Since Thomas Vanek turned into Atlas, there was one line combination many Sabres fans have been dying to see. Injuries and inconsistent play prevented it from happening, but the potential was enough to keep some optimists just asking for the chance to watch. Every once in a while they would be caught on a change and play a few seconds together, and one or two people would notice something different. Then this past week they played a few shifts together in overtime, and dozens of text messages were shot across the country saying the same thing:
Connolly and Vanek are playing together.
Saturday night we got the opportunity to see just what that line can do; and it’s safe to say their potential is everything we hoped for. We all know what Vanek and Connolly can do on their own, but the thought of them performing together is just so tantalizing. Even with all the talent on this team, putting those two together and just letting them go is a fan’s dream. All we needed was a stretch where both were healthy and playing good hockey.
And this isn’t even the goal that got me excited. The Sabres’ first goal was on a great point shot from Lydman, but Vanek set everything up. Both he and Timmy were camped in front, and Connolly gets the tip. His first goal in ages, and one you know he’s been dying to get since taking that hit against the Blues. It was a good goal on a solid play, but it didn’t exactly blow my mind. Anyone can tip a point shot, and we’ve seen hard work out of plenty of middle of the road players this season.
What did literally bring me out of my seat was Connolly’s second goal, which was exactly the sort of play these two are capable of. Both Vanek and Connolly had played well all night, with good play in the zone and an excellent backcheck. This was what started it all, with Vanek taking it away on the blue line and chipping it up to Connolly.
Before I could even stand up, it was in. Within three seconds the Connolly/Vanek experiment exploded, and the game was practically over. It was everything they can be: hard working, scary fast, and extremely explosive. It was the Tim Connolly of old playing with the Atlas of new, and even for the ten seconds or so it took for that goal it was pretty special.
Tim Connolly wasn’t the biggest part of the game, but what he did on Saturday clearly was the story. After all the frustration with injuries and wasted time, games like that are exactly what makes Tim Connolly worth keeping around. This is what he can do every time he’s on the ice, and when he has games like this he tends to have four of five of them in a row. What looked like a player getting back into the swing of things on Thursday turned into a player on fire two days later.
It’s only a flash of brilliance, but it certainly is the confirmation of potential we’ve known for so long. The truth is, I’m really happy for Timmy. I think he needed to hear that ovation reserved for the first star on home ice. The game he had on Saturday is something he can replicate over and over again. Who knows if he can keep it up, but it was nice to see Timmy come to life, if only for a night.
– Saturday’s game was the first time all year I was genuinely impressed with how the team played. They seemed to have control the entire game, and when things got a bit uneasy Miller was there to bail them out. Butler struggled for the majority of the game but came up with some big plays, and the zone play was some of the best all season. However, this isn’t all that great a compliment because as Kevin said, this was the sort of game they used to play all the time.
– The penalty kill was pretty excellent. Great rotation on the point, good pressure on the puck, and very few breakdowns. I was in 301, which is right behind the net, making for a great view of the whole operation. They didn’t get too aggressive and give up chances, and there were very few shooting lanes on the point. Everything was on the outside, and when the rare shot got through Miller was there.
– Sabretooth’s t-shirt cannon fired two shirts onto the ice. The referees picked them up and tossed them into the crowd, making it the first time they’ve ever been popular in Buffalo.
– Vanek had two assists on the night and only one shot. It seems to me his game has changed over the past few weeks. Remember when he had 20+ goals and only three assists? Now he’s sitting at 27/14. It may not be intentional, but I’d like to take a look at his shot totals over the course of the season and see if things have changed. More on that soon.
– Timmy’s postgame was priceless. If Pominville needs a lesson in completely ignoring questions, he should talk to Connolly.
This means, of course, no Pominville press conference to break down. Still, it’s good to know what the grandparents of Baldwinsville were pulling for on Saturday night.
– I know this post took forever to get out there, but we will have plenty about Florida later on. Sorry for the delay, sometimes all that not sleeping catches up to me at once.