Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Sabres Show Sucks

I'm feeling pretty okay with the loss to Calgary. Yes, Ryan Miller let in a couple of big time softies and yes, it stunk to tie the game back up only to watch it slip away again and no, it doesn't do anything to dissuade the feeling that the Sabres are just a horribly streaky team. But since a number of problems (namely, a ton of shots allowed and some painful turnovers) can be chalked up to a hurting defensive corp, I'm willing to give everyone a little slack this time around.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned some complaints about the Sabres Show and since we had an extra day off here I thought I'd go into a little more detail. When I first heard that the Sabres were looking to expand their web content and start up a weekly magazine show, I was really excited. I've been watching YouTube clips from San Jose's Shark Byte for a couple of seasons now and the idea of that kind of thing with players I actually know and love was really cool. Unfortunately, I don't think it's really panned out.

First up, the one thing I really do appreciate is that the player interviews have mostly stayed away from the guys we see and hear on TV and the radio all the time, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad being the big four. Goose is the only one in that group to have a feature so far. It's been nice to see a little bit of focus on guys who don't get as much media attention especially some of the European players.

But most of the interviews have been extremely generic and not at all enlightening. The only thing I can think of that I learned that I didn't already know was that Ales Kotalik designs his own hats. Henrik Tallinder played soccer growing up? Toni Lydman listens to really heavy metal? Even though he's a really quiet guy? Seriously, we're going with that as the main thrust of the Toni Lydman interview? Doesn't everyone know that already? Don't we make a big deal about that EVERY SINGLE SEASON? And now we're going to act like it's a huge revelation? Or does the casual fan really not know that?

The interviews have also been almost completely interchangeable. Take "It was really hard moving to another country," combine it with "I always dreamed of playing in the NHL," and, where applicable, add just a dash of "Kids are great, I really like mine a lot" and you get a Sabres Show interview. If you removed the very brief soccer footage from the beginning of Hank's interview, changed family member names and substituted Germany for Sweden, it could've been about Jochen Hecht instead. I realize it can probably be a challenge to come up with something new about players who have been around for a while but come on, that's your job! That's what you're supposed to be doing!

I also think there hasn't been enough player oriented material. Shark Byte does all kinds of little goofy player segments that are really fun and I imagine, not that complicated to shoot. "How Well Do You Know Your Teammate?" is probably my favorite. It's stupid and silly but it's funny and it really allows fans to get a feel for guys' personalities. Or what about some actual hockey segments? Put Kotalik on the ice and have him break down his shootout move. Let Thomas Vanek demonstrate the art of tipping a shot. Explain one of those funky drills that are so much fun to watch even though you have no idea what's going on. Seriously, I'm not watching the Sabres Show to learn how New Era makes a baseball cap. I'm watching it for the Sabres. More Sabres please.

Really there just needs to be more period. A couple of weeks ago they showed the Hank interview during the intermission of one game and the Mike Weber/Ott family piece during the game the following night and boom, everyone had now seen half of that week's show before it was aired on TV or put on the team website. If the Sabres are going to use that material to fill intermissions during road games, there needs to be a ton more material so we're not all watching the same thing over and over and over. I think I could recite Goose's interview for you, I saw it so many times. Do a load of different segments and interviews and make some of them TV only and some of them internet only. Spread the wealth. As it is right now, I never watch the Sabres Show on the website and I'm not sure that was the Sabres' goal.

One of my biggest problems with the Sabres Show however is Maria Genero. Part of this is just personal preference. I hate, hate, hate that sing-songy newscaster style of speaking. I'd rather watch the Buffalo News guys talk at me because while they occasionally stumble or hold the microphone in the wrong place, at least they're talking to me like normal human beings. I feel like an interview should be more of a conversation and Maria's overly serious, everything I'm saying is very important and dramatic, up and down voice pulls me right out of that.

I also feel like she doesn't know anything about hockey. Maybe I'm wrong about that and she's a huge fan but it certainly doesn't come across that way. And while technically I suppose you don't need to know anything about hockey to ask Ales Kotalik about his hats and Toni Lydman about heavy metal, I don't know, for some reason it makes the entire interview ring false for me. Kate writes silly little player things all the time (Kate would be great at Maria's job btw) but they're always based in something that's going on with the team or player at the time (i.e. she knows what she's talking about) and I think that makes them even funnier.

I also feel like there's just a weird vibe between Maria and the players sometimes. I'm treading carefully here because I certainly don't want to suggest that women shouldn't be doing what she's doing because hello, woman writing this blog. I'm all for talented, qualified women in sports journalism. But this particular woman? I dunno. Her Adam Mair interview was... kinda skeevy and while part of that was Mair, the way she handled it didn't help. Or maybe it's just that she hasn't - and as far as I know, doesn't - spend that much time around the players. They're not comfortable with her. I think Shark Byte is helped along immensely by the fact that Sharks color man, Drew Remenda, does most of the player stuff. There's clearly a high level of familiarity and ease between him and the players. Now, I am in NO way suggesting that Harry Neale take over. No, that would merely be another kind of disaster altogether (although probably a much funnier one - I wonder if he would mix up Goose and Pommers even while standing right in front of them). But I'd love to see Rob Ray doing some stupid segments with the players. I think that would lead to a much more natural and relaxed vibe on both sides of the microphone.

So yeah... I think the Sabres Show is a good idea that just hasn't been worked out yet.

(This post is probably completely scattered but I gotta get to work now so I don't have time to make sense of it. Sorry, dudes.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Let's Go Buff-a-lo!

