Wednesday, December 30, 2009

That's the Good Stuff

When Kate sent me an email this off-season asking if I'd like to buy some of her season tickets, the first game I grabbed was the December 29th game against Pittsburgh.  I wanted to see the Penguins play in person, something I hadn't managed to do for the last couple of years thanks to poor timing and broken bones, and the 29th also just happens to be my birthday.  A little present to myself.

So when that third Penguins goal went in and Ryan Miller flung his helmet down the tunnel while Patrick Lalime skated some warm-up circles, I was pretty cranky.  It's silly, but we're all fans here and sometimes as fans we let our teams dictate our moods.  I was really frustrated because it was becoming clear that the Sabres are doo diddly when Ryan Miller isn't on his game.  There's nothing wrong with that really - as Kevin kind of said in a post earlier today, all teams are built around somebody and when those somebodies don't play well, their teams suffer - but I don't know, it was very defeating to watch.  And on my birthday, darn it all!

And then god bless him, Drew Stafford saved the day.  I'm sure this game was super exciting to watch on TV, but I'm so happy I was there because it was just one of those games where you could feel everything.  When Drew Stafford skated around and around while the scrum in front of Pittsburgh's net was being reviewed, you could feel how big that penalty shot was going to be.  You could feel how much he knew it.  You could feel how much he wanted it.  You could feel how much we wanted it.  It was one of those moments when player and fan are almost as one, and when he put that sucker in the net - with an assist from Marc-Andre Fleury - you could feel everyone - on the bench and in the crowd - let out a breath and think, "Okay.  One more and we're back in the game."

Kate wrote a post a few weeks back about the view from our seats, and I'm about to pretty much repeat what she said.  (Sorry, Kate.)  Here's what we see:



They're awesome seats, but we're at the end the Sabres shoot on once.  That doesn't really bother me since I'm a freak who'd rather watch defense and goaltending, but it means the Sabres score a lot of their goals at the other end of the ice, and it's tough to see the actual goal sometimes, especially when there's a huge pile of bodies in a scrum in front of the net.  A split second or so before we know the puck is in the net, the crowd behind the net leaps to its feet, arms raised.  Sometimes they leap up without the puck having gone in and then sit right back down, but when it does goes in, the celebration weaves down around the rink, like the wave but less annoying because it's spontaneous and heart-felt, until it gets to our section.  It's very, very cool.  Because Jason Pominville's shot was from farther out, we could see it pretty well, but from our end it was hard to tell if it hit the crossbar inside or outside of the net.  But we knew when the leaps and waves continued around the ice.

It was just... I don't know, it's hard to explain.  It was one of those shared moments that really makes being a sports fan what it is.  All the journalists who wonder why we continue to support teams who don't win championships are missing those moments.  I'm sure John Vogl and Mike Harrington and Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan watch games like this one and understand how important that win could be for a team, but they don't feel it, not the way we do.  It doesn't send them dancing out into the streets.  I don't know if the Sabres will win the Stanley Cup this season or not, but I know that no matter how the season ends - in ecstasy, agony, or somewhere in between - I'll remember this game.  I'll remember Kate assuring me via Twitter that the Sabres were just setting things up for a dramatic birthday come from behind victory.  I'll remember Drew Stafford skating around center ice, fresh off a healthy scratch, waiting to take a shot that could - and did - change the whole game.  I'll remember watching 19-year-old Tyler Myers unhesitatingly knock down Evgeni Malkin (who looks HUGE in person, btw) in the waning seconds of the game.  I'll remember the celebration dancing through the crowd until it hit section 120 and I'll remember Mark and I talking about the other fun games we've seen live the last couple of years (and I know this one will get added to the list).  I'll remember the whole team squeezing together in one big huddle after the final buzzer, staying that way just a  few seconds longer than usual because they felt it too.  Relief, excitement, pride, joy, all of it.

Tomorrow we can debate the more intellectual side of the game - the lack of effort in the first period, whether this is really Drew Stafford coming on or just another flash of what he could be, the still kind of frightening power play - but for tonight, thinking about, enjoying, soaking in the good moments is enough.

Let's go Buff-a-lo!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Top Shelf Christmas


This is the same lame, lazy post I read three days ago.


You gonna update this thing, or what?


Well, actually, no, I thought I'd take a few days off.  I know you've never done the holidays with us before but it's busy.  Chicken finger pizza, sponge candy and The Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, big family shindig on Christmas, my birthday next week,  New Year's Eve.  I mean, it's crazy!


...


Come on!  Do you really want to read about the Caps game?  It was disgusting!

 
... 


Fine!  Playing like garbage + crappy power play + stupid penalties (that d-bag Ovechkin) = godawful game I'd rather just pretend never happened.  Happy now?


 
...


 
You know, I don't like your attitude.  I think you're forgetting which of us is the dog and which of us is the human.  Just for that, I'm breaking out the hat.  Yes, the hat.  You will wear it and you will be happy about it and you will wish everyone a merry Christmas and mean it.



Crap.  Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hockey Math

Playing the Leafs + Playing poorly (Winning despite playing poorly) = hi-freakin-larious.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Hockey Cheer

Theoretically I suppose I should be disappointed about the Sabres losing in a shootout Saturday night, but I was actually feeling pretty chipper afterward. Maybe it's the holiday season, maybe it's only having two days left of school before a week and a half vacation, but I was in a very generous mood. They didn't look out of place against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, they played really well in front of Patrick Lalime who in turn, looked pretty good for the second consecutive start. They have a nice little cushion in the Northeast Division. They earned 5 out of 6 points in a busy week. It's all good, Sabres fans.

Two minor complaints.

One, we're on Versus AGAIN? I don't hate their coverage the way some fans do (though I would appreciate the occasional replay of SOMETHING), but this is like, the 8th week in a row. Versus, I love both guys, but I'm going to need you to come up with some talking points beyond "Ryan Miller will probably be the Olympic starter" and "Tyler Myers is super tall."

Two, our power play is ineffective. Watching them try to score is like watching this poor little puppy try to get back on his feet. Except not nearly as cute. Or cute at all really.



On a completely unrelated note, I really, really, really want Paul Gaustad to make the U.S. Olympic team. That's my hockey Christmas wish.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Few More Head Shot Thoughts

So I fell asleep during the second intermission last night and didn't wake up until 8 a.m. this morning. Long, busy week at work caught up with me, I guess. That means unfortunately that I don't have a lot to say about last night's game other than, I love when Toni Lydman scores and for him, the more ridiculous, the better. I'm sorry I missed all the post-game stuff because post-goal Toni is always one of the best interviews of the year. He's clearly happy but always hilariously self-deprecating. I'll have to poke around today, but if anyone knows of some good Toni video or audio, please let me know.

For now, I mostly just wanted to thank everyone for linking, pointing out links to, and commenting on the last entry. I really appreciate that the comments here tend to be well thought out and respectful, even the dissenters. If you left a comment early in the day, I'd encourage you to go back and check out any you missed. But because I know some of you won't, here's a slightly re-worded bit from the last comment I left:

For me, this isn't just about Patrick Kaleta. It's about every player who is unappreciated and therefore unprotected by the NHL. It could be because he's a douchebag, it could because he's not a star or doesn't have any name recognition, it could because he plays in a market no one cares about. Whatever the reason, I'm tired of there always being an excuse to look the other way. We've heard league officials go on incessantly for the last couple of seasons about how much they want to get head shots out of the game, how concerned they are about concussions. I don't understand how people can talk like that and then look at a hit like Ruutu's which was directly to the head, realize the victim didn't return to the game and was suffering and neck and vision problems the following day, and shrug and say, "Well, it wasn't THAT bad." The hypocrisy involved is my primary problem.

PKB wrote an interesting post at Hockey Rhetoric about what he would change about the discipline system, and I think most of his points are good ones. There are a couple of things I'd add.

