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.