picked up! No, a hat trick would equal death, I think.

So TAKE THAT, Hockey Gods! What are you gonna do about it?!

Monday, October 20, 2008


As I've mentioned here a time or two, I'm a huge fan of good penalty killing. Heck, it was in the newspaper so you know it must be true. I've said it before and I'll say it again: In my very simple mind, the power play seems like it should be easy. You have MORE people on the ice than the other team! And don't even talk to me about 5-on-3s! I will never fathom how you fail to score on a 5-on-3.

But penalty killing, that's the good stuff. You have FEWER men on the ice so it's harder. (I know, you NEVER understood that before now, did you?) Real men kill penalties. Penalty killers have to be smart and in the right position at all times, they have to be quick, ready to strike at a moment's notice and they have to be really, really handsome. Okay, they don't have to be really, really handsome but it certainly can't hurt.

Seriously, I'm a fan of good defense - always have been in every sport - and I think the reason I love penalty killing so much is because it's the only time during a game when defense is the center of attention. It's the only time during a game when good defense - an intercepted pass, a blocked shot, a poke check, a cleared puck - gets applauded, sometimes very enthusiastically. I think it's really interesting to see who the coaching staff wants on the ice killing penalties and I think it's interesting to see how that changes - if it changes - depending on the situation. I don't think it's any coincidence that almost all of my favorite players over the years have been regular penalty killers and I won't deny that I always think a little more of a player who's out on the ice when his team is short-handed and a little less of a player who isn't. That's just my style.

So as you can probably imagine, one of my very favorite things about the Sabres' strong start to the season is their perfect penalty killing. Every night I check the stats at to see who else is still at 100% and I've enjoyed watching teams drop off. We're the last perfect PK in the Eastern Conference - we get a banner for that, right? - but there are still two Western Conference teams sitting at 100% - the Los Angeles Kings (what?!) and the Minnesota Wild. My dream scenario is this: Someone scores on LA's PK in the next couple of nights so when we faceoff against the Wild on Thursday, it's the battle of the last perfect PK units in the NHL. Our power play scores on them and the cheese stands alone, the final enemy going down at our hands. That'd be cool. I'm very, very attached to our perfect PK. I'm going to be very sad when it ends so I think we should just not let it end. Easy enough, right? What's 77 more games?

Okay, this photo is one of the very first results for a Google image search of "penalty killing."

The People's Elbow a.k.a One of the Dumbest Finishing/Signature Moves Ever. Seriously now. I could do that move.

I'm pretty sure it would be called a penalty but how funny would it be to see Toni Lydman drop an elbow on Zdeno Chara against Boston? That'd be a penalty worth killing and it would add some excitement to what is sure to be a deathly dull game. The only good thing about playing Boston is that it's one less time we have to play them the rest of the season.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I'd Like to Apologize to the City of Buffalo

About halfway through the first period Mark and I had the following exchange:

ME: This is all my fault, isn't it?
MARK: Yeeee-ep.

Look, I'm sorry I complained about how hard it was to blog about a winning team, okay? Clearly the Hockey Gods were listening and decided to remind me, for a couple of periods, of what exactly it was like to watch last year's team. Porous defense, haphazard power plays, players who flatly refuse to shoot when there's someone in terrible position they could be passing to instead and last but not least, Thomas Vanek sucking it up in a shootout. Then again, that last thing does prove that Vanek is still human. I was beginning to wonder.

Two things saved this game from being a total retread: A still perfect penalty kill (sexy!) and an outstanding performance from the back-up goalie. Patrick Lalime came pretty close to earning that point all by himself. Yeah, Vanek and Jason Pominville scored the goals but he was the reason it only took two goals to get the Sabres back in the game. It very easily could've been out of reach long before the third period.

Hopefully this was just your classic let-down game and the rested, disciplined Sabres will be back on Tuesday against BostoZzzzZzzzzz. I promise I will never write anything that even hints at being upset about a winning team again in my blogging life. The lesson, it is learned.

Somewhere - I forget where - I read a story about Lindy Ruff's 400th NHL win that mentioned his famous dust-up with Billy Smith. I've looked for footage of this for years because I once saw it on a game broadcast and thought it was AWESOME but hadn't been able to find it. When I was griping about it not being on YouTube a few days ago a friend pointed out that it was recently added and sent me a link. If you've never seen this, please enjoy. You can't see the interaction very well in real-time so please hang around for the replay toward the end of the video. Trust me, it's totally worth it. And belated congratulations, Lindy!

Thomas Vanek Is Good at Hockey

All right, I have a confession to make: I fell asleep during tonight's game. I missed most of the second period and all of the third period. I woke up in time to hear a little bit of Lindy's press conference. I feel terrible. TBN just pimped this out as a great blog and I slept through the fourth game of the season. But I was so tired and the couch was so comfortable and Rick Jeanneret's voice is so soothing... Listen, does your job involve being kicked and bitten while chasing hyperactive and emotional 7-year-olds around a school building? No, I didn't think so. So back off!

Judging by the reaction here when I did wake up, I missed Thomas Vanek walking on water and raising Tim Horton from the dead. We can't have children of our own for various reasons and I'm pretty sure Mark is sitting at the computer drafting a letter to Vanek's agent offering me up as a vessel for more little Vanek babies.

Thanks to the magic of DVR, I zipped through the parts of the game I missed and I have to admit, that might be a letter worth writing. Like most people I am absolutely amazed at the difference between Thomas Vanek at the beginning of last season and Thomas Vanek one year later. It's such a remarkable change on and off the ice. He's more confident, he's more mature and he's busting his ass. I never completely bought into the lazy Vanek stereotype but there's no doubt he's working harder this season. Ales Kotalik might have scored that last goal but it all started with Vanek bulldozing past the opposing player to get to the puck, pushing through the guy trying to hold him up and having the presence of mind to throw the puck in front of the net even though a penalty had been called. That's a player just dominating everything and everyone around him. And really, how cute was that accidental pile up when he and Al celebrated that goal? I think they were having more fun in that one moment than they had in all of last season. I'm just glad no one broke a finger. Funny how suddenly no one is complaining about how they wish we had all those first round draft picks...