The first thing I'd add is that I think it's time to stop thinking too hard about intent. For one thing, I think very, very few players line up a hit with the intention of hurting someone. You can almost always honestly say, "He didn't mean for that to happen." For another thing, like Kate said in one of her comments, measuring intent is way too hard and leaves too many loopholes. I hate to keep coming back to the rules for high sticking, but I think they apply. If Jochen Hecht hits Ian White in the face with his stick, whether he meant to do it or not, Jochen will be penalized. We've all seen high sticks that were clearly accidents - probably most of them are - but they're still penalized because stick infractions can be dangerous. Why should shots to the head be treated any differently? They're far more dangerous, both in the immediate and in the long-term.

The second thing I'd add is that I think it's time to stop factoring the resulting injury into discipline too much. If the victim isn't going to play again all season and you want to make the sentence for the hitter stiffer then I guess that's okay. But the fact that the victim gets up and skates away from a dangerous hit doesn't make the hit any less wrong. It just makes everyone - victim, hitter, and league - real damn lucky. In addition, with all the research about concussions showing that the worst effects might not show up for years, the real damage on a head shot can't be seen with human eyes. It's time to get over the idea that no damage was done because the victim isn't bleeding or nursing a broken bone.

When a player gets away with one hit because he didn't mean to or it didn't do any serious damage and his next hit leaves someone like Sidney Crosby, or Alexander Ovechkin, or Jarome Iginla crippled on the ice, the NHL can throw the book at the guy and it's going to be too late. The damage is done. A star player will be gone, the NHL will be buried in a media shit storm they'll never get out of, and a lot of fans including me, will never look at a hockey game the same way. At this point, the NHL desperately needs to deter the kind of hits we're seeing more and more of and that means punishment should be harsh and it should come BEFORE the worst of the damage.

Go Sabres.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Patrick Kaleta Needs His Brain Too

A few other bloggers have already discussed the Jarkko Ruutu hit on Patrick Kaleta and the lack of a suspension so I was going to pass on the whole thing, but it's really bothering me, and hey, I started this blog partly to express my opinion.  This might be a little all over the place.  We'll see.

I, like most fans, have grown accustomed to rolling my eyes at the NHL's erraticly applied discipline, but the lack of a suspenion here makes me genuinely furious and the more I watch the hit, the more upset I get.  Ruutu skates past Kaleta's body and hits him solely and directly in the head.  If that's not a head shot, what the heck is?  Every excuse anyone has ever used - the players were both moving at top speed, the victim turned his back at the last second, the victim had his head in a bad spot - can be tossed out because none of them apply.  And you know what, I'm sick of those excuses anyway.  Good grief, wake up, NHL.  If you can demand a player be responsible with his stick, demand that he be responsible with his body too.  Quit trying to make things safer by adjusting the equipment and do something to change the behavior.

The Bob McKenzie commentary on the Ruutu hit has been commented on in a few places too, namely Bfloblog and Sabres Edge, but I think it bears repeating that it was awful.  I understand McKenzie was saying Ruutu should be suspended and was merely speculating that the league might not do so, but almost everything else he said was garbage.  For him to report that Kaleta came back in the game when he didn't play a single second of hockey after getting hit is the epitome of irresponsibility in reporting especially since that was a major part of his argument in why the league might not hand out a suspension.  There is zero excuse for not getting that right and there is zero excuse for no one correcting that on the air.

What offended me much more however was McKenzie's tosssed off comment about never knowing whether Kaleta is really hurt or not.  Look, I'll be the first person to agree that Kaleta is no angel on the ice.  I've questioned his game many times over the last couple of seasons.  I think overall he's been much more responsible this season, but I understand that he earned his reputation fair and square, and I understand that those reputations, once developed, are hard to shake.  But one thing I've never seen Kaleta do is milk an injury.  To hang that kind of reputation on a player who doesn't deserve it is ridiculous.  Again, extremely irresponsible.  He missed a lot of time last season with neck problems so yeah, his head going into the boards might have done some damage.  Then again, in TSN's world, Kaleta went back in the game.

This evening James Mirtle linked to a story in the Globe and Mail about a study of former athletes' brains and how there's now proof of hockey concussions leading to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, basically degenerative brain disease.  The hockey player in question, Reggie Fleming, was in his 70s and played before helmets and improved safety equipment, but considering how hard some of that improved equipment is, how much bigger the players are now, how much faster the game is, I don't know how anyone can read this article (which I recommend you do) or others like it without being concerned.  Some of the effects of concussions mentioned are sensitivity to light, noise and motion, emotional outbursts, inability to concentrate, loss of memory, depression, and potential links to Parkinsons, strokes, and dementia.  Even the less severe symptoms are scary.  Think about how hard it would be to get through a day if light, noise, and motion bothered you.  The story states that the NHL has officially reported more than 10 concussions while unofficially, there are reports that number is more than double.  I'm gonna go with the unofficial number there.

I'm sick and tired of the star player/scrub double standard.  In the McKenize clip above, Keith Jones starts strong by saying he doesn't care about Kaleta's reputation, but when they move on to the David Koci hit on Mike Green, he argues that Koci should get at least five games because he hit a star player.  That's crap.  I don't even want to hear it.  I understand that Kaleta is not as valuable to the league as Sidney Crosby.  I do.  Crosby being forced to retire due to a head shot would be a huge story and Kaleta would be a blip on the screen.  But head shots and concussions go far beyond the ice and into a player's quality of life, and Patrick Kaleta deserves the same quality of life as every other player in the league no matter how much other fans hate him.  You care about all the players or you care about none of them.  Judging by the NHL's decision here, I'm forced to conclude that they don't care and that almost makes me feel bad for being a fan of their product.

ETA: Just read this story from Mike Harrington, and I'm appalled at the league's attitude that there was no noticeable injury on the play. Are you kidding me? Because Kaleta didn't bleed it doesn't count? He didn't finish the game. He's having neck and vision problems. The fact that the NHL could overlook symptoms like that goes to show that all the talk about head shots and concussions is just that. Talk. Can't see the damage to a brain so it's cool.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Can't Win 'Em All?

I hate the Sabres!

Okay, I'm kidding. But man, I really wanted to beat the Senators a lot. I was getting ready to rant and rave about how pathetic the parts of the game I saw were (I was babysitting through most of the first, fell aslee in the third), but then I read about the seven players with food poisoning. I know a lot of people will go with the whole, "There's no excuse!" thing but you know, sometimes there is an excuse and as far as excuses go, food poisoning is a pretty good one. A co-worker had a run-in with food poisoning a few weeks back and he was down for the count for a while - dehydrated, exhausted, didn't hold down a real meal for a couple of days. While he's no professional athlete, I'd imagine any and all of the above would make it tough to play hockey. Still, stinks that it happened against the freaking Senators.

Watching this game reminded me of a conversation Kate and I had during a preseason game we attended together. You know those big brush things on the top of the helmet of the Sens logo?  I'm sure they have an actual name, but I prefer "big brush things."




How cool would it be if the hockey playing Sens had those on the top of their hockey helmets? Let me help you out. It would be SO cool. If they got to wear big brush thing helmets, no way Dany Heatley ever demands a trade. To give credit where credit is due, I'm pretty sure this was Kate's idea.  And yes, this is pretty representative of the brilliance that happens when we join forces.

As ridiculous as Jarkko Ruutu's hit on Patrick Kaleta was - there goes our offense - I was cracking up at the Ottawa crowd giving up all thought and just booing pretty much every Sabre who touched the puck. Part of the reason I've never been much of a booer is because I'm just not focused enough to remember to boo every time a certain individual touches the puck. Booing everyone removes that problem completely. They were booing Hank for crying out loud. That's funny.

And in closing, I hear John Tortorella had a classic Tortorella press conference this evening. I haven't seen it yet, but I'll look for it as soon as I get home from work tomorrow. In his honor, here's one of my favorite ridiculous press conferences. Enjoy.


