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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thank God for Ryan Miller

I have to admit, over the last couple of years I've really taken Ryan Miller for granted.  It's been easy to do.  When everyone else was flailing and goofing off and seemingly going out of his way to actively not care at all, Ryan was playing his heart out.  Even when he wasn't playing well, it was clear that he wanted to be, that it bothered him that he wasn't.  And when no one else seemed very eager to take any blame or any responsibility, Ryan was standing there in front of his stall in the dressing room, answering question after question and saying over and over, "We need to be better.  I need to be better."  That should have made him stand out and at times it did.  I'm sure there were a couple of "Thank god for Ryan" posts mixed in with all the criticism the last two seasons.  But probably not enough.  Like the good kid who gets overlooked because the parent or teacher is focusing so much energy on the bad kid, every once in I turned my attention to him but mostly I assumed he'd be good.  Even when he declared before the season that he was going to turn it up this season and be the elite goalie he knew he could be, I kind of nodded to myself and did the mental equivalent of patting him on the head.  "Okay, yes, sweetheart.  You do that, dear."

But wouldn't you know, he's gone and done it at least so far.  There are a lot of things you can credit for the Sabres hot start.  We have four lines that can actually play, the third and fourth lines in particular have been very effective, there's been an infusion of youth and energy in Tim Kennedy and Tyler Myers, Henrik Tallinder has been better than a pile of puke, and everyone seems more focused.  But a lot of it comes down to the guy in the net and the guy in the net is very good right now.  When the Sabres tied up the game late against Tampa Bay, I knew we had not just one point but two points because I knew Ryan wasn't going to allow a goal in overtime or the shootout.  The team hasn't given up a ton of odd man rushes but when we have, I haven't been that worried because I knew Ryan was going to come up with the save.  If I'm feeling that confident in him, I'd imagine his teammates are too, and that makes a huge difference for everyone.  We've all see games - even series - in the last few years where a goalie carries a team.  It's nice to have that kind of goalie in your net, you know?

Not even karate moves keep Ryan down (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Wait, so the Sabres don't play tonight and the World Series doesn't start tonight? Haven't all the people involved in both of those events had plenty of rest? Let's go, people! I need some sports on my TV!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Love the Buffalo Sabres - For Real!

Funny thing.  I zoned in and out of the Tampa Bay game.  We weren't looking very good at all and the game was a bit of a snooze.  As my buddy Joe pointed out, all you really needed to watch was the last minute or so of each period.  Everything else was kind of a waste of time.  But despite all that, when time was ticking down, I had a very distinct feeling that the Sabres were going to tie it up.  They were starting to put on a lot of pressure and they were shooting the puck, but they were focused.  They weren't losing their heads and skating around all wily nily like they have in the final moments of games in the last couple of seasons.  I sat there and actually thought, "They're about to score."  I... haven't done that in a while.  As we all know, the team got off to a really good start last season so I've been trying to temper my emotions a bit.  I told myself just a few days ago that they needed to play this kind of hockey through November.  If we got to December 1, and they were still looking this good, then I'd get excited.  But you know what?  It's too late.  I've totally bought into this team and tonight was just confirmation of that.

Even more importantly, tonight, watching the boys dogpile on Tyler Myers after his shootout-winning goal, I felt real affection for the team.  I was laughing at Ryan Miller trying to get to Tyler, at Hank leaping onto the pile, at Tyler and Goose hitting the ice, at Harry Neale yelling, "Tiiiiimbeeeer!" and I was overcome with warm fuzzies.  At one point last season I blogged about how I was cheering for the team out of loyalty but that I didn't really like them.  I didn't feel bad for them when they lost.  I felt bad for me.  I don't feel happy for them when they won.  I just felt relieved that they didn't lose again.  This season has been different, and I really hope it stays that way because lord knows it's way more fun when you actually love the team you're cheering for.