I stole this photo from another blog so I don't know who took it. Sorry Mr. Photog!

I'll make one more confession: While I'm delighted at the great start and I'm also delighted that I was mostly right about this team, just a season early, I'm finding it a lot tougher to blog about a good team than a struggling team. There's something kind of inherently funny about being miserable and the Sabres managed to find so many different ways to suck last season that there was always great material. But I'm already running out of ways to say, "Wow, Thomas Vanek is really good, huh?" I'll try to keep the complaining to a minimum since it's a pretty nice problem to have but writing about a team that's actually meeting - if not surpassing - expectations is kind of a new thing. In the words of Indiana Jones, "I don't know, I'm making this up as I go."

But hey, how funny was Derek Roy getting pinned under the Canucks bench? I still have no idea how that happened but it could have only happened to Roy-Z.

(For the Vancouver perspective, check out The Humming Giraffe, written by one of my favorite blogging buddies, alix.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Random Thoughts

Some off-night thoughts:

- Now that it's been two games I can officially say that I am not a fan of the new road game TV presentation. I miss the postgame Shoot-Out. I need my postgame Shoot-Out. Because we went to the home opener I've yet to even see Rob Ray and Mike Robitaille. I'm going through withdrawls. It almost doesn't feel like the season has fully started yet. I will be so, so happy to see them tomorrow night.

My biggest problem with the new set-up is that the road games now contain way, way too much Kevin Sylvester. Don't get me wrong, I like Kevin. But his happy earnestness is a little overwhelming for me by itself. It needs to be mixed in with a little crankiness from Robie and a little exasperation from Rob.

- I'm also not a huge fan of the intermission interviews with opposing players. I'm not against getting to know more about non-Sabres - I'm all for it! - but come on, I'm not learning anything interesting in that fifteen seconds. If I have to sit on my couch and listen to a sweaty, out-of-breath player talk about sticking to the system and waiting for the chances to come, I want it to be one of my guys. If you're gonna hit me with an opponent let's at least make it an entertaining little fluff piece.

- The first episode of "The Sabres Show" is up on If you haven't seen it yet, you should check it out although the best parts seemed to have aired during intermissions. I liked the idea of the Ales Kotalik interview better than the outcome but I'm really happy to see them start the one-on-one sit-downs with someone not named Pominville, Miller, Roy or Gaustad. I like those guys and they're usually good interviews but they're the interviews we get over and over and over. The old Morning Skate podcast - whatever happened to that? - suffered from that too. Same guys over and over and rarely any of the Europeans. Seeing Al makes me optimistic about the chances of seeing Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman before too long both of whom I love seeing interviewed.

I've really enjoyed the sit-down with Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier a lot. So far it's mostly been stuff I've read or heard over the years but I really like seeing those two interact with each other because we don't get to see them together very often. I like that they're obviously friends and clearly have a lot of respect for each other. I thought it was really interesting when Darcy pointed out that they partly became such a good team because they really needed that from each other. They were both walking into a very tough situation, dealing with all the John Muckler-Ted Nolan fallout. No one was super excited about either of them being there so they found support in each other. Any time I read a story about a GM and a head coach sniping at each other and going behind each other's back it takes me aback. I have to remind myself that that's probably more the norm while relationships like Lindy and Darcy's are the exception. In case I haven't made it clear in the past, I really love both of these guys. With all due respect to the players who've signed over the last couple of years, Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are the core of the Sabres.


- I think my least favorite rule in hockey is the automatic four minutes for drawn blood on a high stick. It's completely arbitrary and doesn't have anything to do with the severity of the contact. I guess I understand wanting to remove as much subjectivity as possible from calls but I still don't like it.

- Note to Rangers fans: I'm not a Patrick Kaleta apologist - I've taken issue with some of his hits in the past and I'm not a fan of the injury-related taunting if that did take place - but you can't call a penalty on a guy who fails to make contact with his intended target. It's not boarding, charging or roughing when your guy evades the hit.

- I'm an avid reader and writer so I sometimes see symbolism where there probably isn't any. That said, there has to be something symbolic about Thomas Vanek blowing by Chris Drury for two of his goals last night, right? I think so.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If You Know the Rangers Suck, Clap Your Hands

Yay, we can play really boring, mind-numbing, soul-killing hockey too! Go us!

Seriously, I cannot tell you how happy this game made me. I felt really good about our chances against Montreal in the opener and spent all day at work telling my co-workers to chill because we could totally hang with the Candadiens. For what I believe are understandable reasons, I also felt pretty okay about our chances against the Islanders. But for reasons I mentioned in my last post, the Rangers made me nervous. They're an extremely defensive team and playing against them requires a discipline and patience that the Sabres just never showed last season. While it's not the most exciting hockey to watch, I don't care. I flatly refuse fans who claim they'd rather watch a run-and-gun team lose than watch a defensive team win. That's ridiculous. A win is a win is a win.

I think playing the kind of hockey the Sabres played tonight shows a remarkable leap in maturity from last season. They had the talent to do this last season but from what we heard, it sounded they just refused to do it most nights. Lindy Ruff certainly talked about being more responsible without the puck and every once in a while we saw flashes of it - I remember one really defensively strong game against Boston toward the end of the season - but for the most part the kids appeared to be intent on playing the way they wanted to play. Maybe having an extra long off-season to dwell on just how well that worked out for them made an impression.