Wait, what were we talking about again?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dude.

I take back everything I ever said about not liking Patrick Kaleta's game. He's a rock star.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sabres are Good

First thing I'm taking away from this weekend is that the Chicago Blackhawks are a really good hockey team. I realized they had a lot of offensive talent, but they're well-balanced on defense too. I think that makes them superior to every team in the Eastern Conference except maybe Pittsburgh who I haven't really gotten a good look at yet this season. I've heard all the scuttlebutt about Chicago needing to win this year before they lose a bunch of important role players, but I admit, I thought they weren't ready to go that far yet. I was wrong. They look very, very good.

Second thing I'm taking from this weekend? As good as the Blackhawks are, the Sabres beat them. Minus Ryan Miller, Paul Gaustad, and Mike Grier, all important to the team in different ways. In fact, the Sabres have now beaten two of the top three teams in the Western Conference. I think it might be time to admit that these Buffalo Sabres are you know, good. Fans and media keep pointing to a big game and crying, "This is a measuring stick game!" and then backing off that and finding something to complain about when the Sabres actually win those games.

I think the last couple of games showed that the defense hasn't just been Ryan Miller. It really has been a team effort and it held up even when he wasn't in net. During the Caps post-game, the broadcast showed a really lovely package of strong defensive plays and it featured a lot of different players, both d-men and forwards, and not just the players who we think of as being defensively responsible. I wish it was available online somewhere because it was really eye-opening. Alexander Ovechkin was never in the game and that was largely because the Sabres never let him get in the game and that's been the case with a few stars on a few different teams.

Most of us have been concerned about the Sabres not scoring a lot of goals. Because that's how the most recent successful Sabres teams have won games, that's what we've gotten used to seeing work. But this Sabres team is winning in a different way and I wonder if that's just throwing us all off. I would certainly like more production from our top six, and a genuine, dyed-in-the wool, number one center would be a thing of beauty, but I don't know, can you argue with the stats? We're 30 games into our season. The Sabres are leading the division. They have 9 points on the 9th place team in the conference. They have games in hand on every team ahead of them, enough to theoretically be tied with or ahead of everyone but New Jersey. They've played strong games against a few of the best teams in the West. That's... good. The Sabres are good. Room for improvement in certain areas? Yes, always. But they're good.

Deal with it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hank



Okay, yes, the Caps, for whatever reason, gave Henrik Tallinder lots of room to maneuver and then shoot. And yes, Jose Theodore gave up a huge rebound which no one on his team gathered up. But kudos to Hank for taking the puck to the net, recognizing that he had a shot, taking the shot, and then following the shot to the net. I know a few forwards who could watch that clip and take a lesson or two from it.

As the Henrik Tallinder apologist for the last couple of years, I am, as you can imagine, quite pleased with the way he's playing this year. I don't know if it's finally having been injury free for a while or being in a contract year or having the chance to mentor Tyler Myers a bit - probably a mix of all three - but he looks completely at ease on the ice. He's obviously in good shape, he's playing with confidence, he's getting big minutes. I love it. I was thinking the other day about how he kind of lucked into the opportunity. If Toni Lydman had been healthy when the season started, I'm pretty sure Hank would have started in the press box and maybe we'd be looking at a totally different scenario. I don't know. I do know he's seized the opportunity.

It's way too early to have the "What about next year?" conversation, but hey, I'm a blogger. I'm not required to be responsible in any way so... what about next year?

I've always thought the Sabres needed to extend Toni Lydman or Henrik Tallinder. They seem to have a good amount of depth on defense throughout the organization, but most of it is still very young, and I think experience is always helpful. None of our babies have played in the postseason yet, at least not at the NHL-level. As we learned in 05-06, you can never have too many experienced d-men on the roster.

I feel this way even more with the way Craig Rivet has been playing. It hasn't seemed to get much press so maybe I'm alone, but I feel like I'm watching him age right there on the ice some nights, and I think he's hurt Chris Butler's development this year. Not cool. Lydman and Tallinder have more left in the tank and would most likely be safe for a two year or so extension. I'm always surprised when I realize how young they both still are, especially Hank who's 31 in January, not terribly old for a positional d-man. Getting rid of both of them and going UFA is always an option, but I have to admit, I'm as leery of the UFA market as Darcy Regier. Craziness usually lies down that road.

Before this season, I definitely would have gone with re-signing Lydman. He seemed a little more stable than Hank, definitely healthier. But gosh, I don't know. Hank is playing so well. And the wild card in the situation is how well he and Myers are playing together. I think Myers probably has the maturity and capability to learn to play with a new partner if the situation required that, but I'm not sure why you would break up a pairing that's playing so well together when you don't really have to. If we've learned anything at this point, it should be that you can't force chemistry. You can bring in a fancy UFA, but he's not necessarily going to fit. I think there's a faction of fans who feel a guy from the UFA market is always going to be better than the guy already on the Sabres roster, and that might not be the case here.

If I'm the Sabres, the one thing that concerns me, more than it being a contract year, is health. But if Hank gets through this year in one piece while staying at the level of play he's at right now, I don't know, things get interesting. I wouldn't be opposed to a two year extensin with a slight bump in pay.

But like I said, it's really too early to have this conversation (though if you have an opinion, by all means, throw it up in the comments). For now, I'm just really happy Hank is playing well. I'm happy to see him looking so comfortable, happy to see him smiling, happy to hear Lindy saying positive things for a change. I'm happy to wear my Tallinde 10 jersey and have people making nice comments about how he's playing. It seems crazy to be that genuinely happy about someone you've never met and don't reallly know at all and most likely never will, but I am. I'm happy.

On another note, how much do you think Brian Campbell is freaking out about getting booed tonight? I'll bet he's being a total drama queen about it in the dressing room. "Do you think they're going to boo me? Golly, I hope they don't boo me. What will I do if they boo me? Do you think they're going to boo me?" A lot of my vitrol regarding Campbell has passed though I still think he was a total baby the last year or so he was here, and I admit, I'm a little curious to see how noticeably rattled he might get if he is heavily booed. That's terrible, isn't it?

(I know the NHL.com video looks terrible. I'll replace it with a link eventually. For now, I want it up even if it is eating my blog.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hank is Awesome, More to Come

So I was going to post last night and it was so late and I was sure I was going to have a snow day today so I decided to post in the morning.  And then I got up this morning, saw the magical words, LACKAWANNA CITY SCHOOLS CLOSED, and thought, "Why am I up when I could be sleeping?"

So while you'd better believe I have plenty to say about the awesomeness of Henrik Tallinder, I'll be saying it later today.  For now enjoy this adorable photo of Nathan Gerbe post-first goal.  I'd click to enlarge for the whole effect.


 Photo by Bill Wippert














Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Buffalo Sabres Christmas


This little top six here seems to need a good home.  We'll decorate it and it'll be just right for our team.  Besides, I think they need me.



Boy, are you stupid, Darcy.  Look at that thing.  It'll keel right over from the pressure.  You're hopeless, Darcy, completely hopeless.  You've been dumb before, but this time you really did it.  What a top six!



No, no, no.  It'll be perfectly - oh, crap.  



Well, we got one goal out of it before it completely collapsed.  That's totally cool, right?  :::siiiiiigh:::  I guess you were right, Lindy. I shouldn't have picked this top six. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what hockey is all about.  Isn't there anyone who knows what hockey is all about?



 Sure, Darcy.  I can tell you what hockey is all about.  It's about learning to win and to lose.  It's about good times with friends and family.  It's about community and feeling a part of something even for a few moments.  It's about believing in something in a day and age when sometimes it's hard to believe.  It's about putting aside practicality and logic and daring to dream.  And that's what hockey is all about, Darcy.

                                     
 Wow, that was really beautiful, buddy.  It made me remember why I fell in love with hockey in the first place.  I wish all the fans out there could have heard that.  I wonder what their reaction would be.



AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Everybody's fired!

Monday, December 7, 2009

We Did Play the Rangers, Right?

I intended to say more about the Rangers game today, but after a few hours I found I couldn't remember a single thing about the Rangers game.  I don't remember Chris Drury, I don't remember Ales Kotalik, I barely remember the final score.  Was the game that boring or was I just not paying close enough attention?  I was Christmas shopping during the game (God bless, Amazon.com) so it's possible that I just wasn't paying attention.

-- Jason Pominville tried to appease me with a good game right after I complained about him last week, but I am not feeling him at all.  For some reason I always bristled at people complaining that Jochen Hecht and Henrik Tallinder weren't worth the money they were being paid even though I knew that was true, but I have no such problems with criticism of Pominville.  In fact, I wouldn't mind more of it.  Let's feed him to the lions.

-- It seems in poor form to complain about the offense after a loss that was preceded by oodles of goals, but I am still a little concerned.  Not freaking out but concerned.  Stats suggest that offense has not been a big problem for these guys the last few years, but I think timely offense has been a problem.  The Sabres are still lacking that player who can take over a game when needed the way Danny Briere often did when he was here.  I don't know if it's a question of talent or a question of will, and I don't know if those players are born or made, but it's something that might need to be addressed yet.

-- But a big woo-hoo for the penalty killing units.  I knew they were playing well, but I had no idea they'd leapt to third in the league (as of this writing).  That's awesome.  I was having this debate with someone the other day, but if you have to have a very strong offensive team or a very strong defensive team, I'd go with the defensive side.  (Ideally, you'd be awesome at both things, but we'll lower the expectations a bit for now.)  I think defense and goal-tending are much more likely to make a difference, particularly in the postseason when all the regular seasons rules and penalties seem to get tossed out the window.

-- I was always a bit of a Dmitri Kalinin apologist - hey, someone had to be.  I thought he was far better than most fans gave him credit for being.  His biggest weakness however, and probably the reason he's not in the NHL anymore, was his inability to deal with a mistake.  One mistake and he'd come completely unraveled and it would take him 5, 6, 10 games to pull himself back together.  He just didn't have that even keel, that mental toughness.  One of my biggest concerns about Tyler Myers playing in Buffalo this season was how well he would deal with the mistakes that a 19-year-old rookie defenseman was sure to make, but so far he's equipped himself very well in that area.  In the last handful of games he's had a couple of mistakes end up in the Sabres net, but you wouldn't know it from the way he played the rest of those games.  Cool as a cucumber so far, definitely a plus for a blue-liner.

-- Of course, he gets the benefit of playing with Henrik Tallinder who has been really good this season.  Just saying.  In case you hadn't noticed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Magical Powers of Blogging

Yesterday I made my displeasure with Jason Pominville public.  Commenters added Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek to the hit list.  Last night the three of them combined for two goals and five assists, some of them pretty lovely.  I think they're scared of us, you guys.

More commentary later.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ranking the Sabres

The Five Sabres I Love the Most Right Now

1. Henrik Tallinder
2. Mike Grier
3. Ryan Miller
4. Paul Gaustad
5. Tyler Myers

The Five Sabres I Love the Least Right Now

1. Jason Pominville
2. Jason Pominville
3. Jason Pominville
4. Jason Pominville
5. Jason Pominville

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy Hank = Happy Heather B.

During the game tonight, I was noticing how quick Henrik Tallinder was to join in the rush and shoot the puck and I tweeted, "I think Hank might score *two* goals this season."  One down, one to go!  And there was even a goalie in the net!


Click to see how happy Hank is. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

More later.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back to Hockey

First of all, I just wanted to thank everyone who took the time to respond to my previous post in the comments or via email. I know it was a little different and probably not everyone's bag, but I do appreciate not getting any "What the heck does this have to do with hockey?" comments. Who says the internet is all bad?  I'm still working my way through some email responses.

I have to admit, while I'm happy about the ultimate outcome of this weekend, I just have no idea what to make of the Sabres anymore. Are they good? Are they not good? Are they not capable of playing the way they did in the third period Saturday night all the time or are they just not interested in doing so? Are they going to only be as good as Ryan Miller all season or will they show the capability of carrying Miller (or Lalime) on down nights? I don't know. It would probably be best to stop trying to figure it out.

Random thoughts:

Lots of bloggers have said this already, but Rick Jeanneret is right: We are not worthy of Ryan Miller. We're not worthy, his teammates definitely aren't worthy.

I admit, I haven't given Paul Gaustad much thought, but he's really turned into a hockey player this season. His injury is tough because you can't just plug in another grinder and replace everything Goose does the way you could have maybe done last season or the season before. It could be a problem before all is said and done depending on how much time he misses, but if you look at it the right way, it's a good problem to have.  Good on you, Goose.  Honk!

I also admit, I'm not nearly as concerned about Craig Rivet missing time. I was excited about him coming to Buffalo and he certainly brings some grit as seen on Friday night, but I think injuries and age have hurt him during his time here. He hasn't been very good this season to the point where I think you could make an argument that he's hurt Chris Butler's development. I liked seeing Butler with someone else.

Speaking of defense, Andrej Sekera had a really good game Saturday night. Saw flashes of the play that has made people mention Brian Campbell. I have no idea what Sekera will turn out to be, but I'm certainly not ready to give up on him being a good NHL defenseman. Consider this your gentle reminder that you all hated Brian Campbell until he was 26-years-old. You know you did. Sekera's still only 23. He's got time yet.

Henrik Tallinder continues to be awesome. I think it's totally jumping the gun to talk about whether he should be re-signed or not, but the fact that peoeple are talking about it at all with a straight face is amazing to me.


 Awwwww... It's Papa Hank!


 Happy Hank = Happy Heather B.

I've heard people talking about spreading some of the bottom six among the top six, and I really hated the idea. The top six has definitely sucked it up big style for much of the season but I hated to pull the bottom six away from their strengths which, for most of them, does not include scoring goals. But I really loved Thomas Vanek, Mike Grier, and Tim Kennedy together. Kennedy's a very good passer and he and Grier both forecheck and get the puck to the net which is where Vanek really shines. And Grier absolutely would not let Vanek rest on his laurels for a single shift. I'm very curious to see if Lindy tries them together again and if they continue to click. Also, Pomiville-Roy-Hecht could be very reminiscent of Pominville-Briere-Hecht. I mean, I'd prefer we just insert Ilya Kovalchuk into the top 6 but this is practically the same thing.

If there's one Sabre I'm completely exasperated with right now it's Jason Pominville. 

I'm going to miss the Tuesday-Friday-Saturday schedule.  All those back-to-backs were tough on the players, I'm sure, but I have no social life so having games on Friday and Saturday were awesome.  I kind of liked knowing exactly when the team was playing too.  Now I'm going to be all discombobulated and it's going to be difficult to plan around them again. 

Finally, can you imagine being a Hurricanes fan this weekend?  Hugely blowing leads in the third period back-to-back nights?  Ouch.  (And also, hee!)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Meanderings

This entry is long, personal, a little sad, a little lecture-y, kind of direction-less, and is only barely related to the Sabres and/or hockey. But for whatever reason, it's what popped out when I sat down to write a Thanksgiving post. You've been warned.

I was at the library the other day, sitting at a table in the children's section, flipping through the Christmas books, trying to find a few I thought my boys at school would like. At the table there was a little boy, probably, I don't know 5 or 6, sitting with his dad. It appeared that they were with mom and daughter as well but the little guy was fixated on his dad. I tend to notice parents and small children anyway, but they really caught my attention because I heard the boy ask, "But why is it a blue line? Why isn't it green or purple?" Judging by the dad's reaction, that question was probably one of many, many questions he'd been asked that day. He'd clearly left the "Awww, son, aren't you adorable?" portion of the conversation and moved into, "Oh, god, please make the questions stop!" But from the point-of-view of an innocent bystander, it was pretty cute.

Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. I didn't want a career, I didn't want to work outside of the home, I just wanted to raise a passel of children. I went to college because I felt like I had to but my heart was never in it (and that was reflected in my grades) and I admit, I never thought twice about dropping out shortly before I got married. Looking back this was foolhardy (kids, get your degrees or professional training), but I had my life planned out and having gotten married young - just shy of 22 - things were pretty much on-track.

And that's when things derailed. I thought it was probably not a good sign that we hadn't gotten accidentally pregnant over the course of a few years. And then we couldn't get pregnant on purpose. And then a doctor told me it would, for medical reasons, be very difficult for me to get pregnant without help. And then we tried help - lots of pokey, proddy, invasive, painful, embarrassing, and expensive help - and we still couldn't get pregnant. We were bleeding money, not to mention sanity and emotional well-being so we stopped. Please believe me that if you had children without charts and thermometers and shots and tests, infertility is something that you do not, cannot, and will not ever come close to understanding. It is devastating. (We watched Up last night and the beginning montage was a killer, but the shot that really got me was not the one in the hospital where Carl is comforting Ellie, but the one immediately after where Ellie is sitting in a chair in the yard, eyes closed, still and silent. In that one image, Pixar pretty much nailed it.)

We talked about and looked into other alternatives but without going into a lot of detail, none of them have fit, none of them have worked out. I've spent the last year or so grappling with the idea that there's a very real possibility that I won't ever have children. There are certain things that I've always thought about doing and sharing with a son or daughter, and I've been trying to gently set those things aside, one-by-one. Okay, so I might not ever see my own child read a book for the first time. At least my job is such that I get to work with a new group of young, struggling readers every year. I get to see that light come on when they realize, "Hey, I can read!" and I can make sure they experience lots of Roald Dahl. I might not get to sit down with my own kid and share my favorite movies and TV shows, but I can visit my nephew Luke or have him visit me and make sure he knows lightsabers, and hobbits, and Muppets, and the Truffle Shuffle.

The one thing I've had a very difficult time letting go of, however, is sports. I've always loved sports, both playing and watching. I spent huge amounts of my childhood and teen years playing soccer, basketball, and softball - especially softball - and I loved every moment of it. My mom was a saint and I have never for one second doubted that she loved me, but she was not a sports lover herself. In some ways that was good - she didn't care if I won or lost, didn't complain to my coaches about playing time or strategy, always made sure I was having fun above all else - but she also couldn't toss a ball around with me or throw me pitches or shoot hoops. She always knew who my favorite teams and players were, but she didn't particularly enjoy watching sporting events. When I dreamed of having kids, I dreamed of teaching them to throw and catch and hit, of picking out that first glove and trying on that first uniform. When Mark and I moved to Buffalo, hockey entered the equation, of course. I thought about watching my kids learn to skate, maybe even learning with them. In Birmingham we didn't have any pro sports teams so getting to games was tough, but Buffalo totally solved that problem. How awesome would it be to take my kids to Sabres games and slowly teach them about the game and watch them fall in love with a team or a player the way I did with the Pirates and Andy Van Slyke when I was a kid?

When I go to Sabres games, I always make a trip to the Sabres store. When I go to the Sabres store, I always wander over to the kids side, and I always end up picking up one of the smallest Sabres jerseys, holding it up, studying it from every angle. And for that moment I can almost picture my dream child, a small boy - I admit, it's always a boy - with Mark's dark curls and my blue eyes, jumping up and down with a big grin because he's about to get his first jersey. And I'm pretty sure, in that moment, I can actually feel and hear my heart shattering into a million pieces all over again.

There are many things I'm thankful for this holiday season - my sweet husband, 120 lb. puppies, a job I love, wonderful co-workers, the students, many already world-weary, who let me into their lives every year, hockey, hockey blogs, all the great friends I've made through hockey blogs, those I've met in real-life and those I haven't - but it would be a lie to say that I don't feel like there's a little bit of a hole there that I'm still trying to fill. I don't want to sound like I'm lecturing, but I do hope that those of you who are parents are really embracing and enjoying it. I hope that even when you're piling kids and hockey equipment into a car at 6 a.m. and answering the 87th question about why the lines on the ice are blue and red and not purple and orange, you realize what a privilege it is to be the person who gets to do those things. It's a gift. It really is.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I'm Thankful For

I'm thankful the Sabres aren't playing today. I feel sick enough after stuffing myself with mashed potatoes all day without having to watch those piles of puke flail around in front of the net like they're not sure what the point of hockey is.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tomorrow, I Promise

Really.  I finally got my sicky self to a doctor and now that I'm all full up on antibiotics and cough syrup with codeine, I've strung together a couple of nights of halfway decent sleep which was my primary complaint.  I can't even talk about the last handful of Sabres games because I barely remember them which is fortunate for me it seems.  I've spent the last week or so wallowing in my sick entertainment, those old favorites I always fall back on when I need something on but can't really want to focus my full attention.  That's been a lot of Firefly this time around with my other old reliables being Singin' in the Rain, The Great Escape, Field of Dreams, and any of the Muppet movies. Every time I get sick I'm also extremely grateful for TV Land's late night block of Roseanne and Cosby Show reruns. No better way to cough the night away.

But yeah. You, me, and the Sabres here Friday. I promise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm Not Dead (Yet)

For the record, I'm not ignoring the Sabres or my blog.  I know it's been a little slow around here the last couple of weeks.  I've been sick and it's getting really annoying because I'm not really sick enough to call off work for a few days, but I am sick enough to not have the energy to do much of anything but drag myself to and from work.  I'd almost rather be really, really sick for two or three days and get done then do another day of this nagging, hacking crud. 

So with that as a disclaimer, here are a few very, very quick thoughts:

1. I feel like, in ten years, I've never seen the Sabres beat the Florida Panthers.

2. There's been a lot of talk of the new and improved, laid-back Lindy Ruff, but I have to admit I was pretty happy to see crankpot Lindy in the postgame conference.  I liked hearing him throw the entire team under the bus (the loss was "a good group effort") and bluntly assert that the team thought this game was going to be a lot easier that it was.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy Lindy has lightened up some, especially if that is making the team more loose, but I'm happy my Lindy is still in there too.  I have no idea what this says about me.

3. Still some concerns about the top six.  Are they good enough to carry the team on nights when Ryan Miller isn't as his best?  I don't know.

4. I am super stoked about the final four on Top Chef.  And I like almost all of them although I'm pulling for Kevin and then Jen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Everyone at Casa de Top Shelf - even the dog - has been sick this week so I thought I'd wait and write one big entry tonight about the whole weekend.  I'm finding that might not have been the best strategy however because I've forgotten a lot of the little things I know I wanted to point out.  Or maybe that's the codeine-laced cough syrup talking.

I do remember the overwhelming joy I felt on Friday and Saturday.  I know a lot of non-sports fans would scoff at the use of a word as strong as "joy" when talking about watching a bunch of grown-men knocking a frozen piece of rubber around a sheet of ice, but it fits.  Before both of the last two seasons I've been fairly optimistic about the team, sometimes vocally so, but the little brats I had finally beat the, "THESE GUYS ARE GOOD, I SWEAR!  SOMEWHERE IN THERE IS A GOOD HOCKEY TEAM!" out of me.  So to finally, finally see them playing well against good, physical teams on back-to-back nights instead of throwing numerous excuses out at the end of the night?  That's good stuff right there.

A few thoughts:

-- I'm most happy that the Sabres managed to play this way without Mike Grier in the line-up.  I admit, I was worried about him being out.  If we've learned anything the last two years it's that you could hang a sign from some of these guy's visors that says, "YOU MUST PLAY HARD THIS SHIFT IF YOU WANT TO WIN," and they'd still forget.  I know Grier isn't dead or anything, but I was concerned that not having him right there keeping them in line would be disastrous.  Maybe... maybe they're learning?