But while we're talking about Tyler Myers' shootout goal, I do not understand why Lindy Ruff insists on using guys who are historically not very good at shootouts.  I think Derek Roy's numbers are probably okayish - I know there was a string of games last year where I groaned upon seeing him skate to center ice only to be surprised when he scored - but I feel like Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have never scored in a shootout ever.  We've been doing this long enough now to realize that the shootout is a weird little skill.  Being a great in-game offensive player doesn't equal being good in the shootout just like being a great in-game goalie doesn't equal being good in the shootout.  If the d-men are the best at the shootout drills in practice, for the love of all that is good in this world, let them shoot in the games.  Why wait until we're six shooters in and the opponent has used their best shooters?  I spent the whole shootout yelling for a d-men (Hank and Tyler specifically).  Hopefully Lindy reads this.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Best Game You Can Name

That game was pretty fun and then it was kinda boring.  Oh, and Hank was the third star!  Woo woo!  Don't have TOO much fun today, fellas.

In other news, you know how every season we see the same commercials a billion times?  And they usually get really, really annoying?  Well, the one commercial I'll never get tired of is the EA Sports spot that features The Hockey Game.  I adore it.  I sing along at the top of my lungs every time it comes on no matter how the Sabres are doing at the time.  Mark can verify this. (Mark can keep his opinion about how much he enjoys it to himself however.  Heh.)

It's a catchy little ditty, isn't it?  It makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Daniel Paille

I really wanted to get my Hall of Fame post up for today, but Picnik is not cooperating.  I was about to lose it so I had to step away.  Hopefully I'll have it done and up on Thursday or Friday instead.  For now, a brief post about Daniel Paille.

Daniel Paille confuses me.  He always has.  Daniel Paille and Lindy Ruff specifically have always confused me.  I realize I've been beating the "Lindy Ruff screwed that guy" drum pretty hard the last couple of months with posts about Maxim Afinogenov and Henrik Tallinder, but I can see where Lindy was coming with his treatment of those two guys at least.  I didn't always agree with it, but I understood it.  But Paille not so much.

Back in 2007-2008, Paille had his best season.  It also happened to come in a year when most of his teammates played terrible, uinspired hockey.  There were many, many nights when he and Jochen Hecht were the only two people on the ice who appeared to care at all.  I know it seems hard to remember now, but it's true.  Every once in a while, after many, many games of garbage, Lindy would decide he was going to send a "play hard or else" message to the team and he would sit... Paille.  I remember this very clearly ( and Tick remembers it too) because Mark and I would wonder about it until the next game when Paille would come back and score two goals.  And then we'd kind of shrug and joke that Paille should be scratched every ten games or so.

But in seriousness, that does not make sense at all.  I've seen a few comments on Twitter and Facebook and other places about Paille earning his trade by playing half-heartedly for the past year or so, and while I can't argue with that, I think the treatment he got in 07-08 might have played a part in that attitude.  I have a classroom of five kids (who feel like 25 but that's another blog post).  Let's say Bryan busts his ass on his spelling words all week while everyone else goofs off during class and refuses to do any homework.  On Friday, Bryan gets an A and everyone else gets a D or F.  I rant and rave about how no one is working hard enough and send a message by making Bryan stay inside while everyone else goes to play outside for free time.  The next week, the same thing happens.  Bryan gets an A, everyone else fails, and I respond by making him stay inside.  Eventually Bryan is going to stop working hard on his spelling because not only is he not being rewarded, he's being punished.  He's also probably going to start tuning me out.  In 07-08, Paille was getting the same treatment.

I'm not particularly broken up by Paille's trade.  I don't have any sentimental attachement to him.  I think we got a decent return for a player who wasn't ever going to make an impact for the Sabres.   He was extremely frustrating and ultimately a professional athlete should just play hard no matter what the circumstances.  But these guys are human, and I do think it's interesting to occasionally stop and think about all the different factors that go into a player being in a successful situation.  How talented the player is is only one part of a very large equation.  Relationships with coaches and teammates play a huge part.  I'm curious to see how successful Paille is somewhere else.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Catching Up on the Weekend

I went into this weekend really thinking the Sabres needed to come out with four points - as we all know, they let too many points go when playing against non-playoff teams last year - but sitting here on Sunday, I'm feeling pretty unconcerned.  They looked like garbage on Friday night but still pulled out a win.  I'd prefer that they'd looked better but sometimes good teams have to win bad games.  Saturday they looked even worse but hey, it happens.  If I'm trying not to get too excited about the wins, I think it makes sense to try to not get too down on the losses, not until they become a habit at least.  It helps that a huge part of the reason we were down so quickly against the Thrashers was Tyler Myers looking very much like a rookie.  I didn't enjoy watching that, but I think it's only fair to expect to see occasional games like that from a 19-year-old defenseman.  If he stays up - and at this point aren't we all in agreement that he will? - this probably won't be the last game we'll see like that.  Or maybe I'm just so nonchalant because I had kind of a blue weekend.  Saturday was one of those days where I just couldn't get that worked up about my favorite hockey team looking bad.