I think it also shows the importance of some veteran presence. I will admit, I completely underestimated the impact of that lack of leadership on the team at the beginning of last season but for a young player there has to be a difference between hearing a coach tell you something and hearing a fellow player tell you something and probably more importantly, watching a fellow player perform a certain way. After it became clear that there was a real leadership void last year, I said right up until his return in the very last game that the guy whose loss was being completely underrated was Teppo Numminen's. I don't think it's any coincidence that the entire team is playing calm, focused hockey with him back in the line-up. A little new talent has almost certainly made a difference too but Teppo's influence is everywhere. And to think there were people who thought we could just replace him with Nathan Paetsch, no problem-o. I'm really glad Darcy and Lindy brought Teppo back for another year.

So yeah. I was pretty optimistic even before the season started... but after seeing the Sabres gut out a game like tonight's, especially minus their best two-way forward, I'm officially excited to see what they do this season.

Some other odds and ends coming up later.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Quick Pregame Post

I'm trying something new tonight called "going to bed at a decent hour" but I just want to point out that Thomas Vanek has three goals in two games. You know how long it took him to get three goals last season? The entire month of October. Yeah, I'm enjoying this pace a little more.

I'm really curious to see how the Sabres handle the Rangers. New Jersey continues to get a lot of crap about being boringly defensive* but the Rangers have turned into a pretty trappy trappy defensive team and those kinds of teams gave the Sabres fits last year. They just seemed completely unable to deal with them. I know you can't carry the puck through five guys, you know you can't carry the puck through five guys and yet the Sabres seemed insistent that yes, you definitely can carry the puck through five guys if you try it enough times. Monday afternoon featured at a least a couple of good dump and chases so hopefully we remember that (including the chase part which also seemed to give the boys a hard time last season which was unforunate because it's kind of the most important part of the dump and chase.)

This is Admiral Ackbar reminding you to dump and chase.

There are players who are arguably more important to the team but there are only two guys whose injuries bum me out on a personal level: Henrik Tallinder (of course) and Jochen Hecht. I'm not completely panicked yet but we'll see how I feel after the Rangers game. On the plus side, Clarke MacArthur and Danny Paille showed some really nice chemistry on Monday including that lovely tic-tac-toe goal. On the minus side, Clarke was lining up against whatever nincompoop was on the Islander's second line which is a little different than lining up against Chris Drury or Scott Gomez. I'll get back to you on this one.

* I'm gonna break with the pack and say that NJ has been pretty fun to play the past couple of years even though we did go to a shootout at least 18 times with them last season. They're certainly no Boston.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Buffalo Sabres Are Never Losing Again!

Well, darn. I had a snarky post all ready to go about the power play but the Sabres actually scored three PP goals yesterday. I wasn't expecting that. I mean, I still think overall they looked much, much better shorthanded than with the man advantage but you can't really argue with results.

But did you notice that yesterday morning I suggested we score a few PP goals... and then yesterday afternoon we did? As Amy pointed out in the comments, I'm pretty sure that proves once and for all that the Sabres, at least the ones on the PP units, are reading Top Shelf. Because that's the kind of little detail that only a blogger would think of, you know? Pommers, if you're reading this, tap your helmet three times and then wink and shoot a finger gun into the camera when you skate out for warm-ups on Wednesday night.

The Islanders are clearly a very bad hockey team. I know Rick DiPietro wasn't playing but there's really only so much even a good goalie can do. Man. So I know there are Sabres fans out there thinking, "We beat a really bad team. So what? You're supposed to beat really bad teams!"

And to you I'd say, you're right. We should absolutely be beating the Islanders of the world. But how many times last season did we sit on our couches, recliners, bar stools and arena seats and pull out our friggin' hair while watching the Sabres flail around and play down to teams far less talented than them? I don't think I can even count the number of times. Good teams beat bad teams so it was pretty refreshing to see this game go exactly the way it should have.

- God bless Craig Rivet. I've never been so happy to see someone get two game misconducts in one game before in my life.

- Nice to get a win with the back-up. Again, it wasn't the most challenging opponent but Patrick Lalime did make some good saves and he kept the Sabres in the game until they took off. That's really all you can ask from the guy. I was a little surprised to see him get the call so early but I think it shows that Lindy Ruff is serious about mixing him in on a regular schedule.

- Totally funny seeing Ryan Miller on a chair in the aisle. It looked like they plopped him down in the crowd.

- Hank, please, please, please play better. I thought maybe I was the only one who noticed him not looking very good in the middle of what was overall a very well-played game but Mike Harrington called him out on Sabres Edge. I was a little worried Hank was going to be traded in the middle of the night to make room for Mike Weber. He's still a Sabre this morning, right?

- I can't find it now but I read somewhere that not only was that Thomas Vanek's first short-handed goal in the NHL, it was his first short-handed goal at any level of hockey. He sounded pretty happy about it too which is really cute. The first two games suggest that there's going to be a lot of special teams action so it would be great to see him continue to develop into a dependable penalty killer.

Back to work today. Bummer.

Odds and Ends

Odds and ends while waiting for 2:00:

- One of the coolest things to come out of the Heather and Kate story in TBN last week is that I've gotten a couple of emails from Buffalo fans currently living in Alabama. And that's in addition to the Buffalo fan I already knew of living in Alabama. I don't know why but knowing you guys are out there totally tickles me. So which one of you is having me and Mark over on game nights between 12/22 and 12/27 when we're visiting the family for Christmas? :P

- I just want to give a little shout-out to Mike Harrington because I know he's responsible for my name being passed along to the right people for last week's story. In a recent post on Sabres Edge he officially came out as a blog reader and I can tell you from conversations with him over the past year or so that, unlike a lot of sportswriters, he totally gets and appreciates fan blogs. In addition to that, I think he clearly loves what he does and genuinely appreciates and respects the people who read what he writes. I've been very critical of a lot of TBN's coverage and writers in the past but Mike's a good egg.

