Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hank Hank HUZZAH! Part 2

Well, well, well. Look who's showing off. Hank clearly knew I was in the building tonight.

Right after this, Hank winked at me.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)


I missed this since I was at the game, but Joe was kind enough to post it for me. I actually think Hank is right that the Bruins weren't coming that hard at all in the first period, but I do love how you can see his answer getting away from him until he finally asks for the do-over. I've said this already, but I'm so, so glad to see happy, smiley Hank back.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hank Hank HUZZAH! Hank Hank HUZZAH!

Let's take a moment to bask in the reflected glow of Mirtle's updated Rod Langaway Award rankings.  For those unfamiliar with this, Mirtle picks out all the defensemen in the league who have played at least 30 games and who average roughly two minutes on the penalty kill a game.  Then he uses three stats - quality of competition, goals against per 60 minutes at even strength, and goals against per 60 minutes of short-handed time - to determine who the best defensive defensemen in the league are right now.  It's not an exact science, but as far as quantifying defense goes, it's not bad either.

Tyler Myers is right outside the top 20 at number 21.  Wooo for Tyler Myers!  For some reason, I'm really, really starting to get excited about him potentially winning the Calder.  To stack up against some of the other players on that list in those particular categories in your rookie year (at 19 years of age!) is pretty darn impressive.

I, however, am even more tickled with number 17, Henrik Tallinder.  There was a time in 2007-2008, about the halfway point of the season, I think, where Hank was on the very top of the list when Mirtle did this.  Shortly after that he dropped off a cliff and then he laid at the bottom in a broken, crumpled heap for the next season and a half.  To see him creeping up these rankings again, for me that's a real sign that he's finally returning to form, and it makes me really happy.  The quality of competition stat is definitely up for debate - I believe it's based on a player's plus/minus relative to his teammates which doesn't take into account whether it's a good team or a bad team - but goals allowed per 60 minutes at even strength and short-handed are pretty straight forward stats and important ones, especially for a guy who is supposed to be playing defense.  So yay for you, Henrik Tallinder!  I knew you still had that defensive stud in you somewhere.

*All stats are taken from Behind the Net.  The guy behind Behind the Net has collected a bunch of cool stats and created some of his own.  Stats are much harder to apply to hockey than say, baseball but if you're into numbers at all, you should really check this site out.  Even the stats that don't quite work are interesting in concept.

*As part of his post, Mirtle asks if the reader thinks there should be some kind of official award for defensive defensemen.  I didn't go into here since I've given this lecture many,  many times before but for the record, duh, of  course there should be an award for defensive defensemen.  They don't get nearly enough credit or recognition for what they do.  Even among d-men, offense gets the glory.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jochen Hecht, Shootout Specialist

I've always hated the way Lindy Ruff handles the shootout which I believe I've mentioned a time or two. He insists on putting the guys who you'd think should be good at the shootout in and doesn't go to any atypical choices until he has to even though it's often those guys who look the best. So I was really happy to see Jochen Hecht included in the first three shooters last night. It makes zero sense for him to be good at shootouts. He has hands of stone at times and rarely seems to pull off a breakaway in a game. But coming into tonight's game he'd scored in two straight shootouts. I was glad to see Lindy not overthink things and reward the guy who's been successful in that specific situation in the past rather than rewarding a guy for a good game which, while a nice thought, doesn't seem to work that often.

And I have to admit, I'm pretty tickled that our best guy in the shootout is Jochen Hecht. JOCHEN HECHT, people. That is adorably inexplicable.  I love it.  I mean, honestly... How do you not look at this picture without cracking up?  How may times would you bank on Jochen meeting up with Marty Brodeur with Broduer coming away looking silly?  Sometimes hockey is funny.

Hee. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)


Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Love Drew Remenda (and other things)

Since we talked about the Ducks and Kings broadcasts, I want to take a quick moment to rave about the Sharks broadcast. It was very, very good. Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda has both clearly did their homework on their Sabres. While they hit a lot of the same notes as the previous California broadcasts - the Sabres are fast, Lindy Ruff has been around forever, Tyler Myers is really good (and tall!) - they went into much more detail. The other Western Conference teams have mentioned what a fast, run-and-gun team the Sabres are and while the speed is still there, run-and-gun hasn't really fit for a few years, certainly not this season. The Sharks team really went into how the Sabres are playing more of a team concept this year, five man units playing together as one, etc. I was also impressed with the amount of play-by-play - the color never interfered with calling the actual game - and the amount of X's and O's they got in. We get a little of that on MSG with Mike Robitaille during the intermissions, but that's one area where I think our broadcasts have really taken a hit since Jim Lorenz retired. I also appreciated Hahn and Remenda acknowledging that the Buffalo viewing audience was tuned into their broadcast - I think they were the only ones to do so - and I loved, loved, loved them doing it via a really bad but totally fun impression of Rick Jeanneret's Population of Pominville call. The Sharks broadcast was fun, informative, and entertaining. Can't ask for much more than that. Four of my shiniest gold stars to them.