Some odds and ends:

-- Something I've kept meaning to address is how much I hate Derek Roy with an A.  I really, really want Derek Roy to be a great hockey player and if he turns into a leader on this team, fantastic.  But I'm not down with the idea of giving him an A and hoping he'll grow into it which has to be Lindy Ruff's line of thinking here.  Either give the As to people who have already earned them or just leave it at two As.  Haven't we already established that trying to force maturity onto Roy isn't going to work?  Why would you ever put him in a position where he's actually allowed to gripe at the refs?  At one point I had a very high tolerance for some of Roy's shenanigans, but watching him moan to the ref about a call that he clearly deserved and then continue to shake his head and mumble while he watched the replay pissed me off.  Shut up, Derek Roy.  Shut up, and play hockey.

-- I've stated before that I don't really care if fans boo former Sabres when they return or not.  I'm not much of a booer myself, but fans should be able to react how they want to react.  I think some of the stances certain journalists in the area have taken on that issue the last couple of years - if you boo Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, you're cheering management just to name one - are ridiculous.  That said, I was almost a little choked up at the ovation Marty Biron received when he entered the game Friday night.  It was very clear that Buffalo still has a lot of affection for him.  In a way, I think the tendency to boo former Sabres the last few years made Marty's reception that much sweeter.  I've seen some people question why Marty got cheered when others have been booed and I really think it's as simple as Marty clearly loving Buffalo both then and now.  He was and is rooted in the community in a way that Drury and Briere never quite were.  Maybe they would have been some day, but both left too soon.  That's my take at least.

-- Speaking of Max, regular commenter Vanek's Hair left this comment on the previous post:

Also, I was very happy to see that Max Afinogenov salted away last night's game. That's right. I said it.

I said it too.  Mark took his mom to the Atlanta game and when he got home one of the first things he said was, "I guess you were happy to see Max score."  Yes.  Yes, I was. 

-- As good as I'm still feeling about the Sabres overall, our power play is such a puzzle to me.  It's so frustrating to have Patrick Kaleta, a guy who can draw penalties in his sleep, while also having a power play completely incapable of capitalizing on most of those penalties.  The 5-on-3 against Atlanta was brutal.  If this keeps up, it's going to drive me bonkers for sure.

-- I'm wondering if maybe there wasn't a little bit of certain players buying into their own press.  They got a big win against Detroit, everyone's excited, and they come in Friday playing more loose.  They get away with it because of the Islanders lousy goaltending so it continues again on Saturday but this time it gets them, partly because Hedburg is a Sabres killer and partly because Atlanta might actually be a decent team.  I'm very curious to see how the team comes out for the next game.  Hopefully, this is where guys like Mike Grier and Paul Gaustad step in.  I want to see everyone re-focused.  I feel like we never really do well in Florida (I didn't check the stats on that though) so we'll see.

-- I've always liked Ilya Kovalchuk.  Considering who he's had around him for the last handful of years, his numbers are incredible.  Really makes you wonder what they'd look like if he hadn't spent his career with such a dysfunctional organization.  Ilya's also cute as a little button.

-- My favorite Mike Robitaille-ism is easily the variations of "He's playing like a riverboat gambler."  Never fails to crack me up.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Case You're Wondering...

And judging by my email today, some of you are.

