It may not have felt like that long, but Pat Kaleta missed 24 games with a neck injury. On Saturday night he slid back into the roster, and made an immediate impact. He fought Daniel Carcillo and hit hard, showing no fear despite coming off an injury that would make most weary of confrontation so soon.
Better yet, he actually played hockey for once. He was put on the penalty kill, forechecked hard, and made a noticeable effort in his own zone. His ice time in Phoenix on Saturday totaled 10:40, more than forwards such as Matt Ellis, Daniel Paille, and Ales Kotalik. In the wake of an injury to Jochen Hecht, Kaleta was given a chance by the coaching staff to step up and make an impact. He didn’t disappoint.
Last night Kaleta followed up an impressive return to action with an even more productive outing, making this play early in the first period:
Yes, that’s an agitator outworking one of the Ducks’ top lines, beating Bobby Ryan in the corner and crashing the net in front of Teemu Selanne. Couple that goal with a few huge hits and almost ten minutes in ice and you saw another surprisingly solid game from Kaleta.
We’ve talked his role on the team quite often, but what we’ve seen so far is exactly what he’s capable of doing every game. He doesn’t have to be a six minute a night, Andrew Peters type of player. He can kill penalties, he can score a few goals, and he can even hold his own against the opposition’s top line. He won’t dominate Ottawa’s big three or keep Sidney Crosby at bay, but he won’t be a complete embarrassment like most fourth liners.
Maybe it’s an overreaction to two games, but I think the way the Sabres as a team played this weekend reflects what Kaleta brings to the lineup. They weren’t afraid to hit and cause trouble for the Ducks or Coyotes, and it was a big factor in both games. The Sabres didn’t dominate either team physically, but they didn’t back down, either. That’s a big deal, and even if you have an undersized team you can’t shy away from hitting once the postseason comes.
Kaleta is gaining a reputation around the league as a pest, but I think it’s clear that he can be more than that for this hockey team. As he develops, the opportunity will be there for more ice time, and maybe even score a few points. His forechecking along with Gaustad created the first goal last night, and I don’t see why that can’t happen more often. With a defense so weak due to injuries, it will take even more hard work by the forwards to be successful at both ends of the ice. There can’t be any easy shifts, and a strong checking line is essential to give the few remaining players on the point a bit of rest.
It’s funny, when you realize an injury cost him a quarter of the season, you only miss his game that much more. I guess what I’m saying here is, it’s good to have him back.