- A quick baseball aside: During Game Three of the Boston-Tampa Bay series, the announcers shared that Red Sox manager Terry Francona has a bucket of Dubble Bubble in the dugout and he goes through an absurd amount in a game. I'm fully cheering for the Rays but I can't even tell you how much this tidbit of info made me love Francona. My mom used to buy the same bucket back in my softball days and I blew through those things. The announcers marveled at how many pieces Francona chewed an inning but it makes sense. While it tastes really good at first, Dubble Bubble loses its taste in about 45 seconds. It also gets really hard really fast. The best way to combat both of those issues is to keep adding new pieces. The only thing that could've made me love Francona more is if he'd pulled a pack of Big League Chew out of his back pocket.

- While being interviewed by a real reporter was weird enough, being photographed for the newspaper was totally bizarre. Kate and I spent a good half hour or so debating what exactly one wears for a blogging photo shoot. Should we wear Sabres gear or go logo-less? Was a t-shirt adequate or should I go whole hog and wear the jersey? Should we stay casual since that's how we usually blog or get a little more dressed up since a lot of people were going to see this? We had finally decided Kate would wear her prom dress and I would wear my wedding dress and then we remembered that Kate didn't actually go to her prom and my wedding dress is in Alabama. Alas. John Hickey, the TBN photographer, was very good-natured and extremely patient with us while we struggled not to crack up. He even let Kate's friend Robin document the moment for us.

Kate and I do our best Stephen Colbert fake typing.

- There's a car commercial out now that uses a couple of lines from David Bowie's Space Oddity and while the lines they use are harmless ("Ground control to Major Tom...") it really bothers me that they used this song. Major Tom floats off into space never to return! That is not a positive connotation, car company I can't remember!

- It'd be really nice to score a power play goal today.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Most Glorious Night of the Year: Opening Night

Like much of Buffalo, I had hockey on the brain from the second I woke up yesterday. My new commute to work takes me right past HSBC Arena and since I happened to have my camera with me, I had to whip it out and document my first sight of it on this glorious day.

Listen, I was trying to drive on the skyway while taking this, okay? (If you were almost sideswiped by a small blue car driven by a woman with a camera in one hand around 7:30 Friday morning, my apologies.)

Fortunately, my current class keeps me so darn busy that the day went by pretty fast. I picked up my mother-in-law and we met Mark downtown for dinner (Cabaret: I had a fish fry) and then it was off to HSBC. Woooooooo!


First puck bunny sign of the new season!

First HSBC Coca-Cola of the new season!

First Doug Allen anthem of the new season!

Before the anthems they introduced each Sabre and every time the next guy skated out I was convinced he was going to trip over the carpet they had rolled out (see above picture). Some of them came awfully close before dodging around it and Henrik Tallinder actually jumped over it at the last second. I'm not sure if he was going for style points all along or if I just missed seeing my favorite player get a season ending injury in the pregame introductions when he attempted to skate over a carpet, flipped and rolled and broke his arm.

The view from section 322.

Some thoughts about the game:

- When Montreal scored on their first shot and the replay revealed that the goal was very much the result of crossed signals between Andrej Sekera and a certain Swedish d-man, I groaned. And while I can't remember what exactly happened, there was something that made me say to Mark, "Wow, Toni really CAN'T play without Hank!" But the d-men seemed to settle down pretty well especially since two of the three pairings really didn't play that much together during the preseason. At the point when they showed the Save of the Game on the jumbotron, it wasn't a particularly tough save so the defense must have been doing its job for the most part. (The save of the game at that juncture was really Toni Lydman's. Holy moses.) The power play was definitely in mid-season form - and by that I mean frustrating, annoying and not-at-all effective - but the penalty kill was very good all night which makes this girl a very, very happy girl.

- That's not to say that Ryan Miller wasn't good because he was rock solid in the third period and the OT when we needed him to be. I'm so relieved to see him looking so much more like himself than he did most of last season. When he came coasting out of the crease to meet the shooter head-on during the shootout, Mark and I both said, "He's back." It makes me nervous as heck to see him out that far but I know it means he's feeling confident and on top of things.

- I swear, I thought Thomas Vanek was holding onto the puck so long because he was planning on passing it to someone in worse position than him. The screechy, panicked "SHOOOOOOT!" you heard from the rafters was me. How delightful then to see him pull off the move he made for his goal. I was joking with Kate via text that he had more quality shots in the first period last night than he did in the entire first half of last season but I don't know that it's really that much of a exaggeration. A rejuvenated Miller AND an entire season of good Vanek? Be still my beating heart.

- Tim Connolly, you're fired.

- A few really cool things going on with the jumbotron. Every once in a while the game footage shrinks to the middle of the screen and the rest of the screen is overlaid with various stats - team leaders in shifts, shots, hits, ice-time for the players on the ice, that kind of thing. I think my favorite was when they put up who was on the ice for each team. It's a pretty simple thing but it is easy to lose track and it was especially helpful when we were starting on special teams and forwards and d-men aren't necessarily out with their regular partners. It's also nice when you're not familiar with the opposing team's lines and pairings. I tried to get a picture of it but I was always too slow with my camera. Never fear though! There's nothing I won't do for my loyal readers so I drew a picture.

My only complaint is that I wish they put the two d-men together and the three forwards together instead of putting them in numerical order. I would guess maybe it's some programming thing and it automatically does that but when I'm looking to see who's on the ice, that's how I'm trying to group them in my brain. Definitely some neat stuff going on there though.

- I was really bummed that the first game of the season was going to a shootout but after talking to a few people later I would have to agree that it's nice to get the shootout monkey off the back now. Ryan didn't seem particularly interested in talking about this victory as cathartic and that's fine. I'd definitely prefer that the team focus more on what's ahead than what's behind. But as a fan, whew, that's a relief!

