I’ve been debating how to write this all day. There is a large part of me that wants to talk about Wednesday night and how, for just a slight moment, the Sabres were perfect. Since that seems to be a bright spot, let’s get that out of the way.
When you play a team eight times a year, you start to notice little things about them. One of those things I noticed about the Habs was how much pressure they put on our defensemen when killing penalties. They tried at all costs to prevent the point shot, something that intensified when it was obvious that the Sabres, down 2-0, would be pressing.
This pressure put on the blue line essentially crippled how the power play operated. Montreal knew what they were doing by allowing the Sabres to work down low, having faith in Carey Price to come up big when it counted. He did, and so when the Sabres went on the power play late in the third something drastic had to be done.
A 4 on 3 power play becomes a 5 on 3 when Miller goes to the bench. The faceoff is won perfectly by Roy, and the cycle begins. Kotalik starts along the boards but as the D cycles down low the point opens up. He slides into position before the Habs could put a man on him. He was the big shot they worried so much about. Before anyone gets within two strides of him the puck is in the net.
The play itself, taken out of the game’s context, is perfect. Forget the chance taken with the goalie pulled, forget the three goal deficit. Ales Kotalik’s goal on Wednesday was a set play executed to perfection. It is the perfect use of a television timeout, to take a risk in a game you absolutely need in order to survive. Of course if it fails there will be plenty to answer for, but having faith in your players to execute is what coaching is all about.
To me, this play sums up the entire season. A lone play in the 81st game of the year personifies everything about this year that I have both loved and hated, all at once. The ability of this team is there, plain and simple. Talent, skill set, whatever you want to call it, the ability to execute is there and is downright impressive when shown.
However, that ability is far too scarce and has taken too damn long to show up. There were too many “almosts” this year, from Tim Connolly’s almost moves to the countless sub-40 minute performances by a young and at times downright stupid team.
The 07-08 season will go down as the one that brought us the Winter Classic, Captain of the Month, and a general awareness of the term “hyperhydrosis”. Still, I have the nagging feeling that I will remember that play more then any other in years to come. When I think back to why this season was a monumental failure, what happened within that 20 seconds and how many times it didn’t happen so much more often will be there to keep me from wondering very long.
Sometimes, it really is the little things.