Too bad I can't say the same for the Sabres, Steve Montador. After the first period went so well I was pretty bummed the game fell apart. I was really hoping to get at least ten points on this road trip. Of course, I was counting on getting four points out of Atlanta and the Islanders. Only getting two there really hurt. Hopefully we'll fare better against the really super hot right now Canucks? Maybe?

And now for something completely different...

Among the many things that has bothered me over the recent years about The Buffalo News, one of the biggest has been how the writers have taken every opportunity to trash the Sabres video scouting without really giving us much information about how it all works. I once emailed Mike Harrington to whine and complain politely inquire about this and he said it's a story they've attempted to write but the Sabres are pretty tight-lipped about their process, considering it proprietary information. Which I can understand. If you're competing with thirty other teams and you think you're doing something that works that no one else is doing, you probably should keep a lid on it. (What doesn't make sense is TBN continuing to dog something they don't really understand but hey, what else is new?)

Yesterday Mirtle tweeted a link to a Globe and Mail story about scouting and there are just a few small details in there about the Sabres process but enough that it really changed my opinion. For all my complaints about TBN's coverage/attitude toward the story, there was enough skepticism from enough different places that I did wonder about the validity of their system. I kind of got the impression that video scouting consisted of a bunch of scouts watching game tapes, like us sitting at home watching games on TV. That did seem questionable. So much of hockey is played without the puck, especially on defense, and you've probably noticed that game broadcasts center around the guy with the puck. There's so much you would miss scouting that way.

According to the Globe and Mail article, however, a scout with training in video goes and watches the player being scouted and brings the video back for others on the scouting team to watch. A few months ago I read a book called Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts (just as an aside, I thought it was a really fun, interesting read). In the book the author talked about how all the scouts from a franchise come together at the draft and they all bring their own biases with them. Some have a bias against Europeans. Some don't like small players. Some love small, speedy guys. Some prefer big bruisers. The player the Sabres are interested in is still getting scouted the traditional way - in person by a living, breathing human being - but that human being is bringing back tangible evidence that others can look at, thereby getting around the problem of one guy's biases and quirks playing such a huge part. I don't know, to me that seems... smart. As Kate said when we were discussing this (before it devolved into utter silliness, as things sometimes tend to do with us), it seems less like newfangled ideas and more like common sense.

We're probably just about getting to the point where we can start judging how the changes in the scouting department have worked, but Tyler Myers seems like a pretty good start, you know? Heh.

Friday, January 22, 2010

West Coast Thoughts

It is 11:49 as I type this, about halfway through the second period. Thomas Vanek - or is that VON-ek? :::eye-roll here::: - just put the Sabres up by one. I am fried, so I'm not completely sure I'm going to make it through this one. It's been a very long week. The teacher in my classroom had surgery on Monday and will be out for a couple of weeks so I've been working extra hard during the day and classes started this week so I've been trying to get back in the swing of an academic life in the evenings. I made it through the Ducks game just fine, but I'm not feeling quite as optimistic about this one.

I'm fine with that though. Honestly, when I think of late night West coast trips, one of my favorite things is the potential to fall asleep on the couch with hockey in the background. I think I said this at some point last week, but if we had Center Ice, I would fall asleep in front of hockey every night of the season. I love putting on my PJs, curling up with a couple of blankets, turning off the lights and settling in for the night. I love closing my eyes, just for a second, and letting the game kind of wash over me. And then for a few minutes I flit between eyes open and eyes closed, and one second I know exactly what's going on and then in the next second I'm gone and in the morning I can't quite remember exactly when I finally drifted off. Occasionally I miss something good, but hockey is such a comfortable thing that I don't really mind that much. The only thing that would make the situation perfect is if I was falling asleep with the sounds of Rick and Jim in my ears. Those were the good ol' days.

A few thoughts:

As someone who doesn't have Center Ice, I can kind of convince myself that not having our own broadcast for a few games is okay because it's fun to hear other teams' broadcasts. But holy moly, the Ducks broadcast really tested that theory. They were brutal.