- Really the thing that has me the most excited is that the whole team worked really hard overall. There were way too many games last season where I think they tried to coast on their talent and they learned the hard way that in a league full of talent, talent isn't enough by itself. They gutted out very few close games last season so to see them do that against one of the more talented teams in our conference was definitely a fun thing. If they can combine their undeniable talent with a tough, strong work ethic, it really should be a good season.

- I don't know, guys... Do we have room for Bucky on the bandwagon? (Note to TBN editors: I've read that third sentence numerous times now and I still have no idea what it's supposed to be saying.) When even Bucky can't think of anything to criticize outside of a half-hearted swipe at Maxim Afinogenov, it was a good night.

First victory of the new season!



Lots of stuff to say about the opener but too tired for it right now. Must sleep. For now I'll just say, here we come Stanley Cup! The Buffalo Sabres are never losing again!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Welcome to Top Shelf (Again!)

So this is the second "Welcome to Top Shelf!" post I've written in as many weeks but what can I say? The Buffalo News loves me! I won't rest until they've given me Bucky Gleason's job! (That's a joke. Unless someone from TBN is out there reading this and really does want to give me Bucky Gleason's job. In that case, it's totally not a joke.) (Total aside: I spent a ton of time telling Greg, the super nice interviewer who wrote the story about me and Kate, exactly why I hate Bucky Gleason's writing and a lot of TBN's coverage but none of it ended up in the article being written for and published by TBN. Go figure.) (And now I guess any new readers know how I feel about Bucky. But you should read the posts anyway because some of them are good. Really.)

Since the season starts tomorrow (yaaaaay!) things will start cranking around here. In the mean time, feel free to poke around. In the top right hand corner there's a list of some of my favorite entries and reading them will give you a pretty good handle on what kind of writing you'll find here. It'll also give you a good idea how I feel about all the most important people in the Buffalo hockey community: Lindy Ruff, Darcy Regier, Bucky Gleason and of course, Henrik Tallinder. (Also a joke. I adore Hank but I'm not quite far gone enough to think everyone considers him super important. Oh, and I don't end every joke with, "That's a joke," but you know, potential new readers, unfamiliar writing style... Just want to make myself clear.)

I probably should start over from scratch here because I'm not sure any of this makes any sense but I'm about to go eat dinner and you know what? This post is actually a pretty accurate representation of Top Shelf: disorganized, rambling and always able to squeeze Henrik Tallinder into a conversation. Come one, come all!

ETA: I just realized that in the first paragraph I encourage everyone to read the posts that I don't even mention until the second paragraph. Can I just pass my discombobulation off as excitement about the opener tomorrow? Thanks.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Season To Come, Part Two

A quick continuation of yesterday's thoughts coming up but first a reminder that today (Thursday) is NHL Preview day for the Buffalo News. I know I'm pretty hard on TBN sometimes but they usually do a really nice job with the preview section. It's one of the few days I make sure to buy a hard copy of the paper. And let me just say, I'm pretty sure this is going to be the BEST NHL PREVIEW SECTION EVER! Trust me and click on the link.


I'm shocked that Craig Rivet is the new captain. I figured he'd be wearing a letter since he wore one for almost the entire preseason but I really thought it would be an A. I'm not gonna lie, I've made fun of teams in the past for appointing the new guy the captain right away. It seems really weird.

The fact that this was the result of a player vote makes me feel better. People like me can ramble on and on about what was missing last season and what needs to happen this season but the only people who really, really know what went wrong are the guys in the dressing room. I don't think you can stress enough that most of the current Sabres team has been playing together for a while now. They know each other very, very well. If they looked around the room and didn't find what they wanted in a captain in each other, I think you have to trust that they know what they're talking about. And really it's not that far-fetched. We've been watching these guys for a few years now so I think we forget sometimes that the core players are all still really, really young. Rivet can wear the C for the next three years and if he moves on after that, one of the kids should be ready. And as an aside, good for Lindy for taking the pulse of the team and appointing one captain.

At any rate, I'm really excited to see what Rivet brings to the team not just on the defensive end - one more dependable body back there can't hurt - but in overall attitude. He's made it clear already that he's not going to hesitate to stand up for his teammates on the ice and he said very straight-forwardly in his most recent interview on Sabres TV that opponents will not take liberties with the team on his watch. The fact that the Sabres are still young can be a bit of a double-edged sword in that some of them are still very influenced by what's going on around them. I think we saw a lot of situations last season where one guy's frustration or panic bled out and affected his teammates. Hopefully if the guy with the C is calm, kicking ass and working hard, everyone else will follow his lead.

And seriously, don't you love that moment when someone new to the area finally says, "Wow, Buffalo gets a bad rap. It's a great place to be."


I was pretty surprised when a stat check showed that the Sabres power play was the 14th best in the league last season and was actually a little bit better than it was in 2006-2007. Of all the struggles we sat through in 2007-2008, the power play is the one thing that absolutely made my eyes bleed. I'll admit, my little pea brain still doesn't understand how it can be THAT hard to score when you have more people on the ice than the other team and especially when you have two more people in which case it felt like we suddenly got a thousand times worse. God bless the 16 fan bases who had to watch a power player worse than ours all season.

Porky mentioned on his blog that the power play was hit by a lot of injuries last season. I hadn't really thought of that but it is true: Tim Connolly, Jaroslav Spacek, Teppo Numminen and Max Afinogenov all missed large chunks of time and that's not even taking into consideration Brian Campbell being traded at the deadline. There were definitely some oddball power plays units out there at times so I don't know, maybe we're lucky it wasn't worse than it was. Hopefully the re-addition of Teppo and the presence of Rivet will help steady things a little. I think a lot will also depend on how Andrej Sekera develops.

On the other side, I'm hoping Teppo will steady the penalty kill a little too. Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman spent a lot of their time on the ice last season killing penalties and while yes, that's what the top defensive pairing should be doing, I think there were definitely times when they were just worn out. The more bodies who can dependably kill penalties, the better. And of course, as they say, your most important penalty killer is your goalie. Ryan Miller struggled last season and there were times when he and the defense looked really out of sync with each other. Better play from him should help a lot when the Sabres are short-handed.


