Still Kicking

by Ryan

Last night’s game was the biggest moment of the season thus far. I could feel it as soon as Campbell set up the game winner in Sunday’s exhibition. How the Sabres come out of the All Star Break will say everything about this team and it’s playoff chances. If they couldn’t come up with a solid road game after four days off there was no way we were making the playoffs.

It was so important to me that I wanted to watch with absolutely no interruptions. No computer, no BfloBlog game thread, no channel changing, just me and a hockey game in HD, praying for a good showing.

And what a showing it was.

One win shouldn’t make you feel better about the entire first half of the season. Who knows what will even happen tonight, but at the moment you have to be impressed with last night’s 4-2 final.

I mean, did you see that forecheck? Wow. Everyone was flying, sometimes pressing two guys up ice to create turnovers. Puck possession was very good, with great exit passes from the D and great presence on the boards to keep the play alive. Even Jason Pominville, a player I criticize often for his lack of physical play, did great work along the wall to keep the play moving.

One of the things most notable was how many players were giving that extra little bit that we want to see so bad. The first goal was a great example of that. Hecht gets to the blueline and sees a D coming over to clock him. He waits that extra second to make the pass, absorbs the hit, and before you know it Sparky roofs it.


Those little moments, the “sacrifice the body” plays coaches love to see, that’s the difference between a team going through the motions and a team not satisfied with 13th place in the conference.

To be fair, Tampa is a wreck. They are a top heavy team with goaltending issues that just couldn’t get anything moving last night. Aside from a 5-3 goal that went off Roy’s stick and a great tip in the third they played an awful game on both fronts. It is a team that depends too much on it’s stars, and you can only double shift players for so long before they aren’t productive anymore.

Still, the Sabres did what good teams are supposed to do: dominate the bad ones. Our top line had good chances but didn’t score, but Hecht-Sparky-Pominville was huge last night. Miller had a good game and kept us in early after the Vanek line got caught running in circles (one of the few shifts they were a defensive liability, however), and the checking line came up with good energy shifts and didn’t take stupid penalties.

That’s the formula for a good road win, and there is nothing in my mind that says they can’t do it again tonight. Same state, a team in the same situation; let’s do it again.

Some other thoughts:

– Brad Richards has the worst +/- in the league at -27. But hey, enjoy that goal, buddy. And the $7.8 million salary.

– Jim Craig said he wants to be like Ryan Miller. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

– Vanek frustrated me last night, but in an interesting way. He didn’t play a bad game, but every chance he missed I just felt bad about. That chance on the rush late was very telling about his game. He will never be the fastest skater out there, but when he gained the blue line trailing Roy and Stafford I just knew he would be in position to make the play.

Sure enough, he glides in the crease and takes the hesitation pass. If not for a quick pad save that’s a great goal by a guy struggling. Instead, it’s another missed chance and a casual glance at that play tells you he didn’t skate hard and isn’t trying. Vanek is getting better, he really is, and it may take a while for it to show in the stat sheet, but just seeing him play with more confidence right now is a good sign to me.

– Also, “props” to Dave in Rocha for predicting the Kaleta post-ASG callup. Again, this is why comments make the world go round.

So… let’s play some hockey tonight? How’s 7:30 in Sunrise sound?