I’m still trying to gather all of my thoughts on last night’s hockey thriller. We started this blog in May of this year, right when all seemed lost against the Senators in the playoffs. None of us here in the Roost ever really got a shot at going through the motions and thrills of last season.
So when you have a game like last night’s Sabres-Flyers barn burner, a game that reminded you of a comeback game from last season, what can you possibly say? It was the perfect game to take into a small break. All of the emotion and energy that was poured into that effort drained not only the players, but fans as well. I know that after last night I need a four day break from hockey.
Last night was just one of those games that you can look at a few months from now at peg it as one of “those games.” It could be THE turning point. Sure there have been a few games that looked like that could be the moment (the Tampa overtime, the Thibault shutout, the MacArthur overtime winner, the Carolina blowout come to mind), but just looking at the celebration after last night’s game, they look like a unified team out there. And it’s about damn time.
Philadelphia icing that puck with under ten seconds to go was the best break the Sabres have gotten all year. For Kotalik to win that draw, for the team to get that shot set up, for Hecht to get the shot off, for Vanek to deflect it, for that red light to go on with 7.2 seconds left…you’re just left drained. The Sabres looked like the Sabres of the last two seasons that we’ve come to know and love, and at times despise.
Usually in games like that, special teams are the difference. Both teams went just 2-8 on the poweplay, but Philadelphia’s two shorthanded goals 55 seconds apart in the second that tied the game 3-3, should have been it, right? Maybe the four minute penalty kill at the end of regulation countered that.
A big knock on the Sabres is that they’re just not physical enough. The last two games have shown that, when push comes to shove, they can step up and hit. They’re probably not physical enough for a seven-game series, but for small stretches, they’re more than up to the task. And leading the way is Jaroslav Spacek.
“Spacho Man” looked like a $3.33 million bust coming into this season. What he has done is step up his game and Lindy Ruff has awarded him with more ice time, a full time spot on the powerplay and an “A” on his chest. Spacek’s been good all year, but he’s been at his best this month ever since he was awarded that letter. He’s been physical and that cannon of a shot has, no question helped the offense. Sure he may talk like the Cookie Monster, but the guy has earned every penny of that contract he signed two summers ago. Right now, he looks more deserving of a longterm deal than Campbell does. Then again, keeping them both and having Lydman-Tallinder healthy may give you one of the best top four corps in hockey when all are healthy and playing well.
I still think the captaincy should like with Hecht, though. He’s shown up on the ice and I’m sure the players respond to his veteran leadership. He gives his all on every shift and has solidified himself as the team’s best two-way forward, a title he had before Drury took on that role after the lockout.
And then there’s Ryan Miller. After a shaky start, he’s been nothing short of spectacular. He’s the main reason the team is riding a six-game win streak into the Christmas Break. He’s locked down and zoned in and in December, I’d be hard pressed to find a goaltender that’s playing better. Even the losses haven’t been that bad. The entire team was outplayed in Anaheim (it could have been worse than 4-2 if Miller hadn’t been in net), no one showed up against the Kings, and Alex Auld flat out stole the game for the Bruins in that 4-1 loss. Miller is finally playing like an elite goalie and as long as he can stay healthy, Ruff will continue to give him the brunt of the workload. More than anyone, it’s his team.
Last night, Miller gave up five goals but he was still pretty solid. It came down to the shootout and he got it done.
Last night had it’s low points, sure, highlighted by the two shorties and Mair’s inability to keep his cool late in the game. But looking at the bigger picture, the Sabres are 19-14-1, in 6th place in the East with 39 points and have won 13 of their last 17 games. And for a team that was supposed to suffer offensively, they’re currently fourth in the league in goals for behind three division leaders (Detroit, Carolina and Ottawa). Not too shabby. When this team is playing well, they’re extremely tough to beat. Unfortunately they haven’t been very consistent until recently. They either look legit or like scabs. And they’re finally showing that they’re capable of stringing some wins together and be a force to be reckoned with.
As shaky and as mediocre as they’ve seemed this year, they’re right in it. And the next 12 games coming up are against conference opponents, with three against the Senators and another against rival Toronto. If they can keep the streak alive, it’s a great opportunity to collect some points and work their way up in the standings. Only four of their remaining games are against teams in the West. Just nine points behind Ottawa for first in the Northeast, every point is valuable. Let’s go Buffalo.