Consistency is such a sports cliche that I kind of hate to even bring it up but it's a cliche because it is important. I think we've all heard that much ballyhooed stat the Sabres had the 4th best offense in the NHL last season and while that's definitely impressive, I think it's a little deceiving. Those numbers are skewed a bit by a number of games where the team suddenly exploded for 6, 7, 8 goals in one game. There were long stretches where the Sabres struggled to score and they had a hard time scoring when it really mattered which was reflected in their 14-18 record in one goal games. Scoring a lot of goals is great obviously but it needs to be more spread out.

Hopefully Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek, probably the two most important offensive pieces, will find a little more consistency this season as well. Vanek, a goal scorer first and foremost, will probably always be a little streaky - I think that's normal - but hopefully he won't disappear for half the season like he did last year. He really started to look more comfortable as the season went on and he had the second most goals in the league in the second half (behind only Alexander Ovechkin who was on a pretty torrid pace) so it'd be nice to see him spread that pace out over the entire season this year. Derek also improved as the year went on and I really think he's the motor that keeps the team running. When he struggles, everything is going to slow down a little so he needs to be working hard every night.

For me, one of the most frustrating things about last season was that parts of the team played well but never at the same time. If the offense was clicking, the defense was a sieve. If the defense stood tall, the offense couldn't score. If the goaltending was good, it was undone by poor defense. If the defense did its part, the goaltending was terrible. There were very few games where everything was working together. Guys, you are all allowed to play well in the same game. Really.


Hank will be totally awesome this season. Seriously. I know it.

Jeez, how did it get to be 1:10 a.m. already? One more post tomorrow should do it. Then we can finally move on to talking about actual games.

The Season To Come, Part One

Hockey - real live, counts in the standings, totally valid to freak out about hockey - is finally, FINALLY just around the corner. I don't know about the rest of you but I really felt like this off-season was never going to end. Ever. But in 72 hours or so the Sabres will have claimed their first victim of the season - and I mean the Canadiens not me, fellas - so it seems like it's time to lay out a couple of thoughts and predictions about the upcoming season. If I were a real journalist I would sit here until my thoughts were all nicely organized and worked but I'm not. I'm a lowly blogger who's not making any money doing this. Some totally random, unorganized thoughts:


Tim Connolly, Maxim Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik are all in contract years and their futures with the Sabres are cloudy at best. I think only one of them - if any - will be in Buffalo next season and they all definitely come with their pros and cons.

We all know how talented Timmy is. He's amazingly gifted and he's shown flashes of really pulling it together especially on the playmaking end. There have been times in the past when he's pulled moves that have left me staring at the TV. I had a game on our Tivo for almost an entire calendar year because of the last goal in this highlight package. I just now watched it three times. The Sabres have taken some crap for making a commitment to a guy who was out with concussion problems at the time but I think that's a blatant use of hindsight. It was a risk but a risk worth taking considering how dominant he'd just been in the postseason.

It's no newsflash that Tim's trouble is injuries. The concussion troubles are bad enough but there always seems to be something else going on too. I will admit that I did actually say to Mark a couple of weeks ago, "I have a good feeling about Timmy this season. I think he's going to play 70 games." I have no idea what I was thinking. A couple of days later he was nursing a sore back already and the preseason had barely started. Granted, he is coming off a surgery but we keep hearing that he worked out really hard the rest of the off-season and he was in great shape and I don't know, while I obviously have no idea what kind of pain he's feeling in that fragile little body of his, I've reached the point where I have to really wonder if he has the toughness and the desire to have the career that he could have if things worked on talent alone. I'm sure Tim understands how much he needs to have a great season - at 27 this could be his last, best chance at a big money contract - and I'm sure he'll have his usual near point a game numbers in the parts of the season he does play... I just don't see him making it through a whole season.

Regardless, I don't think he'll be back next season for one reason: Lindy Ruff sounds more and more frustrated every time he talks about him. I think he's clearly had his fill of "What's going on with Tim?" questions and we all know Lindy has a lot of say in personnel decisions. The Sabres made their commitment, it didn't work out, I really don't see them trying it again especially with so many talented forwards already on the roster and coming up through Portland. It really is too bad.

I said my piece about Max not that long ago. He was terrible last season but while I do find him pretty frustrating I really do think a lot of that can be chalked up to his injury - groin pulls do have to be pretty tough for a guy whose entire game is based on speed and quick cuts - and being played on some very ill-fitting lines once he was back from injury. I'm sure Max will pass the puck to a myriad of opponents and pull Derek Roy offside a million times but I also won't be the least bit surprised if he scores 25-30 goals and has fans reconsidering whether we should get rid of him or not.

But like Timmy, I think Lindy has reached the end of his patience with Max which means he will also be gone, possibly before the end of the season. And like I said before, I think he'll catch on with another team, enjoy the freedom of a new coach and new system and do really well for himself. And all of Buffalo will complain incessantly about letting him go for years to come.

Finally that brings us to Al. Oh, Al. If you made me rank all the Sabres players from favorite to least favorite, Al would be pretty darn close to the bottom. Some nights he would be the bottom, yes, ranked below even Andrew Peters. I find him completely infuriating because people say all the time, "He can be physical, he can shoot the puck, he can can can" but he usually doesn't do those things. Max is annoying and set in his ways but if nothing else, he tries hard. He actually probably tries too hard to do too much. Al completely disappears for 20 game stretches - he doesn't score, he doesn't hit, he makes absolutely no impression at all unless he's taking a really stupid penalty - and that drives me crazy. I would gladly cast Al into a hockeyless pit of despair.