Yes, I did read Bucky's story on Henrik Tallinder.  Yes, I did enjoy it.  (Although the "It seemed everybody wanted to spank Hank" line cracked me up.  Really, editors?  I know it rhymes, but it creates a very weird mental image that's particularly funny in light of Hank's sexual history.) I'm happy to see Hank playing well, but I'm even happier to see him looking and sounding more like himself than he did last season.  It's easy to forget sometimes that these guys are human and they go through funks where nothing seems to go quite right just like we do.  I don't care what's behind the rejuvination, I'm just glad it's happening.  Happy Hank makes for a happy Heather B.

Now, let's never speak of this again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We ARE Better Than the Red Wings! Woooo!

Wow, that was ca-razy!  I was babysitting tonight and missed the first period.  When I got in my car to drive home it was 1-1.  By the time I got from Williamsville to Tonawanda, it was 5-1.  I briefly wondered if I shouldn't just keep driving around.  Lindy Ruff said if the Sabres kept creating chances like they were, eventually something would give but I'll tell you what the real difference was:  I hugged the Stanley Cup!  You superstitious "DON'T TOUCH THE CUP!" freaks can take a hike!  I'm clearly the winner here.  And if I need to make a trip to Toronto to hug the Cup every weekend between now and the end of June, I'm okay with that.

I missed most of the good stuff so I can't comment too heavily - you can check out some of the other wonderful Sabres blogs for that today - but I will say that when I saw that touch pass that Derek Roy flipped over the head of a Red Wing and right onto the stick of Thomas Vanek I almost cried with joy.  I would love to love Derek Roy again.

Also, Harry Neale called Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard "Ron Howard" as in "Ron Howard coming in to play goal for Detroit."  Opie in goal.  That totally cracked me up.

I keep trying to remind myself that at this point last season I was really excited, thinking the Sabres had finally righted the ship but you guys... I'm really excited.  Ryan Miller is playing like an elite goalie, the Sabres are giving up very few quality chances, so far they've avoided either giving up when the pucks aren't going in or getting to lax if they are.  Dare I even hope that this season is going to be different than the last two?  Someone please remind me it's too early for that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meeting the Stanley Cup

Back from Toronto! You missed me, right? I don't know how Buffalo functioned without my hard-hitting analysis of what seemed to be a real humdinger of a game Saturday night.

While in Toronto, we, of course, stopped at the Hockey Hall of Fame. It was the first time either of us had been and there will be a longer post about it coming later this week. Those of you who read my Twitter, however, heard about a discussion we were having - to touch or not to touch the Stanley Cup? - and I wanted to go ahead and let you know where we both ended up on the subject.

First up was Mark:

Happy but happy from a respectful distance.

Then me:

That's right, I touched it.  Not only did I touch it, if they had let me, I would have lifted it over my head and run around the trophy room with it while yelling, "WOOOOOOOOOOOO!  LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!"  And I would have gotten quite a chant going because in addition to the two of us, there were four Sabres jerseys in the room.  I had the numbers on my side.

So pretty.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I Might Love Mike Grier

I admit, I never really warmed up to Mike Grier when he was last in Buffalo. I understood his role on the team, I understood why he was important, but I just didn't care for him personally. I don't know why really. When I heard he had signed with the Sabres again, I assumed, like most people I think, that he wasn't getting offers from anyone else. Surely that meant he was old and washed up. I figured his presence would mostly be felt off the ice and I was mostly okay with that. I thought if he could keep everyone else on the team moving, he'd be worth what we're paying him.

Tonight was my first trip to HSBC of the season and you know, I was super impressed with Grier. I don't know how his game came across on TV, but in person I thought there was just so much to like. He's as slow as he ever was but he definitely uses what he has. He really is one hard-working guy and he's so steady. I get a little leery when the Sabres go into protect mode with a one goal lead, but I loved him out on the ice with a minute or so to go in the game. Somehow he was always there, breaking up a play, scooting the puck down the ice, and never looking that stressed about it at all. Just chugging away like it was the easiest thing in the world to be on the ice for the end of a close game.

I'm also willing to give him full credit for the Sabres staying in the game at all. We had about eleventy billion good scoring chances and couldn't bury any of them. When Phoenix scored in the third I thought, "Well, there goes that game. This is o-ver." Because last season that absolutely would have been the case. The Sabres would have either starting panicking and doing really, really stupid things with the puck in a desperate attempt to make something happen, completely unraveling in the process OR they would have checked out completely, mentally already on the flight to the next game. Either way a 1-0 deficit is suddenly a 3-0 deficit and we're all wondering how a team goes from a decent effort to a Timbit team in the span of a few minutes. (Side note: During the Timbits intermission thing tonight, Sabretooth tried to poke check one of the Timbits, inadvertently taking out the kid in the process. That's right, Sabretooth destroyed a five-year-old.)