I have a confession to make: I'm a bandwagon fan.

I try to act all tough like I've been watching hockey for a good solid decade now and yeah, I've been familiar enough with Sabres players to have favorites for a number of years now and yeah, I do remember pre-lockout hockey. But the truth is, like much of Buffalo, I was totally swept up in the team's success post-lockout. It wasn't until that point that I really started paying attention and picking up on things about the game and learning all of the individuals on the team. Almost everything I've learned about hockey, I've learned in the last handful of years.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately for some reason. I think in the back of my head I haven't really considered myself a real Sabres fan because of how successful they've been since I've been watching them. The Pirates? Well, jeez, they haven't drafted anyone talented since the Middle Ages and they're looking at their 118th straight losing season. I can wear my Pirates fan badge with a little honor. I've earned that sucker.

The Sabres however have been one of the better teams in the league since I really tuned into them with consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances and a Presidents Trophy. It's easy to root for a team like that. Anybody can root for a team that wins so much. Even last season, when the team struggled, I wasn't completely sold on myself. I know a lot of fans were really down on the Sabres but I thought there were some legitimate reasons for their uneven play - lack of leadership, youth, processing a lot of changes in a short period. It was a sucky year to be pulling for the Sabres but I thought it was still pretty easy to say, "Hey, they'll pull it together. They're still a good team."

This season has been a little different. The Sabres came into the regular season vowing that things would change and at the start it seemed like they meant it. And then they bottomed out. Those little brats started doing the same things they were doing last year - giving half efforts, trying to coast through games, playing undisciplined, occasionally flat-out stupid, following up a few good games with games they would've lost to a local Timbits team. My favorite player has been scratched three times and everyone else not named Thomas Vanek probably could've been too. Things have been so defeating that fans started talking about firing Lindy Ruff who has in the past been an untouchable. Last season I was patient and willing to make excuses but this year? Good grief, I've hated these jackasses at times as those of you who were reading a few weeks ago might remember. I've ranted and raved and called them pretty much every name I've learned in six years of working with really mouthy kids. And trust me, that's a LOT of names.

My favorite player is out, the Sabres have played well for a few games which, based on recent history, means they're due for a clunker, half our defensive corp for the night is under the age of 12 and the game is a late start (although truthfully, as a night owl, I love late starts). This team hasn't really given me much of a reason to hope they're going to do anything beyond make the playoffs and even that's with help from the really terrible teams below them. And yet here I am, watching hockey and blogging at 11:30 when I really should be in bed. I've come to the realization this season that no matter how much I might claim to hate these stupid brats, no matter how much I yell at the TV, "Keep it up and I'm just watching Lost now!", no matter how much I try to pretend I don't care, I do care. Way too much. Even when I hate these guys, I love these guys. Because they're Sabres and I'm a Sabres fan.

Yeah, I'm screwed, aren't I?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hey, Now You're an All-Star

Some All-Star thoughts coming up but first! I just saw this entry on Jerry Sullivan's blog. It's all about blogging and it's pretty interesting. I recommend clicking over there and reading it - it's not very long - but he talks about wanting to be a better blogger and how it's probably the future of his job. Here's my favorite part:

Blogging only makes it clear that most people are just as smart as I am. It's just that I have a forum. But it's a little humbling to know hundreds of people actually click on to see what I have to say -- if only to confirm their belief that I'm a nitwit.

I don't know, maybe it's just me but that's kind of sweet and self-deprecating. I have to admit, I've come around on Jerry Sullivan a lot over the last few months. I was just telling a friend the other day that while I rarely listen to WGR and don't know anything about football, any time I happen to come across Sully on the radio, I'll stop and listen for a bit because I find his crankiness endlessly entertaining. And then he mentioned in a chat that he used to watch Gilmore Girls with his daughters and that it choked him up when Rory decided to go to Yale like her grandfather.

I think the old grump is growing on me a bit.

Let me balance out saying something nice about a TBN columnist by making fun of one. Did you catch this gem in Bucky Gleason's story on Thomas Vanek?

The fact Vanek will become the first Austrian to play in the All-Star Game is merely a bonus, chocolate sprinkles atop the whipped cream atop the pudding atop the sweetest crust ever made.

Maybe it's just me but that is almost hilarious in its awfulness. I'm going to make that a part of my header. TOP SHELF: THE CHOCOLATE ATOP THE WHIPPED CREAM ATOP THE PUDDING ATOP THE SWEETEST CRUST OF THE BUFFALO BLOGOSPHERE.

Okay, on to the All-Star game:

- Way back when I was a wee child, I happened across the NHL Skills Competition. This was years before I was regularly watching hockey, years before I met Mark. I turned on the channel just in time to see Ray Bourque go 4 for 4 in the accuracy shooting and I was in awe. In awe that anyone could hit a puck that hard much less place it in a certain spot much less do it four times in a row without missing. That didn't immediately translate into becoming a hockey fan but even now I clearly remember it so it's one of the little things that stuck in the back of my brain without me realizing it. I've written before about how my fondness for Ron Francis started laying the groundwork for me someday being a hockey fan. Well, I think Ray Bourque and the accuracy shooting did the same thing.

- One of the things that bothers me the most about Versus is that they come into games with an established storyline and when that storyline doesn't pan out quite right, they can't go with the flow. We've seen it time and time again in games against Pittsburgh. Even when Sidney Crosby has no goals, no shots and is a -2, he's the story they came in with, he's the story they go out with. They can't shift from "Sidney Crosby is great!" to "Sidney Crosby is great, here's how the Sabres are shutting him down." The get stuck on "Sidney Crosby is great!"