That said, if any one of these guys will be back, it's him. Let's face it, not everyone on your roster can be a highly skilled, highly paid star. Every team needs shorter, cheaper contracts to move around their core and Al is exactly that kind of player. He's not a total disaster on the ice and despite my complaints he has averaged just under 20 goals per season (19.75) for the last four seasons. As long as he's agreeable to a shorter contract for a reasonable amount of money (always the tricky part) I could see him sticking around.

The offense was pretty good last season overall but it would definitely help if the above guys all had good contract years especially Timmy who still seems to be the only player we have who can run a power play.


Ryan was really bad last year. There are lots of valid reasons - the death of his cousin Matt right at the beginning of the season and the number of games he started being the two biggies - but the bottom line is, he played some very, very bad hockey. And good lord, what the heck happened with the shootout? He had ice water in his veins the previous two seasons and suddenly looked jittery the second a guy started moving in on a breakaway. As off as some of the other components of the team were last season, they missed the playoffs by four points. Better goaltending would have made up that ground easily. The team probably wouldn't have done much damage in the playoffs once they got there the way they were playing but they would've made it.

The good news is Ryan looks and sounds great right now as opposed to looking and sounded like he needed a very long nap at the end of April. It would appear that he built his frame up a little in the off-season which has to make a difference over the long grind of a hockey season. It sounds like he's also found a little better balance between playing goalie and trying to lead the team. Last year I think he tried to take on too much of the leadership mantle that was suddenly left vacant and his game suffered for it. There's an interview with him up on Sabres TV right now where he talks about how hard it is for a goalie to handle the responsibility of his game while also worrying about addressing questions and concerns about the rest of the team so it sounds like he's thought a lot about how to handle that coming into this season.

And let us all say a prayer to the mighty hockey gods that Patrick Lalime shows himself capable of playing 20 or so games in a somewhat adequate fashion. He played all of the preseason game I attended and he looked pretty good so fingers crossed.


God bless Jochen and Pommers.

Looking at last season, Pommers is the one youngster on the team whom I have absolutely no complaint about. Even when he wasn't scoring he was finding some way to contribute night in and night out because he never, ever quit working hard. I think he got stronger on the defensive side of the puck, he's much more responsible with the puck than some of his buddies and he showed so much maturity off the ice. Everyone else seemed to have stretches where they were clearly panicking and flailing, pressing way too hard. If Pommers ever felt that way he sure did a good job of hiding it. I don't want to turn every post into "Lindy, for the love of god just name a captain please!" but even if you want to argue that he has some growing to do yet, I have no doubt he'll grow right into any letter you put on his chest.

Most of the above applies to Jochen too. Every team needs a Jochen - quiet, responsible and dependable. A lot of people may have been willing to part with him but I think he's exactly the kind of player you miss when he's not there. I'm still grouchy about a chart the Buffalo News ran last season after the trade deadline, suggesting that Brian Campbell's absence was responsible for the current skid because it completely ignore that Jochen was also out for that stretch and his absence always makes a difference.

(An aside since we're talking about Brian Campbell: In the ESPN preseason picks, Scott Burnside picked Campbell for the Norris. Someone please explain to Burnside that the Norris is for outstanding defensemen. There's obviously some confusion here.)

It's 1:18 in the morning so a couple quick predictions before I post this:

Leading goal scorer: Thomas Vanek
Leading assister: Derek Roy
Leading in total points: Derek Roy
Derek Roy's final tally: 36 goals, 65 assists, 101 points

Monday, October 6, 2008

Gimme a C!

I know I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of the rotating captaincy. I kind of understand why the Sabres did it last year - all three letter wearers were gone, Teppo Numminen very suddenly, and none of the kids had ever had that responsibility before - but I was really hoping Lindy Ruff and his staff would pick three guys to carry the letters all season this time around. I was disappointed to hear Lindy address all questions about this year's captaincy with some variation of, "Well, the players seemed to really like it."

I have to admit, I got a huge kick out of Mike Harrington's recent article about the captain situation. You can read the whole article at the link but here's the short version:

Lindy said, "We’ve discussed it as a staff but still haven’t come to a conclusion. I think the guys liked it."

Jaroslav Spacek said, "I have no clue what they’re going to do but I think we should have one captain."

Jason Pominville said, "If it was my decision, I would probably name one or two and go that way."

Ryan Miller said, "It’s up to Lindy but consistency is always good from my side of things."

Yeah, Lindy. The guys, they sound crazy about the idea.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Next Up... Real Hockey!

I wish I could say I was attentively watching the Sabres and taking meticulous notes but I really wasn't. I was partly distracted by the Bills-induced moaning and crying coming from the other room and partly just... distracted. It was nice to actually see a preseason game but in the end it's still a preseason game, you know? I'm a firm believer that you can't place too much importance on what happens in a preaseason game. For example, no way Ryan Miller gives up that crap ass goal in a real game. Right, Ryan?

The important thing is this: Henrik Tallinder was in the top six where he belongs. Looking at the pairs I think it's probably likely that he and Teppo Numminen are currently the third pairing but I'm fine with that. Lindy, you were pushing it but I'm happy to say that I'm not going to use the domain that I bought after all. It's there though, Ruff so stay on your toes.

So let's talk about some other sports:

- Wow, I'm guessing everyone who ran around looking for an antenna so they could watch the Bills game is real happy they did so. When I first met Mark I thought the "Buffalo is cursed" thing was kind of ridiculous but I don't know. It's one thing to lose your starting QB. Hey, it happens. But to start the season 4-0, getting everyone's hopes up, and THEN lose your starting QB? That's harsh, dude. In J.P. Losman's defense however it's hardly his fault the defense wouldn't have been able to stop me from scoring today. Hopefully this is not a Tim Connolly fall off the face of the earth level concussion.