But that is so not what happened tonight. Phoenix scored and somehow the Sabres stayed composed and kept chipping away. They didn't change what they were doing, they just stuck with it. And they ended up winning a hard fought one goal game. Seriously, how often have we seen that in the last couple of years? I'm telling you, it's the power of Mike Grier. He's not going to score a lot of goals and his contribution probably won't show up on the score sheet very much, but he's going to make a difference.

Brief programming note. I'm leaving tomorrow for a long weekend in Toronto so I probably won't see the game Saturday and definitely won't be blogging again until Monday or Tuesday. If I owe you anything like an email or say, a blog banner, you probably won't see that until Monday or Tuesday either. Sorry.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This and That

A little of this, a little of that...

-- My only real concern after the Sabres opener was the lack of offense from the top six forwards. The third and fourth lines made a much larger impression and while I love 'em, that's never a good thing. Thomas Vanek in particular has to be more of a presence. He simply cannot go through too many games with one shot on goal. He was outshot by Jochen Hecht and Chris Butler. Henrik Tallinder had a shot on goal for crying out loud. I think it's too early to be overly concerned but I think the situation bears watching. While offense hasn't been a huge problem the last couple of seasons, I think you could argue that timely offense has been. The Sabres' offensive numbers have been helped by a handful of blowouts. In one and two goal games, our record has been less than impressive the last two seasons. (30-34 in one goal games, 23-23 in two goal games in 2008-2009 and 2007-2008 combined.) We need the six guys on the top two lines to score and score when we really need it.

-- Our power play is painful. I suppose it's my lack of history with power play or the fact that I've never played, but I honestly do not understand why it's so difficult to put together a halfway decent power play. You have MORE people on the ice than the other team! I know pretty much every clogs shooting lanes and blocks shots now but still. MORE PLAYERS!

-- On a sidenote, wow, what a baseball game that was tonight. It was just starting when I headed out to babysit for the night and I was sure it would be over before I got home. I was delighted to get home and find it tied in the bottom of the 9th. Lots of crazy goings-on. I think it goes without saying that I love, love, love hockey, but baseball is the sport that's weaved through the fabric of pretty much my entire life including my most formative childhood years. (Indicated by the genuine giddiness I felt every time the TBS broadcast showed Andy Van Slyke shifting the Detroit outfielders.) It's pretty much the opposite of hockey in every way and that's what I love about it. With the exception of a walk-off homer, baseball is a much slower build. The count gets deeper, the bases get more crowed, the base runners got closer and closer to home, the crowd gets more and more excited. I think the NHL playoffs are the toughest grind in pro sports physically and probably mentally... but I do love a long, close postseason baseball game.

-- I don't know if you guys have heard about this 30 for 30 thing ESPN is doing - I rarely watch ESPN and somehow I've been inundated with it - but it sounds pretty cool. Thirty filmmakers, some recognizable, all talented, have done 30 one-hour documentaries, each one about a certain sports person or moment in the last 30 years. If you check out the website, you can see a list of all the upcoming documentaries - I plan on watching them all - but I bring it up because the first one, which premiered tonight, was Peter Berg's King's Ransom which was about the Wayne Gretzky trade, how it came to be and how it affected Edmonton, Los Angeles, and the NHL. I'll always love Peter Berg for bringing me the fabulous Friday Night Lights and I found King's Ransom to be absolutely riveting. I missed pretty much all of Wayne Gretzky's career so even the game footage in the documentary was fascinating for me. I would really encourage any sports fan, but especially hockey fans, to find a rebroadcast of it. Here's a short preview:

-- Is it wrong that I didn't really miss Adam Mair? I kind of forgot about him. In the "Let's clear roster!" space sweepstakes, I suppose I vote for waiving Nathan Paetsch. I think it's silly to even talk about waiving Henrik Tallinder or Toni Lydman. Whether you like them or not, whether they're part of your long-term plans or not, they're NHL caliber defensemen. They're also both likely to have trade value later, especially if they pull together good seasons. Every playoff-bound team can use a stay-at-home defenseman. I'm less sure what to do with the forwards.