The storyline for the Skills Competition was clearly "Alexander Ovechkin will be the star of the night!" And I thought he really, really wasn't. I thought he was one of the worst competitors in the shootout competition and the "funny" hat and glasses didn't change the fact that once he dropped the second stick, the shot itself was really lame. And then he missed on his first attempt in the elimination shootout. I thought it was, quite frankly, a little embarrassing listening to Versus try to make him the center of the night. They almost completely ignored every shooter in the trick shot competition because they were too busy reminding us that Ovechkin was X number of shooters away. Every interview was some variation on, "So what do YOU think of Ovechkin?"

Listen, I understand that Ovechkin is an exciting talent and full of personality. He's an easy sale to any casual fans or newbies who might happen to be turning in. But to almost completely ignore everyone else in his favor does a disservice to both the other players and the league as a whole. One of my favorite things about All-Star weekend is that I almost always end up keying into either someone we don't see that often or someone I've never really paid that much attention to. Let some of the guys who don't usually get to shine, shine too. Why would you give viewers the impression that there's only one guy in the entire league worth talking about?

Then again, what do I know? Ovechkin did win the trick shot competition even though almost everyone was better than him.

- You know what? I love Zdeno Chara. I know we're supposed to hate him and boo him and all that, but I can't do it. He always comes across as a really sweet, intelligent guy. He's just a BFG. I think it was super cool of him to turn the hardest shot competition into a charity event and everyone who contributed - the other participants, the NHL, the NHLPA - should be applauded. How cute was he in his little tassled Right to Play hat?

"I is the only nice and jumbly Giant in Giant Country!

- I was glad to see Thomas Vanek score on his first attempt in the shootout elimination. I'm pretty sure I even caught a little smile. We called the around the world move, as I'm sure many Sabres fans did, but I have to admit, we thought he'd miss. He looked a little more like the shootout Vanek we know and love on his second attempt.

I've heard some complaints that the elimination shootout was too long and it probably was but it didn't bother me at all. I wasn't that focused on it so that probably helped. I thought having a player mic'd up for it helped a lot too and Marc Savard did a really nice job. Usually a goalie clearly letting his teammate score and move on to the next round would've bothered me but Savard was so cute about it that I didn't really care at all. In fact, I ended up thinking it was kind of funny.

- Speaking of mic'd up, while Savard was great on Saturday night, he was a little more of a bust during the game itself. It was probably a mistake to not mic up a goalie. Marty Turco and Manny Legace were both hilariously entertaining in the previous two All-Star Games and part of the fun was that they freely chatted during actual play which I'm assuming is much harder for a player who's actually skating to pull off. I don't know, maybe there wasn't a chatty goalie on the rosters this year. (How awesome would Marty Biron be for that? Versus wouldn't even have to hire announcers for the night. I'd love Marty to make the All-Star squad one year just to hear what he'd come up with.)

- If I'm Vincent Lecavalier, the relentless attention he got all weekend is reason number one I never, ever sign in Montreal.

- Every year at this time I remember that I think Ilya Kovalchuk is a total cutie. In between All-Star games I forget. Guess that's what playing in Atlanta will get ya.

- As all the announcers pointed out, all the skills competition stuff stinks for the goalies. Their role is basically to go out and get shelled. They need their own competition, something they compete in against other goalies. We thought about it for a while and finally decided the Fastest Skater should become Fastest Goalie, one lap around the rink. Any better ideas out there?

- In closing, while I'm trying not to inundate you guys with pictures of my dog, a few people have asked for updated photos. Here are just a couple:

This is quite possibly my favorite picture I've taken of anything ever.

Marlowe at 12 weeks.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Weekend Odds and Ends

Let's bounce all over the place, shall we?

- I was along for the ride on the conspiracy theories surrounding Daniel Briere - that the Flyers were keeping him on IR as long as they could to skirt cap issues - until this most recent surgery. I know the Flyers organization hasn't exactly been responsible with medical issues in the past (see Lindros, Eric and Gagne, Simon) but Briere has never struck me as stupid. I just don't see him agreeing to a surgery if he didn't really feel like it was necessary. That said, I have no doubt the Flyers are perfectly okay with him being out for a while.

- I'm really cranky about next week's West Conference games not being on TV. The Calgary game was one of the one's I had an extra big star next to on the schedule. Larry Quinn is claiming the organization decided to select those games as radio only because of the late starts which I guess makes sense but come on, how often do we see those teams? We never see those teams! The schedule was changed specifically because WE NEVER SEE THOSE TEAMS! I would gladly sacrifice a Boston game or a Toronto game or an Atlanta game or a Florida game. I'm a stupid, hopeless Sabres fan. Late starts will not stop me.

Once I dealt with them being radio only I thought, "Well, okay that might be fun." I worked evenings at Tops for a year or so a couple of seasons ago and I often spent my break in the car listening to Rick on the radio and it was actually kind of fun to sit back and let his familiar voice wash over me but then I found out he's not even doing the games? Boo. The whole thing blows chunks.

- Gary Bettman has decided to play tough guy with players opting out of the All-Star Game. If they didn't miss the regular season game previous to the All-Star Game, they'll be forced to miss the regular season game following it.


