This game was my first “Cone of Silence” game of the year, which is kind of amazing considering it’s December already. In any event, I turned this game on at about 5AM Sunday morning and considered “live blogging” it, but I didn’t know what to expect and the only text message I got about it was from Chris. It said “Wow. I’ve never seen Vanek drop so many f bombs at once.” That didn’t give me much hope, so I wasn’t going to waste three hours writing about a game I’d end up hating.
First of all, I love everything about this picture:
I’m working on a montage of officials screwing up, but this one was just too good to hold back. Tim Peel appears to be making a lot of friends this year. Anyway, back to the real story, and the only story that matters so far this year: Thomas Vanek.
I feel like at times he’s the only player we talk about, but can you really say enough about what we’ve seen this year? 24 goals in 30 games. Seven multi-goal games. Night in and night out he’s the best player on the ice, and as the season progresses he only seems to get better. He isn’t the fastest and he may not have the best moves, but Thomas Vanek is blowing teams away by himself. When was the last time we had a player this potent at all times? LaFontaine? Mogilny?
Both goals were the result of great work by teammates, and that’s something that should be addressed as well. Both Hecht and Pominville have played excellent hockey together over the past week or so, and their numbers prove it. Hecht is such an underrated player in the league, and I still think his contract will be a steal when it’s all said and done. He hasn’t put up big numbers so far, but he has been working hard on both ends and will only get better playing next to Atlas.
Pominville has been an interesting player this year as well. He too has struggled early, and looked to have the same problem with expectations that Vanek had in the wake of a large contract last year. Despite being near the team lead in points all season you could still categorize his season as “quiet”, but now he seems to be heating up. He has proven in the past that he’s more than just “Briere’s guy” and he will prove again this year he’s more than “Vanek’s guy” too.
This whole team seems to be heating up, really. I talked about him as a disappointment, but Drew Stafford has been very good lately, and Derek Roy’s goal total is creeping up as well. Roy’s power play goal on Saturday night was a thing of beauty, and those chances were missed nets earlier in the year. This is a streaky team in a streaky league, but good things happen when a half dozen guys heat up at the same time.
It’s not just the scoring forwards that have been hot, either. Paul Gaustad had another great game on Saturday, and Adam Mair has played very well all season. Both players have stepped up significantly since the loss of Peters and Kaleta, and Goose has been hitting everything as of late. Knowing your 3rd and 4th line guys will come out flying is a big help, and maybe having two of the more physical players on the team out will help this team with that aspect in the long run.
I mean, who would have thought Nathan Gerbe would be hitting everything as well? Whether it’s rookie enthusiasm or how he’s really going to play, it’s great to see him giving it out just as much as he’s getting it. Gerbe has been a pleasant surprise thus far, and it’s good to see that when some forwards hit the road later in the year there will be players in Portland ready to step in with confidence.
So what does a win in New Jersey mean for this team? Well, I’d like to say a lot but it’s hard to tell. The Sabres dropped a game they should have won at home and went into New Jersey with no rest against a very hot team. It looked like a game they were bound to lose but I couldn’t figure out why. There was no home ice advantage, the Sabres were clearly outplaying Jersey, and Lalime was putting together a solid performance in the backup role. Still, after watching a game slip away at home was there any reason to think this one wouldn’t go the same way?
Then Drew Stafford put on the pressure, drew a penalty, and Roy puts it in. A few minutes later Atlas puts it away, and you could only wonder why you were worrying in the first place. Everything’s fine, completely under control. Nothing to see here, game over.
It may be a fluke, and maybe because of the numbers a game like this means more only in an artificial sense. However, the Sabres looked surprisingly in control on Saturday night against a Devils team that is still very good. The defense wasn’t the best and guys like Sekera and Teppo continue to struggle, but this team finally had the offense to overcome those mistakes. Atlas has been carrying the load all year, but he’s starting to get some help.
It could be a hot streak, but maybe it’s the start of something more.