-- Kudos to Darcy Regier for calling up Tyler Ennis for the night.  I'm sure he'll go right back down when Drew Stafford is cleared, but it's nice for him to get a little taste of the NHL.  And it was nice for us to get a taste of his potential.  Holy moses, there is pure talent just pouring off of him.  I'm more than fine with him getting seasoning and experience being the go-to guy in the AHL, but wow, a future with him, Myers, and Kennedy seems pretty good, doesn't it?  Also, I'd like to point out once again that I saw the Twin Tylers drafted live and in person in Ottawa.  Seems like I might be good luck.  Maybe the Sabres should consider sending me to every draft?

I do have to wonder if playing him was against some kind of child labor law.  Look at him.  Apperance-wise he'd fit right in with my classes P.E. group.


Seriously, he looks like he's wearing his dad's jersey. (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

-- I wasn't particularly affected one way or the other by the waiving of Adam Mair - I like him but I'm not overly attached to him - but I do give him a ton of credit for taking the whole thing - not playing, getting waived and not picked up, not playing some more - like a champ.  When he got the chance to play this weekend, he came out like gangbusters and he did provide something that no one else on the roster really does.  I don't think NHL teams really need an old-school enforcer anymore, but it is nice to have a guy around who can and will drop the gloves effectively.  Some food for thought.

-- I think I've said this before but I don't understand why Jarome Iginla isn't a huge, huge star.  Every time I see that NHL Network commercial that features a string of players saying, "Hockey is for everyone," I wonder again.  In those fleeting seconds he seems so natural and likable.  He's handsome, he has a gorgeous smile, and oh, yeah, he's really, really good at hockey.  He's a more well-rounded player than Alexander Ovechkin and he's more natural on camera than Sidney Crosby.  Get that man out there, NHL.  Good grief.

-- I probably shouldn't even think about the Sabres' playoff hopes until the new year at least, but the one thing we really, really need yet is a good point man on the power play.  Our power play is atrocious anyway - note to Tim Connolly: you're very good but NOT good enough to skate through FOUR PLAYERS and I feel you probably should have learned that the first three times you tried and failed - but we really need someone who can get a shot through to the guys in front of the net.  Noodle that one, Darcy.  (I know, I'm really getting ahead of myself.  I can't help it.)

-- Seriously now, why was Gumby at the game Friday?  Every time they showed him just chilling in his seat, I cracked up.  I'm cracking up now just thinking about it.  And where was Pokey?  Tied up in the parking deck?  Will Wallace and Gromit make an appearance this weekend?



-- I know those of you who aren't on Twitter probably hate listening to people talk about it - I used to be there - but Drew Stafford's Twitter feed is delightful.  I've always had kind of a weird relationship with Stafford.  And by weird I mean, I didn't like him at all.  He just seemed way too hipster ironic for me.  I prefer sweet and sincere.  Kate mentioned loving his Twitter recently and as much as I love her, I still rolled my eyes and thought, "No way."  But Friday night when he tweeted, "Listen pocahontas, unless you put your ear to the ground you'll never hear the buffalo comin'" after the game, I'm pretty sure I actually felt my heart crack open.  And then after the game Saturday night he sent, "Tennis the menance crushes hotladelphia" and I was a goner.  First of all, Tennis the Menace is a great nickname.  (I admit, it took me a few long seconds to sort out T. Ennis = Tennis).  Second of all, his habit of writing Hot(name of city) a la Hotlanta really is kind of amusing, Hotladelphia being my favorite so far.  (Okay, Kate was right.) 

-- I'm not entirely sure if "Tennis the Menace" really IS a great nickname or if it just seems great in comparison to the typical hockey player "Name+sy" equation.  Thoughts?

-- Henrik Tallinder is awesome at hockey again.  Just for the record.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Most Entertaining Game Yet

Why?  Because of this, of course.  Click to enlarge for full effect.


"Anyone ever told you you have beautiful eyes?  Whadaya say we ride that little horse of yours back to my place later?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

PK! PK! PK! PK! PK!

Let me state again, just for the sake of those who might not have been reading this blog for very long, that I love defense.  I adore defense.  My favorite player is not a defenseman by accident.  Hockey is a beautiful game consisting of a thousand amazing skills and plays, but my absolute favorite thing in hockey is a game-changing/game-saving penalty kill.  So sitting here now, thinking about the Edmonton game, the only thing I can remember is the Sabres killing off Clarke MacArthur's five minute penalty.  You guys, I was swooooooning, it was so beautiful.  With every clear I got more and more excited.  One of the things I love about penalty killing is it's the only time during a game when the crowd really notices and cheers defense.  Defense is usually best unnoticed so it's nice for it - and the players who specialize in it - to occasionally get to be at the forefront.  Seriously, if I could find video of that penalty kill, I would watch it over and over and over.

Which brings us to the penalty.  On replay, I really thought MacArthur fell into Liam Reddox more than anything.  From the side angle, it looked like both guys were losing their balance and they ended up in a very ugly collision.  I understand why Lindy Ruff would call it a tough call.  It was a tough call.  That said, I would much rather the refs make that call than not make that call.  If there's ever any question about a hit from behind or a hit to the head, I'm all for erring on the side of protecting the players' well-being.  The contact may have been incidental, MacArthur was clearly feeling badly, he has zero reputation for being a dirty player, and Reddox, thankfully, did eventually walk off the ice with some assistance, but I think it's when all those things are taken into account that we end up with messy and inconsistent rulings, particularly on suspensions.  If you think it's a bad hit, it's a bad hit whether the victim skates away or is hauled away, whether the hitter feels guilt or crows about it to his buddies after the game, whether it's the first offense or the fifteenth offense.  Reputation and history of suspensions ae particularly frustrating standards when some players never get suspended no matter what they do.  (This is where I encourage you to check out Down Goes Brown's hilarious NHL suspension flow chart if you haven't already.  Hilarious.  And hey, while you're there, check out his post on why fans buying tickets isn't really related to a team building a winner.)

But seriously, what about that penalty kill?  Hot damn, that was sexy.

This Blog Brought to You By the Letter H and the Number 10

It's been relatively quiet in Sabres land the last few days.  I was planning on blogging about Adam Mair being on waivers and then I didn't get around to it and then absolutely noting interesting came of it.  The Sabres waived him, no one claimed him, and 24 hours later he's exactly where he's been all season.  That's not very exciting at all and quite frankly, I'm a little let down at what a non-story it turned out to be.  Boooo, non-stories make for terrible blogging fodder!

This week I've been mostly distracted from hockey because of all the super awesome stories floating around about the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street.  I love, love, love Sesame Street.  I watched it as a kid and have been pretty fascinated by it as an adult.  We can have the "TV is bad for kids!" debate, but I've read numerous books about Sesame Street and the care and and research that went into the developing of the show is really interesting.  Everything from the sets to the animation to the music to the cast was carefully planned and thought out.  Even with all that, early Sesame Street in particular just had such an off-the-wall anarachy about it sometimes especially compared to the mostly very sanitized children's entertainment offered today.  I don't throw the word genius around a lot, but Jim Henson and some of his Sesame Street co-horts?  Genius.

So because the Sabres have been a snooze this week and because I'm having so much fun, I'm going to veer completely off-topic and just hit you with some of my favorite Sesame Street clips.  A little levity before the games start back up and we all start freaking out about the awesomeness/horribleness of the Sabres and what it all means for the season.

First up, "Me and My Llama."  Why does this girl have a pet llama in New York City?  Why is she taking him to the dentist unaccompanied by an adult?  Why is she taking him to the dentist period?  Who knows?  It's a pretty catchy little tune though, isn't it?