I understand where Bettman is coming from. The All-Star game is basically a huge PR event for the NHL. When fans sit down in the arena or turn on the TV, they want to see the big names and the famous faces. A few days out of the year really isn't too much to give to the league who, if you're an All-Star, has likely made you fairly rich and famous.

But I remember this being a bit of an issue at the MLB All-Star game a few years ago - everyone complaining they didn't want to be there - and you know what? It's really not that much fun to watch a bunch of people who'd rather be somewhere else pretend - or not even pretend - they're having fun. Let the guys who want to stay home - maybe even legitimately need to stay home - stay home and let some kid who hasn't had his fill of All-Star festivities (and who might even deserve to be there) go instead. They'll have a blast and we'll have more fun watching them have fun than we will watching a guy who hates being there.

"I'm so happy to be here at the All-Star Game!"

- One of my favorite things about the All-Star Game is the cheesy glamour shots we get of the players. The pinnacle of this was last year's delightful throne series - fun, cheesy and adorable. (Follow the link if you don't remember them.) This year we still got some of the pictures of players posed with sticks (minds out of the gutter, please), wearing some seriously questionable fashion choices (nice sweaters, guys - I am tickled at how many NHL stars dress like middle-aged men) but someone decided to get all artsy fartsy this year and we're also getting crazy photos like this:

I find these completely hilarious but not in a good way. They're a little too self-important for my tastes. They're very Meet the Beatles!, aren't they?

They'll make your heart go boom!

All right, maybe they are growing on me a little.

Then again, all the fancy lighting in the world can't hide the fact that some people just look like serial killers:

"Your brains look tasty."

In closing, as a Sabres blogger, I offer you one of Thomas Vanek's All-Star photos. He seemed pretty low-key about his selection, claiming that his goals are all team-oriented, and while that's admirable, the All-Star honor is certainly well-deserved. I don't even want to think about where the Sabres would be right now without good ol' Van. Thomas, try to have fun this weekend. It's okay, really. (Nice, hair. Heh.)

"Fun? I dunno."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Hey, remember like last week when we had d-men out the wazoo and everyone was all, "Golly, how is Lindy going to decide who to play and who to sit?" Yeah, that was nice. Considering how thin things are in Portland right now with Mike Weber dealing with knee problems and Mike Funk suffering from concussions, the timing could not be worse. It's deja vu all over again. I wouldn't be surprised if Lindy Ruff is waking up in the middle of the night with flashbacks.

For the record, I'm guessing Henrik Tallinder separated his shoulder. I've seen some speculation that he re-broke his arm but I know he finally got a plate put in last time he broke it and the surgeon told me the plate in my ankle would make that bone pretty much impossible to re-break. Of course there is more than one bone in your arm and I don't know how his plate is set. And also, if I'm remembering correctly, Hank was favoring his right arm and it was his left arm/wrist he had all the previous problems with. Of course there's no law saying he can't break the other arm, I guess. Sounds like exactly the kind of thing he would do actually. Dang. He was starting to straighten himself out a bit too, I thought. (I am biased. In case you haven't caught on to that fact yet.)

I do have a few longer posts half started and I'm hoping to finish some of them off over the All-Star break. I've just been fried this week for some reason. I actually slept through half the game tonight - I woke up just in time to see Hank get hurt - and if Hank hadn't gotten hurt, I wouldn't have been able to remember a single thing about that game. I'm planning on getting back in the groove in the next few days.

But hey, how funny is it that the rumors say the Flyers are already trying to dump Daniel Briere's contract? I have no ill will toward Danny - I think it was pretty clear the Sabres had no intention of re-signing him - but come on, who really thought that contract was a good idea? I can't believe Philly gave him that much money, that many years AND a no trade clause. Between this and Rick DiPietro officially being ruled out for the season, a little caution when dealing with contracts suddenly seems pretty smart.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

You Gotta Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em

Friday I complained about the Sabres defensemen not being involved enough in the offense so far this season. Last night against Carolina two goals were the result of d-men putting the puck on the net (Toni Lydman's shot tipped in by Tim Connolly and Teppo Numminen's goal) . I'm pretty sure that makes me a genius.

Outside of that, I'm not sure there's a lot to say about last night's game. Kevin and Kate both remarked on how nice it was to see the Sabres win easily and it really did feel that way, didn't it? For the first couple of minutes we were worried because the Sabres didn't seem very intent on getting the puck out of their end but once they did, they never really seemed in danger of losing.

I say "we" because Kate (of the Willful Caboose) and I watched the game at Gambler's house. Gambler is the writer of Desperation Hockey and has long been on my to-meet list. I'll always remember her as one of the first people to comment on this here blog which is pretty cool. Gambler and her parents were all delightful and I was sorry to have to leave early to pick up Mark at the airport. I've said this before but one of my favorite things about blogging and hockey fandom in general is how many really neat people and friendships it's led me to. Gambler took a bit of a blogging hiatus during the last half of last season while she was spending a semester in the Land of Jochen Hecht but she's back at it now and if her blog isn't on your list of favorites, it should be.

The Gambler family also introduced me to hockey in HD. Yes, here at Top Shelf HQ we live in the sports dark ages. We started out watching in standard TV because the HD channel was having audio problems - first there just one guitar riff playing over and over and then the dubbing was off. We did eventually end up watching despite the dubbing issues. Rick Jeanneret was just a few seconds ahead of the play which was oddly comforting at times. As Gambler said, "It's like he's visiting from the future and assuring us, 'Don't worry, Sabres fans. That shot's going high and wide.'"

