Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back to Hockey

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

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

Random thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

 Awwwww... It's Papa Hank!

 Happy Hank = Happy Heather B.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Meanderings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I'm Thankful For

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tomorrow, I Promise

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm Not Dead (Yet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

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

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

A few thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Most Entertaining Game Yet

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'll Take the Mulligan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 6, 2009


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

Yeah, that's pretty much all I got.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Sabres, the Yankees, the Pirates

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

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

Other odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

Patrick Kaleta, Pest of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of only vaguely-related rant.