- I'm way behind but I've been thinking about this for a while. People are being awfully harsh on Vince Young. I guess I understand why but I don't know, isn't it possible that he's realized that he just doesn't really want to play football? And is it that bad if that's how he feels? Don't people go out into the workforce after college and realize they kind of hate their chosen field all the time? I'm totally speculating here, I know, but if that's what's happening, how hard do you think it is for a still young kid who has probably gotten a whole lot of what he has in life because he was a great football player to realize he might hate playing pro ball? I guess if I was a Titans fan I might be frustrated but some of the criticism of Young has been a little much, I think.

- I've watched more of the first round of the baseball playoffs this year than I have in the last few years but I don't know why because it's been a pretty boring round so far. I was really pulling for the Angels to beat the Red Sox - as I'm writing this we're in the 11th inning of Game 3 so I don't know if the series is over yet or not - but I am pretty happy that Jason Bay has had such a good series. I'm sorry it's not in a Pirates jersey but when he was traded I heard a lot of grumbling that it was one thing to be good in Pittsburgh where he got very little attention and another thing to be good under the bright lights of playoff baseball in Boston. So far he's doing all right for himself.

- I haven't made a final decision yet but I think I might be pulling for the Rays and their itty bitty payroll to win the whole shebang.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Little Preseason Panic

So the season officially starts today in Europe blah blah blah blah blah. I have more important things on my mind right now.

I pulled up Sabres Edge yesterday to see if there was any of kind of report on practice and sure enough, John Vogl hit us with all the lines and defensive pairings on the ice. The lines were fine - you can see them at the above link if you're so included - but I immediately skipped down and checked out the pairings, being a defense girl and all. Here's what I find:

Toni Lydman-Craig Rivet
Jaroslav Spacek-Andrej Sekera
Mike Weber-Teppo Numminen
Henrik Tallinder-Nathan Paetsch

Hmm. When you remove Nathan Paetsch - and I think most would agree he is kind of the odd man out - you'll notice that a certain Swedish d-man is left hanging there all by himself with no partner to play with. But it is practice. And I do sometimes get a little fixated on what's going on with said Swedish d-man so I figure I'm probably overreacting, reading into things, making trouble where there isn't any.

And then I pull up the latest video of Lindy Ruff on (you'll have to find it yourself because I'm an idiot when it comes to linking video from there and I refuse to embed it because it eats my blog) and Paul Hamilton asks, "Looking at your defensive pairings today, I'm wondering has Henrik dropped out of your top six?"

So. I'm not the only one reading into things.

The good news is Lindy didn't immediately say, "Heck, yeah, he has, I'm tired of that jackass being on my team." But he didn't say, "Of course not, I love Hank," and he totally changed the subject to how well Teppo played in back-to-back games. I've worked with kids for a number of years and I know that one of the best ways to avoid answering a question you don't want to answer is to change the subject to something else that the asker might be interested in not that I'm comparing the local media to my emotionally disturbed children. Wait, was Bucky there? Then I might be a little bit.

Anyway, as the season begins today somewhere in the world, that's the mood here at Top Shelf. Slightly panicked and a little irrational.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Welcome to Top Shelf

As some of you noticed earlier today, I was fortunate enough to get a very nice mention in the Buffalo News. Since I know that link is going to be dead in a few weeks here's the highlight:

On Top Shelf, the cheery proprietress, Heather B, shares her thoughts before and after Sabres games. What will keep Sabres faithful coming back is Heather’s love of the game, and her rare talent at expressing, in fine-grained detail, the joys and tribulations of Sabres fandom.

Fine-grained detail? Wow, way to raise the expectations, guys.

Seriously, it might be bad form to toot my own horn but I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty darn stoked to see that. A friend pointed it out to me first and I stood there for probably ten minutes saying, "This is so cool!" over and over. I might have jumped up and down.

Mostly I bring this up to apologize to those of you who saw the above blurb in the paper or on TBN's website, came here expecting some smart, funny hockey talk and found a post about Coke. I beg for mercy and remind you that it's the preseason and we're all talking about games we can't see being played largely by players who won't be on the team a week from now. Once the season starts, I'll be a little more on the ball although let's be honest, I will occasionally blog about things like how excited I am about getting Coke at the arena. That's how we roll here at Top Shelf.

If you're here for the first time - or you're a more recent convert - I would encourage you to check out some of the posts linked in the top right hand corner under "Welcome to Top Shelf." If you read through them I think you'll come away with a pretty good feel for what kind of writing you're likely to find here and more importantly, you'll get a pretty good idea of me as a fan and who and what I love or don't love about the great game of hockey. If you're so inclined, feel free to join in on the conversations in the comments section or drop me an email. Interacting with other fans is one of the best things about writing this here blog.

So welcome! Please stick around for what I'm hoping will be a great season! (Please God, let it be a great season...)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's the Real Thing

I think most of Buffalo would agree that this has been a pretty darn good off-season. Long-term contracts for Paul Gaustad, Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville, a good dose of defensive toughness in Craig Rivet, a serviceable back-up goalie in Patrick Lalime and a two-year extension for the general manager behind it all. There seems to be more of a calmness across Buffalo, a feeling that maybe things will be all right after all. I didn't think it could get any better. And then - then! - I read this amazing news at Bfloblog.

On a completely unrelated note, I see the Sabres have signed a five-year deal to make Coke the exclusive soft drink provider at HSBC.

Best! news! ever! As I said in my 100 Things posts, I don't drink alcohol and I don't sniff, inhale or shoot up anything. What I do do is drink a huge ass amount of pop. I would probably lose 100 lbs. if I just quit drinking pop but I can't because I love it. And while I will drink Pepsi if there's nothing else available, I'm a Coca-Cola Classic girl through and through. (No Diet, please.) Six more years of Jason Pominville? Yeah, okay great. Gigantic souvenir cups full of the sweet, sweet nectar of life? You guys, this could be the best season ever!

Heather B's daily allotment of Coca-Cola.