But the HD, oh the HD. If I hadn't gone straight to the airport to pick up Mark he just might have come home to a new television. I didn't even realize just how amazing the picture was until the mystery guitar riff returned and we flipped back to the standard picture. It looked kind of like this:

I'm pretty sure that guy plays for the Sabres. Tough to tell.

During the course of the game, we started talking about Drew Stafford and Kate and Gambler asked me how Mark was feeling about his Stafford jersey these days. I told them that not that long ago he'd confessed that he thought maybe Stafford had been a rebound favorite player choice after Chris Drury left and I mentioned that I'd once felt the same way about Tim Connolly. I had a very brief but intense love affair with Timmy and I have a CONNOLLY jersey (red and black) in my closet to prove it. Timmy is very out of character for me. On the list of Heather's favorite players he was preceded by Jay McKee and followed by Henrik Tallinder so he's the obvious answer to the question "Which one of these things is not like the other things?" Not only did I end up moving on from him, I ended up turning on him pretty hard. Jeez, what an absolute waste of a three year contract.

And then games like the Carolina game happen and even though I know Timmy is one second away from a career-ending injury at pretty much all times, I'm just blown away by him. When he's missing months at a time and then taking a while to get back in game shape and then going back out of the line-up again, it's really easy to forget how talented he is but jeez, he is so gifted. When he's playing like he did last night... he's just beautiful. He makes everything look so effortless. Thomas Vanek, as gifted as he is, looks like a gorilla on skates sometimes, chugging down the ice. Timmy looks like he's never breaking a sweat, gliding down the ice and then flicking his wrists a few times and pulling off something amazing. When he actually shoots the puck once in a while, his game can be pretty awesome.

Re-signing him is a terrible idea. It's terrible. He'll never make it through a whole season in one piece and that means he's taking up a roster spot someone else could be using. Him popping in and out of the line-up is disruptive to line chemistry and a distraction to the rest of the team. When he does get back from IR visits it takes him so long to look like himself again.

And then games like last night happen and I start thinking well, maybe he's worth re-signing to a really small contract. What's a million dollars or so for one year? Maybe he would be healthy for the whole year. Maybe he would be worth it. Maybe he'll finally get the happy ending that his talent deserves.

Hockey does funny things to your brain sometimes, you know.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Odds and Ends

It's Friday afternoon, just before 5. I know everyone is just about done with their blog reading for the weekend but this is the first real chance I've had to sit down and write more than a few sentences since Mark left town. Puppies? Are a lot of work. I almost skinned mine and used her as a blanket last night. Anyway, here are some thoughts I've been bouncing around the ol' noggin. I'm sure this will be classic Heather B: long, rambly and completely unorganized.

- One thing I can say about the last handful of games is this: The best teams in the Western Conference are better than the best teams in the Eastern Conference. I'm not sure it's even close. I'm not going to commit to the idea that the Stanley Cup champion will come out of the West - one of my favorite things about the NHL is that once the playoffs start anything is possible - but I do think the Sabres are extremely fortunate to be playing in the East. They'd be toast in the West.

- I do not miss Brian Campbell personally and I would still never, ever pay him what Chicago is paying him. But I have to admit the Sabres do really miss having a puck moving defensemen who can get involved on the offensive end of the ice. I do want my defensemen to be able to play defense - at the end of the night, I think that's really their most important duty - but a little offensive contribution would be nice. Only one Buffalo d-man has more than 20 points (Jaroslav Spacek) and even he only has one goal. No d-man has more than one goal. I'll cut Toni and Hank a little slack since that's not really their priority but the d-men who play on the power play really need to be contributing more. I don't think it's a coincidence that the offense was jumpstarted against Dallas when d-men started putting the puck on the net.

- I've been thinking a lot lately about Ales Kotalik. I've been pretty hard on him in the past. At some point last season I believe I referred to him as my least favorite Sabre. This season I've come around on him a little. A team can't be full of superstars (too expensive) and it can't be full of scrubs (not competitive enough). It needs those middle of the pack players like Kotalik. He's never going to be a huge producer but he's on pace to score his usual 20ish goals again this season. There's value in that.

I've also been thinking a lot about his performance in the shootout. I knew he was good but I was shocked to read in the Buffalo News that he's been one of the best shootout participants since the league started using it to break ties. If you'd asked me last season if a shootout specialist was necessary I probably would've said no but I don't know, I might be changing my tune on that one. If the Sabres had been more successful in the shootout last season, they would've made the playoffs. If the Rangers weren't so good in the shootout this season, things would be very different for them. Those extra points add up. I suppose you could argue that a team that's hanging around because of shootout success won't fare well in the postseason since you can't play for the shootout then (and you'd better never be able to, NHL) but again, once the playoffs start anything can happen. Might be worth keeping Kotalik around just for shootout purposes. I guess it all comes down to what his price tag is. Right now I'd keep him over Afinogenov, Connolly and Spacek easily though.

- Thanks to everyone who emailed me to make sure I saw the Henrik Tallinder feature during the intermission of the Chicago game. I did indeed see it. I enjoyed it since it was Hank but I have to say, overall I've been pretty disappointed with the Sabres Show. I'm glad that outside of Goose they've avoided the players we see all the time - Ryan Miller, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville - and focused on some of the European players we don't hear from as much - but the interviews are all very similar to each other and low on new information. The Hank interview was a combo of the Kotalik interview (it's hard moving to a new country but I like it okay now) and the Lydman interview (kids are great, I really like mine). I'll probably have a more in-depth post later on what exactly I'd change about the Sabres Show if I were in charge.