-- Still not Thursday? Are we sure?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Just Wondering...

Is it Thursday yet?

(Compress this, NHL!)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Have I Ever Mentioned That I'm a Tallinder Fan?

I love Henrik Tallinder. I know, that's not a newsflash, right? He's a combination of all the things I love in a professional athlete. (Minus the sex scandal perhaps.) He's talented (when playing well), he's appealing to watch (beautiful skater), he comes across as very pleasant and likable in interviews, he plays an underrated style and position.

Despite that unabashed affection, however, I feel like I've always been able to step outside myself and look at Hank at least somewhat rationally. I understand why a lot of fans are down on him. I understand why the Sabres allegedly looked at trading him in the offseason and then again at the draft. I would understand if they traded him before the season is over, and if they don't, I'll understand when they don't re-sign him. I get it. He has definitely not turned into the defenseman we all thought he would be. I do think Hank has turned into a little bit of a whipping boy for everything that ails us, but I get it.

Which is why I was so confused after Saturday's game. I've said before that I really want Hank to have a good season, and after the Montreal game, I was pretty happy with his play. Certainly he wasn't the best Buffalo defenseman on the ice, but he wasn't the worst either. (For the record, I thought Andrej Sekera was.) He didn't have any major blow-ups, he wasn't on the ice for either of Montreal's goals (such as they were), and he showed pretty good chemistry with Tyler Myers. I don't need him to play with Toni Lydman all the time, but I think there's a pretty good reason they almost always end up together. In the past they've both struggled to find any chemistry with anyone else, at least quickly. Heck, Hank was even jumping in offensively and he had a shot on goal. So yeah, I was feeling happy.

And then I started reading comments on other blogs and message boards. Now I usually try not to read too much until after I've done any blogging I'm planning on doing, just so my opinion doesn't get too muddied, but it was the first game, I was excited to hear what everyone was talking about, I ended up reading places I haven't even gone in a couple of years. Almost every place I wandered to, Hank was getting hammered. Not lightly criticized, HAMMERED. Destroyed. Decimiated. Better off dead type comments.

I have no idea what to make of this. I don't know if my Hank goggles need adjusted or if everyone else's does. I don't know if my fandom is making me see less than everyone else or if Hank has been so firmly established in Can't Do Anything Right Ever territory for so many people that they're seeing more than is there. I don't know. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle?

I don't know what my point is other than this. I'm not sure I'm going to believe anything you tell me about Hank's play this season. It's too much. Whipping boy. But I guess maybe you shouldn't believe anything I say about him etiher. If you ever did. Heh.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Might Have Been Wrong

I admit it, Tyler Myers looked very good tonight. He's such a good skater, he can handle the puck, he seem to have a pretty good grasp on when to pinch and when not to, he looked fine on special teams, he threw his body around when needed, and he was remarkably composed for a 19-year-old playing in his NHL debut. Montreal's forwards are not very big, and it was only the first game of 82. I still think that if he stays up, we're likely to see him wear down some as the season goes on. But if Myers continues to play like that for the remainder of his 9 game audition, it's going to be awfully hard to send him back down. I was impressed.

I have a few things to address about this game (special teams, Henrik Tallinder, the forwards, and goal reviews, just to name a few), but since we don't play again until Thursday - brilliant scheduling on the part of the NHL - I'm going to save some of those topics for other days. For today, despite the loss and despite a couple of problems, I'm really pretty happy with the game. The effort was there, the team as a whole was definitely tougher than last year, Jochen Hecht looked so much like the Jochen of old that I wanted to cry, the rookies were fine, Chris Butler continued to look great. I'm going to try not to get too excited because I seem to remember last season starting well too, but with a couple of tweaks (i.e. friggin' GOALS), I could watch the team that played tonight for 81 more games easily.