As someone who delights in the funny spontaneity of kids on a day-to-day basis, I have a real fondness for the unscripted little conversations between the Muppets and real kids.  Here are two of my favorites.  I love how much this little girl is enthralled by Kermit.  In the second one especially she can barely keep her eyes and hands off of him.  (One of my favorite stories in any of the books I've read was told by someone who was visiting the Sesame Street set.  She was fascinated by how the kids on set seemed completely unfazed by the muppeteers.  To her it was obvious the adults were manipulating the Muppet, but the kids didn't even seem to notice them.  Out of curiosity, she pointed to Jim Henson who was handling Kermit at the time and asked a child, "Do you know who that man is?"  And the child said, "Oh, yeah.  That's the man who holds up Kermit so he doesn't get tired.")

Anyway, you absolutely cannot go wrong doing a YouTube search for Sesame Street and John John, but I like this little girl a lot too.





And finally, a few of my favorite Muppet songs.  If I didn't already know Kate and I were born to be friends, I knew it when she attempted to cheer me up a few days ago with the first clip below.  Awesome.  The second is one of my all-time favorites.  I have it in my bookmarks and I have the song on my iPod.





All right, let's go Sabres!  And remember, if they suck out loud, Sesame Street on YouTube.  It's a sure thing pick-me-up.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'll Take the Mulligan

Yeah, so um... Henrik Tallinder was really good last night?  Yay?

(I wrote the above right after the game ended, popped in some Firefly DVDs to wash away the grossness of this hockey weekend, and three hours later, whoops, I haven't added anything else.)

I am perplexed by this entire weekend.  Despite all the talk about this being a demarctation point in the season, I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal.  I mean, yes Philly, Boston and the like are more talented than the teams the Sabres have been playing for the last month.  But they've also not been playing very well and they're banged up.  Kevin wrote a post a few days ago about how the teams we played in October have been almost as good as the teams coming up in November.  Plus, it seemed that everyone was forgetting that one of the inexplicable things about the Sabres the last two years is that while they've sucked it up against non-playoff teams, they've played pretty well against the teams above them.  So I was feeling pretty good about this weekend.

Jeez.  How long is November.  Almost over, right?  Please?

I don't want to take any credit from Philly and Boston because they are talented teams for sure.  As was stated a few times Friday night, Philly in particular has the ability to skate with the Sabres like few teams in the conference do.  But the Sabres team that played this weekend looked completely different from the Sabres team that played in the first fifteen or so games.  Just no fight or scrap at all, no digging for pucks, not as much shooting, sloppy defense.  No effort at all AGAIN.  All the talking heads went on and on about this being a wake-up call but come on, aren't we past that yet?  Wasn't last season a wake-up call that being successful in the NHL requires a 60 minute effort every night?  Or the season before that?  Or the playoffs before that?

There are many, many things we could talk about, but for now, I'll just say this: I'm officially worried about our top six.  I love our third and fourth lines.  They're wonderful.  I'd like to marry them and have German-Canadian-American hard-working, grinding, defensively-responsible babies.  But when all is said and done, guys on the third and fourth lines are on the third and fourth lines for a reason.  They're not supposed to carry your offense, they're supposed to be a complement to your top two lines.  In theory I like Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy and Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly but none of them have shown the ability to take over a game, not consistently at least.  Every time Mike Richards broke loose with the puck, my heart sank because I knew he would score, I just knew it.  Even if he hadn't the time before, he scared me.  No one in our top six makes me feel that way.  None of them make me think, "That's a goal."  And that's probably not a good thing.  I love Mike Grier, but Mike Grier scoring goals can't be our game plan, you know?

So yeah, I'm taking a mulligan on this weekend.  Hopefully the next one will be better.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Woooooooo!

Henrik Tallinder was the best Sabre on the ice tonight.  Did you see him doing his best Bobby Orr?  Using his reach?  Backing defenders off of him?  Getting and creating offensive chances?  Bemoaning in the postgame that he didn't score?  He was really, really good.  I love when he's really, really good.


Yeah, that's pretty much all I got.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Sabres, the Yankees, the Pirates

I really, really liked this game a lot.  Part of it was being in my totally awesome seats for only the second time.  The excitement of being in the lower bowl hasn't worn off yet.  Part of it was the company.  Seeing a game with Kate is always a kick and we had a number of things to catch up on.  But part of it was just the relaxed, laid-back nature of the game.  There were no fancy heroics, no one player flashing and dashing.  It was just the Sabres playing good hockey and beating a team they should beat.  I like it.

Kate and I had an interesting little conversation about the lack of heroics so far this year.  Obviously, balanced scoring is a much better way to go about playing hockey.  One of the most important difference between last season's start and this season's start has been how spread across the roster the scoring has been.  Last year the Sabres won so many games in October because Thomas Vanek was playing like a man possessed.  The problem of course was that when he came down to earth, no one else stepped up.  This October the team has gotten contributions from every line but while that's much more likely to carry into success in November, it sometimes isn't as exciting to watch.  Kate talked about how riveting she found Vanek last season, how there were games where she couldn't take her eyes off him, and as a fan, that's a lot of fun.  It's easier to overlook guys when everyone's sharing the wealth.  I was shocked when I looked at Tim Connolly's stats yesterday because I feel like he hasn't done anything.  Instead of one guy looking totally awesome and amazing, everyone seems kind of quiet and average.  But hey, a good, balanced, occasionally unexciting team is a good problem to have.

Other odds and ends:

-- I was shocked to discover just now that Matt Ellis is only 28.  For some reason I thought he was 33, 34, kind of a journeyman veteran. 

-- Congratulations to the Pominvilles!  Jayden feels very much like a girl's name to me - so far Blake Vanek totally wins the Sabres baby name game - and I feel like Pommers is way too young to be reproducing but that's mostly because he'll probably always strike me as 15-years-old.

-- We kind of vaguely noted that we hadn't seen Vanek in a while at one point and his ice time does suggest that he was being benched.  I admit, we weren't paying very close attention.  Any idea why?  Did they say anything about his ice-time on the TV broadcast?  I know I've been harping on Lindy Ruff's tendency to bury players in the doghouse, but the Ruff-Vanek relationship is the one that concerns me the most.  We need Vanek to be able to function for oh, five more years or so.

-- That said, I don't even care about Vanek's line right now because dude, our third and fourth lines are awesome.  Those six guys - Grier, Kennedy, Hecht, Ellis, Goose, and Kaleta - are so much fun to watch.  I would give them just a touch more skill if I could, but they are all over the ice, fighting for pucks, going after guys, and never ever taking it easy.  I'd like to give them all a huge hug right now.  If our top six played like that, they would be untouchable.

-- Kudos to the Sabres for putting the World Series game on both the TVs in the concourses and on the jumbotron during the second intermission.  I hate the Yankees, I never want to hear the words "Core 4" again, and I certainly don't want to listen to any jibber jabber about the LONG WORLD SERIES DROUGHT for Yankees players and fans.  (Seriously, Chris Rose talking to Jorge Posado about how AWFUL it must have been to wait EIGHT YEARS for his FOURTH WORLD SERIES RING made me want to put the coffee table through the TV.)  That said, I have a soft spot for Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera so I was glad they got to start and finish the clinching game.  And while I hate many, many things about Fox's baseball coverage, I really love the around the field thing they started doing last season where they replay the final out of the game over and over, each time focusing on a different player on the field.  I really like seeing everyone's reactions (instead of Derek Jeter's over and over and over and over) and found the reactions of Posada and Joe Girardi to be particularly appealing.  Posada looked so much like a happy little boy which I'm a sucker for, and Girardi managed to express anxiety, relief, and joy in the span of a split second.

-- That said, the Yankees suck and anyone who cheers for them has a black hole where his or her soul should be.


The last time the Pirates won the World Series.  1979. I was not yet 2-years-old.  Heck, the last .500 season was 1992.  That's a drought, douchebags.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Patrick Kaleta, Pest of the Year

We're fighting a bug at our house - not the flu (yet) and so far Mark has the worst of it - but as a result, I slept through a lot of the Leafs game and all of the Islanders game.  Lucky me from the sounds of it.  So I apologize, but I can't offer you any hard-hitting analysis on why we sucked so hard this weekend. 