That's it for now. Off to watch Battlestar Galactica.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Food For Thought

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

Let me translate for the Sabres, just to make sure they get the point:

Shoot the puck.







(More intelligent thought laters although really, that about covers it.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Story Time With Bucky Gleason

I have a few thoughts rolling around in my head but unfortunately, husband out of town + manic 11 week old puppy = extremely tired Heather B. I'm talking totally exhausted, you guys. And it's only Tuesday morning. I'm doomed.

But I have just enough time to make fun of Bucky Gleason before I zoom off to work. It's been a while, you know? Truthfully, Bucky's recent column on Ryan Miller wasn't that bad. It was pretty good really. It did however contain this little nugget about the shootout against the Rangers this past weekend:

Sure enough, it would come down to old friend Chris Drury, a matchup between the man who made a commitment to Buffalo and the man the Sabres let get away.

Fate leaned toward Drury.

Captain Clutch had a knack for scoring big goals, for finding a way when it mattered most. The story line called for Drury returning to Buffalo and reminding the Sabres that they should have kept him rather than open the door to his departure.

First of all, statistically speaking, fate did not lean toward Drury. Drury is pretty terrible in shootouts, going only 2 for 11. Miller has a .717 save percentage in shootouts which is pretty good considering he was pretty dismal in shootouts last season. A very quick scroll through the list of goalies at (amazing source if you ever need shootout stats) shows that to be on the higher end for goalies who have played in as many shootouts as Ryan has. (I will admit I looked at that very, very quickly so if I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me.) So yeah... In a battle of Drury vs. Miller, I'm betting the pot on Miller.

Second of all, only Bucky's storyline would end with the departed captain scoring for the other team. Dude, come on. That is SO not what the story line called for. The story line called for the weirdo goalie who's trying to find himself after struggling last season, the one who made a committment to the city and fans of Buffalo to stop the former leader who took off for the big dollars and big city in his tracks. Which is exactly what happened.

(I'm feeling a little better about Hank now that Lindy has gone on the record about keeping a 7 man rotation. I don't think that completely eliminates the idea of someone getting traded at the deadline but for now, I've calmed down. On one hand, I do like the idea of "You stink/slack, you sit" but on the other hand, I'm curious to see if that's how it really works. I'm also not sure how I feel about constantly changing the defensive pairings. They've been a bit of a jumble all season. We'll see.)

Monday, January 12, 2009


So when I discovered that Chris Butler was going to start and Henrik Tallinder was a healthy scratch, I was sure Hank was going to be traded before morning. One of my best blogging buddies, Patty (in Dallas) of Penalty Killing, watched her favorite player, Philippe Boucher, get traded after being a healthy scratch and with that fresh in my mind, I went into a bit of a panic.

Putting on my GM hat, I could make perfect sense of dealing Hank. Chris Butler clearly has to play somewhere and the Sabres don't seem to want to send him back to Portland. That means we have too many d-men. Someone has to go somewhere, right? Even though people in Buffalo feel like Hank has never quite turned into what we thought he was going to be, listening to other team's broadcasts or national broadcasts makes it clear that he's still well thought of around the league. He's a good defenseman. He's also an appealing trade because he's signed through the end of next season and to a very reasonable contract by the standards of today's market. Out of our defensive corp, he'd probably get one of the better returns.

But emotionally I'm not prepared for this scenario at all. Who's my next favorite player? Whose jersey will I wear? For crying out loud, who will go in the banner of this here freakin' blog?! Weird thing about favorite players... Logic goes out the window. Elma left a comment a couple of weeks ago suggesting that I was cranky out of disappointment with Hank and that's just not the case. I'm disappointed, yes. I really thought he and Toni Lydman were on the cusp of being a really great shut-down pairing and they've never really made that leap. But somehow that doesn't make me like him (or Toni, for the record) any less because... I love him. I just do. I can't explain it. There's something about him that strikes me in a way that no one else on the team quite does and that's just the way it is. When he leaves Buffalo, whether it's now or later, I'll be really, really sad in a way that I haven't been since Andy Van Slyke left the Pirates in 1994.

Besides, if we're sitting people on merit shouldn't it be Teppo Numminen in the press box? I love Teppo and can't wait to see him wandering around behind the bench in a suit next season. I'm certainly not going to backtrack and say he never should've been re-signed because I loved the deal when it happened. I totally get why Sabres management decided to give the old guy one more season. I really think it made sense on both sides. But it hasn't worked out. Teppo has definitely lost a step this season and it's probably time for him to hang 'em up at the end of the year. But he's playing while Hank, who's been better since the last scratching, I thought, is watching. But maybe I'm biased.

So I don't know... What do you guys think? Is Hank getting traded? (There's only one answer to that question, btw.) What needs to be done on defense? Who plays and who sits? I'm going to go to work and wait for a phone call telling me my favorite player is on his way to Phoenix a.ka. Off the Edge of the World.

(As for the games this weekend, nice to see Ryan Miller steal - or attempt to steal - a couple. Can't believe the team wasted his effort against Detroit although I suppose that's what happens when you let them have 48 shots especially when you're going to take about half that many shots yourself. Hey, maybe Lindy should reconsider which d-man he sat...)