The Kings broadcast was much better. (Intermission, not so much.) They seemed somewhat educated about the Sabres, they were even-handed in their calling of the play, they gave credit to the Sabres when it was due, and weren't afraid to admit that Oscar Mueller's goal being disallowed was the right call. I really liked their fascination with Ryan Miller's routine of skating way out of the crease and staring down at the ice during TV timeouts and other long stoppages in play. I thought it was pretty cool for them to point out something like that about the opposition, and it was certainly more insightful than, "Tyler Myers is real tall!" which we've gotten a lot of the last two games.

The one good thing the Ducks team did do was to point out that Myers is far better than Zdeno Chara was at the same point in his career. Back when I thought Myers should stay in juniors (silly me), one of the things that most made me nervous was how quick a lot of people were to compare Myers to Chara because Chara wasn't the Chara we know until after he'd been in the NHL for a handful of years. We've all said this a million times at this point, but Myers has been such a pleasant surprise. For mor on baby Chara vs. Myers, check out this blog post on Die By the Blade. There's some good stuff in there.

Jumping back to Miller, I have really ejoyed how impressed the Western Conference folks have been with his play. You can tell that, as good as his numbers are, it's been a bit of an eye-opener to see in person just how well he's playing. It's another observation that's been stated over and over this season, but Ryank deserves every good thing that's come to him this season and I'm glad to see and hear people around the league really take notice.

Both the Ducks and the Kings broadcasts repeatedly talked about activating defensemen in the offensive zone. I don't know, for some reason that completely cracks me up every time they say it. It makes me picture Lindy Ruff holding a remote with a long antennae and a big red button. In the critical moment he yells, "ACTIVATE DEFENSEMEN!" and pushes the button and they spring into action. It's quite possible that that image is a lot of funnier in my head than it is all typed out.

Next to "Tyler Myers is tall and also good at hockey!" everyone's favorite tidbit seems to be that there have been 150 coaching changes in the NHL during Lindy Ruff's tenure with the Sabres. It's funny to realize that's a stat that other people around the NHL might not know off the tops of their heads and hearing it over and over in Buffalo does make you forget that it's a good stat. I like it.

For the record, I made it through the whole game. While I don't understand being that happy for the opposition (Anne :P), I can see why so many of my Twitter buddies enjoy watching the Kings. They're a fun team. I like them. But while I know most people love the shootout, that game should have ended in a tie. So there.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

GIrls Night Out (Woooooooo!)

Kate and I have become pretty darn good friends over the last few years, but we have this problem where we kind of forget that we don't HAVE to keep all of our communication to the online world or the arena. So tonight I finally went to her brand spanking new (to her) house to enjoy the game. Jessica of the newish blog Running With Sabres (I am lousy about updating my blog roll, but when I do, her blog will definitely be on the list) joined us and a fun time was had by all.

So much fun was had in fact, that I barely know what happened tonight. In fairness to us, we did talk about things like blogging, local media, and how Lindy Ruff's snazzy system is affecting the offensive plalyers and how it will work in the postseason so we weren't completely off-topic, but yeah, I only remember two goals. I remember Jochen Hecht's because it was such a Jochen goal - you could tell by the sheepish smile on his face that even he knew it was completely ridiculous. And I remember Thomas Vanek's goal because all three of us yelled at the same time, "He scored and he's STILL shaking his head!" You could practically hear him thinking, "That was the WORST goal in ALL MANKIND!" And then they cut to Thomas on the bench, looking all sad sack-y, Lindy with one hand on Thomas's shoulder and whispering in his ear. How'd we end up paying seven million to the guy with no self-esteem? (And I do say that affectionately. I would prefer a star player with sound mental health, but I suppose caring too much is better than not caring enough.)

As Kate said at the end of the night though, it was a good night to not really pay attention. This was one of those games that you can allow to just kind of wash over you. I've grown very fond of our stellar record against the Western Conference so I hope it continues.

And hey, I said in the preseason that I thought the Sabres would finish fifth in the conference (and called Carolina finishing under us though even I didn't see the delight that has been their season) and I told you guys months ago that it was time to admit the Sabres were good at hockey, but even I did not see them with the top seed in the conference at any point in the season. Can I get a little Darcy Regier love up in here, cynics and doubters? Heh.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Moving On

Can I be honest? Every season there comes a point where I just want to fast forward 10-15 games. That time has come. I think tonight's game was boring, and as much as I love defense, even I can only take so much penalty killing, but even if it'd been a little more fun, I'm just ready to get on with it. This impatience has hit me a little earlier this season because of the Sabres place in the standing. I know some of the more superstitious among you are going to gasp in horror when I say this, but the Sabres are making the playoffs. They are. They're up by 12 points in the division. They're second in the conference. There will be playoff hockey in Buffalo this spring. I've been thinking about that a lot lately - the buzz in the city, the all day nervousness, the holding of breath for every shift, every shot - and I can't wait for it to get here. I can't.