I also didn't get around to responding to a couple of comments on the last post.  I just wanted to reply to people questioning the lack of love for Clarke MacArthur.  Believe me, I'm in no way hating on MacArthur.  I'm really, really happy about how well he's playing.  That said, I'm still a little hesitant about getting too excited about him.  I would have bid him farewell before the season with no problem, and I have no pre-existing sentimental attachment to him.  So I'm pleased but not pleased enough to put him in the top five yet.

I will say that one guy who came very, very close to top five status was Patrick Kaleta.  I think I've mentioned before that I have very mixed feelings about Patrick Kaleta.  As blasphemous as it may be to some Sabres fans, I'm not a huge fan of the physical edge he plays with.  I think he's often on the borderline with those hits that are sometimes considered dirty but "good hockey hits."  They make me uncomfortable.  Maybe it makes me a wuss, but I think players are scarily reckless with each other these days, and I think the NHL is irresponsible in how often it turns a blind eye.  I will not be at all shocked when a guy gets carried off the ice and straight to the morgue, and I know Patrick Kaleta could be the guy on the giving end of that hit.  I don't feel very good about that.  I know for a lot of fans and media, that's part of hockey, but it's not the part of hockey I like.  It's not the reason I fell in love with hockey at all.

I do understand that it's good to have a pest on the team though.  Players that can really get under the other team's skin while having the self-control to take it when the opponent snaps at him are worth their weight in gold.  Last time I complained about our power play (something that may continue considering we currently have the 22nd best PP in the league), my complaint was that we never seem to convert on the penalties Kaleta draws.  At the time I didn't have any numbers on the situation which is why I was happy to stumble across a link to this post on the The Score about Kaleta.  You can click on the link to see the actual numbers, but it appears that, relative to ice-time, Kaleta draws more penalties than anyone else in the NHL and has pretty much since he joined the big club.  Jonathan Willis, the author of the post, figured that Kaleta penalties led to 12 extra goals over the course of last season.  Again, this makes me even sadder that the Sabres seem incapable of pulling together any kind of reliable power play.

What has really made me happy about Kaleta this season though is how good he suddenly appears to be at hockey.  He definitely seems to be bringing more skill to the ice so far, and being able to get goals out of the fourth line is obviously a huge plus for any hockey team.  And obviously, he is, as he's always been, one of the hardest workers on the ice.  He gets that his success at this level largely rests on his effort and you can never fault him there.  I think there will probably come a time when he gets a reputation for being a pest or even a dirty player and at that point, you'd think the number of penalties he draws will drop and the number of penalties he earns will increase so it's good that he's developing other skills.  I don't want Kaleta to turn into an Andrew Peters, a player who is completely one-dimenisonal and once that dimenison is up, completely useless.

So yay for Patrick Kaleta, an almost top five Sabre!

ETA: This is probably getting into what should be a whole nother post but after re-reading this I just wanted to clarify that I absolutely do not think Patrick Kaleta steps on the ice every night intending to hurt someone.  I don't think anyone in the NHL does really.  I do think that the league on a whole has gotten extremely reckless and Kaleta's play is an example of that.  Players don't seem to take as much care with each other and while I'm aware that that sounds ridiculous, the truth is that these guys absolutely hold each other's well-being in their hands every time they stop on the ice.  I don't know if players are less cautious due to increased safety gear (which would be the wrong attitude since we've seen that the hard plastic shell on shoulder and elbow pads actually make hits more lethal for the guys on the receving end) or what but the concern for each other isn't there.  It's like Ryan Miller said a couple of weeks back in regards to players crashing the net and goalie: When there's the possibility of a goal, guys can stop on a dime.  When there's no chance of scoring, guys suddenly can't control themselves.  I think you can apply that same phenomenon to situations all over the ice.  You can talk to me all you want about the game being faster and players being bigger and stronger, but I don't think that's enough to explain away the current attitude.  And you know what, the game being faster, stronger, and bigger is all the more reason for players to be more careful and for the league to take borderline hits, particularly to the head and from behind, more seriously even if it means over-penalizing.  Considering how much more we know now about concussions and how strings of concussions can affect a player's quality of life long after his hockey career is over, the league continuing to turn a blind eye is a tragedy.  They expect a player on the ice to control his stick.  If he hits someone with his stick, no matter how incidental, it's penalized.  If the other player squeezes out even a drop of blood, it's an extra penalty.  So make the players control their bodies too.  At some point, speed and size have to make way for safety.

End of only vaguely-related rant.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Have I Mentioned That I Love the Sabres?

I've spent the last few days going through my archives for a side project and I was reminded how crazily I blogged about last year's strong start.  I spent a lot of time complaining about how hard it was to write about a team that was winning all the time.  What was I thinking?  I was practically begging the Sabres to start sucking.

Well, forget that.  This year I'm embracing the love.  I'm hoping the Sabres continue to win, of course, but in case they don't, I want to be happy while I can.  No one on the team is really driving me crazy right now, I don't think, but here are the five Sabres I love the most right now:


HENRIK TALLINDER

Yeah, anyone who's read Top Shelf for oh, a day or two could have seen this coming.  But for the first time in a while, Hank is actually earning my devotion.  He's remembered that he's a pretty darn good NHL defenseman.  Tyler Myers deserves a lot of credit for that but maybe, just maybe, Hank deserves a little credit for Myers' transition going so well.  Judging by some recent quotes from Myers, he feels it partly is.  At any rate, I was starting to forget what it was like to love a player without having to constantly defend that affection so hey, whatever the reason, thanks for getting your crap together, Hank.


MIKE GRIER

Maybe I was just still new to hockey or something, but I really don't remember Mike Grier making much of an impression on me last time he was in town.  But now?  Yeah, the guy is making an impression.  It seems remarkable that throwing one or two different people in the mix could make such a huge change in an entire team, but so far it's happening.  I'm now fully onboard the "Grier's Intangible" train.  I have no idea what he's doing or saying behind the scenes, but there's no question that he's giving it all he's got when he's on the ice.  That alone is a lesson for a lot of last year's Sabres.


MATT ELLIS

When I sat down to write this post, Matt Ellis wasn't really on my mind.  But when I started to really think about it, he was right there.  Another guy who just plays hard every night no matter what kind of ice time he's getting.  He knows his role and he fills it ably and willingly.  I know he's a really popular guy with many Sabres fans, but right now, I'd be having never seeing Adam Mair on the ice again.  I want Ellis in the line-up.


 TYLER MYERS

I saw Tyler Myers get drafted in person, you know.  You can probably see him better in the above photo if you click on it, but there he is shaking hands with Darcy Regier while Lindy Ruff looks on.  (I was reminded today that the Sabres traded up a spot in order to get him.  Some fans around us were wondering why they went to the trouble to move up one little spot, and I assumed they really wanted to make sure they got Myers.  How smart does that look right now?)  Look, I freely admit that I had a ton of doubts about Myers playing at the NHL level this year, and I still think we're likely to see him wear down a bit as the season unfolds.  But I also freely admit that I was mostly wrong about him.  He's skilled, he's calm, and he's so amazingly confident.  When he does make mistakes, he seems to put them right out of his mind which has not been a strong area for the Sabres the last couple of years.  I know I'm not the only person in Buffalo who is awfully excited about this kid.


RYAN MILLER

Like I said yesterday, it's so easy to take Ryan Miller for granted, but jeez, he's playing some great hockey right now.  If he plays like this all season, we're a lock for a playoff spot and maybe even a round or two.  He's smart, he's articulate, he's thoughtful, he's open, and he so clearly wants to be the best he can be.  How can you not love that?

Let's be happy and positive together.  Who are you loving so much right now?