Friday, January 9, 2009

On Chris Drury

While watching tonight's game, I found myself thinking about Chris Drury for the first time in a long time. This time last season, I was so tired of hearing about him that I was ready to put my fist through someone's face. I was tired of hearing about how the Sabres were lost and defeated without him, I was tired of hearing about how management screwed everything up, I was tired of debates about whether fans should or shouldn't boo him upon his return to HSBC. Drury, Drury, Drury. In the end, he decided to leave even though the Sabres offered him equal money. The idea that he'd been screwed beyond belief annoyed me to no end. He wasn't in Buffalo because he chose not to be in Buffalo. I was thrilled that he was underachieving in NYC and glad when his team finally lost out in the playoffs.

This season, with a little distance, the anger is gone. I wouldn't go as far as to say fondness has set in - I haven't really given the guy much thought until now - but tonight I did feel a little bit of wistfulness. A couple of months ago I wrote about how Jay McKee leaving Buffalo really made me sad because he was such a perfect fit for Buffalo. The Sabres were never quite the same after he left and he's never been quite the same since he left. Both parties suffered from the separation. I'm beginning to think the same thing about Chris Drury. For all the talk about how much the Sabres miss him, I think it's time to wonder how much he misses the Sabres. Like Jay, he just seemed a perfect fit with the team around him. Like Jay, he hasn't played at the same level he played at in Buffalo since leaving. I think maybe he needed a bunch of young, impressionable teammates who were willing to let someone else take on the leadership to be Captain Chris Drury, the Captainiest Captain of all Captains. I think he needed to be surrounded by skill players so he could relax and be Mr. Intangibles. He gave the other Sabres what they needed, the other Sabres gave him what he needed. They all fit. There's no way, short of a Stanley Cup, he's going to live up to that contract in NYC. Showing up on a new team with that kind of expectations is a killer. If he'd signed that deal in Buffalo, I think Buffalo would've been much more forgiving if he didn't produce because we were already attached to him, we already thought of him as our captain, the heart of our team. He wasn't that coming into NY and I'm not sure he's that in NY now, no matter what the C on his jersey says, not the way he was here.

I don't know, the story might not have ended as happily as I think it would have with Jay. Whereas Jay seemed very happy in Buffalo, Drury has made comments that suggest he was never very comfortable in a place where everyone on the street recognized him. I'm sure that NYC makes it a lot more possible for a very private man to live a more anonymous life. And the further we get from those two post lock-out seasons the more I think they were just really special seasons that we were lucky to have as fleeting as they now seem. But still... I do wonder sometimes what could've been.

More on the game at some point tomorrow.

In Praise of Andrew Peters and Other Thoughts

- I'm not a huge Andrew Peters fan. Obviously he's a bit of a mess on the ice. Not a ton of skill and questionably effective as an enforcer. And while he seems like a nice enough person off the ice, he's always struck me as that guy who tries just a little too hard. He's not quite as funny as he thinks he is. But considering how much everyone seems to love him, maybe that's just me. At any rate, I think he's been pretty endearing during the whole biting incident. Making cracks about that being his texting thumb, seeming kind of sheepish that he had to talk endlessly about a grown man biting him, confessing that he wouldn't admit it if he bit someone either... I liked it all. Well played, Andrew Peters.

- It was kind of a no-brainer for Thomas Vanek to make the All-Star team but I'll offer him my congratulations anyway. As I've written before, I have a very specific kind of affection for Vanek that isn't like the affection I feel for any of the other Sabres players. It's kind of sort of like the way I felt about Dmitri Kalinin only instead of, "Awwww, leave him alone, you guys!" It's, "Awwww, isn't he so good, you guys?" I don't know, I'm just so very happy for him and the season he's having. He's definitely worked for and earned it.

As for the rest of the Sabres, I'm glad none of them made it. They didn't deserve it. Not that All-Star games have anything to do with merit anyway.

- All these extra days off are really making me miss the Sabres. Between the time between games and how (mostly) well they've played recently, I'm moving back around to liking them. I don't love 'em though. Not yet. I'm not that easy.

I am really interested to see how the next few games go though. The Rangers strike me as a team that isn't quite as good as their record indicates. I'd tell you actual statistics but I can't remember where I read them at the moment and I need to be walking out the front door in 20 minutes but I know the Rangers have been better in OT and in the shootout then they have been in regulation. If we come out and play really strong 5-on-5 hockey from the start, we should definitely be in the game. (I'll get on a source for the above stat after work.)

I'm even more interested in the next handful of games. I've said before that I think the Eastern Conference, with the exception of maybe a couple of very good teams, is fairly average. I think the Sabres should be competing in every game against every EC opponent. The Western Conference is a little different. I know I'm not the only person who watched Winter Classic II in the midst of the Sabres doldrums and thought, "Ah. Hockey. Right, I remember what it looks like now." Both Detroit and Chicago are very good with Detroit particularly being machine-like. They are so efficient, it's amazing and they don't get rattled when an opponent comes charging out of the gates and takes a lead against them. I hope we play with them but that's definitely a taller order than playing with the Rangers. If the good Sabres show up, the next few games should be some really good hockey.

- Ugh. I'm gonna be late! Please don't tell my employer I was blogging instead of getting dressed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Still Moving Forward

Well, that was promising. After an impressive win against a very good Boston team I really did expect the Sabres to let up and lose against the Senators tonight. While they let Ottawa back in the game in the second period after completely dominating them in the first, they seemed to regroup. Ryan Miller pulled himself back together and made some big saves in the third and they held on for the win. And the game was at home! If the Sabres are going to doing anything this season, they have to start winning at home. Some random thoughts:

- Andrew Peters got bit! I still can't believe it. His reaction got a little criticism amongst some of the people on the blog I was chatting on during the game but as someone who occasionally gets bitten at work, it hurts big time even if the skin isn't broken. If it drew blood, woo boy, that's some serious pain. I've gotten some pretty good bruising from little teeth over the last few years. And while Peters' reaction was a little over the top I can also attest that there's definitely a shock/surprise factor involved. Some of that reaction was "Ouch!" but a good amount of it was probably "Did he just BITE ME?!" I'm always surprised and it happens in my line of work. Considering that biting isn't traditionally used on the ice, the surprise factor would be even higher here.