That said, I am looking forward to the west coast swing. It'll be nice to see some different teams, and I'm a night owl so I love, love, love late night hockey. Every year I argue for Center Ice, but it's probably a good thing we don't have it. If we did I would be falling asleep on the couch, hockey on the television, pretty much all season.

During her game diary tonight, Amy mentioned John Buccigross's latest column (Bucci, quit trying to make "blogumn" happen) and it sounded interesting so I went to check it out. It's all about Ilya Kovalchuk, and he suggests a trade for every team in the league. Here's an edited version of what he says about Buffalo (you can follow the link above for the whole thing - some of them are doozies):

Proposed trade: Kovalchuk and Kubina for Thomas Vanek, Zack Kassian and a first-round pick

Even if the Sabres didn't re-sign Kovalchuk, which they probably wouldn't, they would get a player who would electrify the city and team and could be a difference-maker for the playoffs. They'd also get depth at defense in Kubina, and they'd have the cap room for the summer to add a free agent or trade for Brian Campbell! Kassian, the Sabres' first draft pick in June, is off to a slow start.

There are a few problems in here, I think (our defensive depth is actually pretty good, there's no one in the free agent market this off-season of Vanek's caliber), but he hits on my biggest concern about a huge trade - losing too much for a player who won't be here next season. Despite his quiet performance so far this season, Vanek is arguably our best offensive player. You wanna give that up for an impending free agent who almost certainly won't re-sign with the Sabres?

I guess my biggest problem is that I just haven't decided yet how good the Sabres are. They're good. If Ryan Miller keeps playing like he has all season then they're very good. The Eastern Conference, with the exception of a few teams, is pretty average. The Sabres have looked good against some of the best teams in the Western Conference. If things line up right, the Sabres could make a lot of noise. But I don't know. Maybe I've been soaking up too many interviews with Darcy Regier, but I need to be more sure of their success before I go trading Vanek or Derek Roy or Chris Butler. Stay tuned on that, I guess.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Falling In Love

Let me be very clear on this: I was wrong about Tyler Myers.  Most of you probably remember that back in the preseason I was one of maybe five people in the world who thought Myers should stay in juniors.  I questioned whether he had the physical, mental, or emotional maturity to make it through an NHL season.  I didn't think he was going to be enough of a difference maker on this year's team to justify starting the clock to free agency.  I thought the Sabres would be wise to take extra time and care with him.

I was wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong. 

I'm still a little concerned about Myers making it through the regular season much less the playoffs without running down especially since he's playing so much time every night.  That's a lot of hockey to hang on a still undeveloped body.  But everything else?  No worries. 

One of my favorite things about him is how, as mature and calm as he is on the ice, there are moments when he's still clearly a kid.  I love that he had a huge grin on his face after his second goal against Toronto.  I love that in his postgame interview he stood there, hair standing on edge, smiled sheepishly and admitted he was really going hard for the hat trick.  A lot of young hockey players don't seem to be very young.  I'm sure for some it's just personality coming into play, but I think part of it is that hockey becomes a job for a lot of these boys so young.  They leave home when they're babies and hockey is their world.  While that maturity comes in handy when it comes to playing, as a fan I somtimes find it disconcerting how polished and professional they are at 19, 20, 21.  So I like that Tyler Myers is sometimes just a big gawky 19-year-old who's having the time of his life.  He's having an impressive season and he's clearly going to be something special, but I'm really happy about the fact that I just like him so much.
This picture makes me happy.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