On a personal note, Marlowe experienced her first Sabres opener tonight. Overall it went well. Every time we cheered she popped up and started barking and jumping on us. A little disconcerting since she's usually pretty quiet, but she was going into the spirit of things well.

"Seriously. Now can we take this thing off?"

One down, 81 plus to go.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Just Do It

Accountability seems to have been the buzzword of the preseason, popping up in almost every story I've read about the Sabres. Here's yet another one. The linked story, however, features Ryan Miller with probably my favorite quote from any Sabre player on the subject. In fact, I think it deserves special emphasis.

"Blah, blah, blah, on and on and on. Yeah, maybe it's time to stop quoting ourselves in articles and just shut up about it and do it."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Let's go Buff-a-lo!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Opening Day (For a Bunch of Teams That Aren't the Sabres!)

Why don't we get to play until Saturday? Hmph.

It was a very long day here at Casa de Top Shelf but I did want to throw a couple of thoughts out before calling it a night. Odds and ends commencing... now.

-- I'm really happy Tim Kennedy made the team. I think the roster needs an infusion of excited youth and based on what very little I saw in the preseason, he was the right call over Nathan Gerbe. Judging by Lindy Ruff's comments, I'm sure Kennedy's strong defensive play and penalty killing played a huge part in him getting the nod. He was pretty mellow in the video from today currently posted on, but you'd think he almost had to go home and dance around the house or something, right? Home town kid getting the chance to play on the team he grew up watching? That has to be a really special thing for him and his family. On a related note, I'm really glad Lindy is committed to playing Kennedy in the top two or three lines. He's not going to succeed on the fourth line with guys like Adam Mair and Matt Ellis.

-- Despite my previously noted opinion that Tyler Myers should stay in juniors for a year, I am ready to see what he's got. I was encouraged by his interviews today. He talked about the importance of keeping his game simple and focusing on being responsible in his own end, and I think that's the smart move on his part. I like for my defensemen to focus on actual defense. The offensive side can come later as he gets more comfortable. Again, please don't mistake my reluctance to move Myers up this year for lack of excitement about his future. I hope he's amazing.

-- I am a little surprised at how disappointed I am about Mike Weber not making the roster. Don't get me wrong, I understand why he was sent down. The general consensus is that he did not look good at all in the preseason and I think Lindy is probably on the mark with him looking around him, adding up the numbers, seeing and hearing about Myers and pressing too hard. If Henrik Tallinder does end up getting traded, I don't know what I'm going to do about a new favorite player. I had Weber pegged for that role. That'll take some pondering. Also bummed that Hank is almost surely the d-man who's going to sit while Myers gets his 9 day tryout. I don't like it, but I don't see how it's going to be any other way. (Yes, I realize I'm the only person in the world thinking, "Oh, man, Hank is going to have to sit for Myers? That sucks.")

-- I don't think I like the Roy-Connolly-Vanek line Lindy was pondering in interviews today. Considering that he offered his own criticism of the grouping, I think it's probably something he's still noodling. I would have some concern about it being a line that's not going to do enough dirty work which is what his worry was, but I'm really more concerned that it puts our three best players on one line. I assume that would make MacArthurt-Kennedy-Pominville the second line which doesn't exactly send happy chills down my spine or anything. But they seemed to have some good chemistry in the preseason so I don't know, maybe it would work. Whatever Lindy ends up going with, I do hope he sits on his hands for a bit and gives the lines some time to click. I think it's important for the team to get off a good start - and I'm sure Lindy knows that's important for him too - but don't tinker too much right away.

-- Very, very happy that the Grier-Gaustad-Hecht line seems to be locked in. I definitely have a good feeling about them.

-- I'm going to stick with picking the Sabres to finish 5th in the Eastern Conference although 6th is probably more realistic. I think the Rangers and Canadiens are going to finish below us and I think Carolina and New Jersey have a shot to finish below us too. I never do well predicting the entire conference, but I think I would say Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, Buffalo, New Jersey, Carolina, and Montreal. For the record, I just reeled those off with very little rational though. I do agree with the Tick's assessment that the Sabres still don't have a lot of wiggle room though. We're still very much in a group of teams competing for the last few spots in the EC. If the team goes through a bad stretch of play or injuries, it could be lethal.