- Derian Hatcher bit New Jersey's Travis Zajac last season and Zajac immediately went on such a scoring streak that he decided the stitches he had to receive were good luck. I can't wait for Peters to score four goals in the next three games. I think the team will really take off then.

- It's so good to see hustling, punky little Derek Roy again. I thought we'd lost him there for a while. Very solid game from him again tonight.

- I admit, the first time I saw the names Gaustad, Ellis and Pominville together I wondered if maybe Lindy Ruff was finally losing it but dang, if that line hasn't been a total trip. I don't know what Matt Ellis has been eating lately but he needs to share it with his teammates. I don't expect it to last but it's kind of nice seeing the hard-working journeyman outshine the younger, more talented rich boys.

- I think it's hard to judge how Craig Rivet's captaincy is going because he's been out of the line-up so much - only so much a guy can do from the press box - but his attitude clearly made a difference tonight. I thought he was going to beat up every Senator on the ice after they were buzzing in Ryan's crease. I was really surprised to see how much better our home record is with him in the line-up.

- January is going to make or break the season. Normally I might be worried about having so few home games but this team really seems to keep its collective head better on the road so we'll see. At any rate, I am slightly encouraged after last night. It wasn't the prettiest win in the end but it's a win against a team they've often seemed to have a mental block about on a night when all the teams around them won. I'll take it.

- Can we lay off on the "Fire Lindy" chatter now?

- Re: Zdeno Chara. I've never thought of him as a cheap, after the whistle player. It appears I might have a Chara blind spot. Interesting.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Two In a Row

I had a hyper puppy and company in the form of my mother-in-law and brother-in-law today so I wasn't paying full attention to every part of the game but it certainly seemed like a good one. This game actually exemplifies one of my biggest frustrations with the Sabres this season: They've shown time and again that they are perfectly capable of playing with the better teams in the Eastern Conference. They seem to always get up for those games. It's the crappy teams in the bottom half of the conference that they struggle against. Still two wins are two wins. That said, I am curious to see how they respond against a struggling Ottawa team. If they follow their pattern for this season they'll let up after two good wins, lose to a team they should beat and return to their up and down routine. I hope that isn't the case. I hope they've finally (FINALLY) learned how important it is to show up and work hard every night. We'll see.

For all the complaining I did earlier in the season about how boring the Bruins are, I have to admit, I've almost come around to enjoying them. Before the season I had a preview entry that I ended up scrapping because let's face it, the hockey blogosphere did not need another preview from someone who watches one team, knows a little bit about a few others and nothing about anyone else. But in that entry - and you'll just have to trust me on this - one of the things I said was that I thought everyone was overrating the Flyers and underrating the Bruins. Which is not to say that I expected them to be at the top of the conference at this point in the season. No, I definitely can't claim that. But I thought they would be good. I find them to be a very appealing mix of skill and hard work. They are definitely a team where the sum is better than the whole of its parts and I do find those teams kind of appealing. And I like Zdeno Chara. That's right, I said it. I even like him beating up on poor little Roy-Z. Come on, it's not like he doesn't deserve a punch to the head every once in a while. You know he does.

The Boston player I really, really want however is Milan Lucic. Surely Boston will give him to us for Connolly, Kotalik, Afinogenov, and Paetsch? That's FOUR players and we're only getting ONE. That's more than fair.

One more note, a more serious response to a comment on the previous post. I am, by nature, a pretty optimistic person. I always try to see the good side of things. Heck, I spent almost all of last season insisting that no, the Sabres really can be good at hockey! Next year they'll be great! They will! If you haven't noticed, Buffalo fans tend to be a liiiittle on the cynical side. (With very good reason. If I'd been doing this for 37 years, I might be too. In the grand scheme of things, I'm still a rookie.) I do try to be a little different, a voice of hope and optimism if you will. However, if there's one thing that I want this blog to be, it's an honest reflection of how I'm feeling about the Sabres and recently that hasn't been very good. I always, always want and hope the best for them, just like every other Sabres fan in the world but occasionally I find them frustrating or discouraging or just plain unlikable. Despite that, I will keep watching the games, I will keep cheering for them and I'll keep falling for it when they start to actually look like they know how to play hockey. A week from now I might be loudly proclaiming how much I love them all and you know what? That's my right as a fan. There's no contradiction there, not as far as I'm concerned. For better or for worse, the Sabres are mine now. (Here's to hoping it's not all "for worse.")

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Where We Stand Now

Ryan Miller was much more solid, the team played smarter, they actually looked somewhat organized, they scored goals when they needed them and they didn't let the other team back in it at the last minute.

Woo-freakin-hoo. Call me when you've done this more than once or twice in a row, Sabres.

I commented on Kevin's Facebook today that my prediction was we'd win handily in Toronto, squeak out a victory in Boston and then promptly start playing like garbage again. We've done this "new start" thing a few times already this season and it hasn't stuck yet so... yeah, prove me wrong, fellas. Because I really, really wanna be wrong.