I'm obviously not the only one feeling that way.  One of my favorite things to do when we go to games is check out everyone's jerseys.  I said to Mark at dinner, "I just saw a Jochen jersey!" because that's one I don't see very often.  Anyone who's ever been to a game can name the most popular jerseys: Miller and Vanek with some Pominvilles, Roys, and a growing number of Gaustads mixed in.  But tonight I saw an awful lot of 57s wandering around HSBC.  An awful lot.  And they were on everyone, men and women, boys and girls.  And that affection carried over into the game.  The crowd was already jacked up by the third period comeback and the neverending shootout, but when everyone realized Myers was stepping over the boards as the next shooter, the place hit a whole new level.  We went bonkers.  We wanted to win the game, of course, but we really wanted Myers to be the hero.  It was the sound of a city falling in love with a player and a moment I think I'll remember for a long time.
I really want Myers to win the Calder.  I've spent the last couple of days running all over the internet, promising to burn a building somewhere to the ground if he doesn't.  I want the d-man to beat the forwards, I want the project to beat the sure things, I want Buffalo to beat the larger markets.  But mostly I want Myers to do what he's doing right now in a Sabres jersey for a very long time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Back to the Grind

Whew.  I think I've recovered from the holidays at last.  Before I move on to tonight's game, a brief programming note.  After years of dithering, I've decided to go back to school.  I'll spare you all the (not so) sordid details of my previous college experience, and just say I've never completed an undergraduate degree and think it's about time.  I've finally decided I'm tired of busting my ass as an aide and getting paid practically nothing so it's time to become a teacher... so I can bust my ass and get paid a little bit more than practically nothing.  I'd actually prefer to skip the undgrad degree altogether and jump straight to the masters in literacy since my end goal is to be a reading specialist, but as it turns out, no one's down with that plan.  So I'll take the long way, I guess.

All that to say, my schedule is about to get a lot busier so I'm not exactly sure how the blogging is going to go for the next few months while I readjust to an academic life, especially this semester when I'll be doing school and work full-time.  The fact of the matter is, I love, love, love this blog and being an active part of the Buffalo sports community so I'll probably find time.  Most of my classes this semester are internet courses so it's quite possible a large portion of my study time will consist of me flipping between a tab with my class lessons and a tab with Top Shelf (and a tab with Twitter, and a tab with Gmail, and tabs with other Sabres blogs...) so there might not even be a noticeable difference.  But in case there is, well, now you know what's going on.

I missed the seemingly very exciting first period, but based on what I did see, I can firmly say this was one of the most awful hockey games ever.  That was some ugly, crazy, sloppy hockey.  That said, wow, Mike Robitaille and Rob Ray need to settle down a bit.  Yes, it was a gross game, no, playing like that is definitely not going to work in the playoffs.  It was one game and really one of the few games the Sabres have played like that this season.  Let's be happy we won and move the heck on.

While watching tonight's game, I pulled out a lap desk that I hadn't used in a while.  I was using this desk a lot back when I first started really watching the Sabres closely, and I was tickled to realize I'd written a couple of notes to myself on it.  There were two or three guys whose numbers I just could not remember.  I knew their names, I knew their positions, but I just couldn't make them stick in my head enough to really recognize them when I was watching.  So I made a little cheat sheet.  Take a look:


In retrospect, I find this list pretty funny because if you put a gun to my head and made me pick my favorite three Sabres of the last few years it would probably be Jochen Hecht, Henrik Tallinder (duh), and Toni Lydman.  They haven't always been the best Sabres.  Heck, at times they've been the worst.  But for better or for worse, they're my boys.  For whatever reason, they've just burrowed into my heart.

I've been thinking about Jochen Hecht in particular a lot lately.  While I hated the way he played last season, I also hated the way fans were trashing him.  I thought people were very quick to forget how steady he'd been for pretty much his entire career in Buffalo.  He was one of the few players in 2007-2008 who looked like he cared at all about anything on the ice.  I also felt like the "Now he has his big contract" accusastions never fit him.  He had what was arguably his best year as a Sabre after he signed his extension.  If he was going to relax in the comfort of money, I think that would have been the time to do it.  So I don't know what happened last year.  I don't know if he just suddenly lost his confidence and found himself in a spiral he couldn't get out of.  I don't know if there was something going on outside of hockey that had him distracted.  I don't know.   But he was lost on the ice and distraught and sullen in interviews.  When he gave interviews at all.

I do know that he's one of those guys whom I feel for when he's struggling.  Some guys I just want to kick in the shin, some guys I mutter and curse at, but a few - like Hank, Jochen, and Toni - just make me sad.  My heart hurts watching them flail.  I want to hug them and tell them it'll be better soon.  The rejuvanation of Hank is my favorite story of the season, of course.  But the rejuvanation of Jochen is a very close second.  I missed seeing that little half smile last year.  It's good to see it again.

And just for your enjoyment, here's something else from my lap desk.  I have a feeling this was more of a mindless doodle.

I was evidently 12 at the time.  Also, I have Soupy cooties.