If that picture was taken a month ago, nothing happens. The players skate away, Miller says something to the officials, and fans shake their heads while the teams change lines and get ready for a faceoff. Just another forgotten play, right?
Not last night. The defenseman pushed Grabovski, resulting in a scrum. No fights, no penalties, but the team didn’t just skate away. That’s right, the franchise goaltender got snowed on a routine play, and the Sabres didn’t just take it.
Where the hell has this team been?
Suddenly a team slowly dying and in need of drastic change is playing with a purpose. Making good passes, finishing plays, and jumping on teams. A week ago the Sabres couldn’t score on a 2 on 1 if they were given six a game, which I’m pretty sure they were. Tonight you saw Tim Connolly and Dan Paille play them perfectly; with MacArthur and Afinogenov (respectively) doing their part as well. Whatever happened to this team, I’m not complaining.
There are two big moments in this game, and both are reason for hope. The first came with the score 4-1 and the Leafs on the Power Play. Miller is at the top of his crease trying to cut down the angle and gets bumped by Ponikarovsky. No penalty was called, and the play carries on. End of story, right?
No. Paul Gaustad is out killing the penalty, and he immediately goes after Ponikarovsky. He doesn’t destroy the box, but he makes sure to give Alex a shot or two. As the play carries out of the zone, he goes back at him and they exchange a few shoves. When it becomes clear that Ponikarovsky isn’t going to drop, Kubina comes over and the two fight.
Again I’ll ask: WHERE THE HELL WAS THAT FIVE WEEKS AGO?
Well, some of it (Gaustad) was on the bench, and the rest of it (Rivet) was in the penalty box. This situation is so similar to the Gomez incident it’s uncanny. A three-goal lead in the third period with the opposing team on the power play. For anyone who said the Sabres couldn’t do anything then because they would take another penalty, take note of the box score. No extra penalty, no instigator. Goose was careful to send his message, find a partner willing to go, and take care of business. It wasn’t a brawl, it was a resolution; an exclamation point of sorts.
Most importantly, it didn’t matter. The score was irrelevant, the penalties moot, and the clock decidedly extraneous. He kept his head, didn’t put his team in a hole with a stupid penalty, and sent the message this team has needed to send for months: don’t touch our goaltender. It’s a shame it took a 13 game absence by Miller for the team to consider it necessary, but that’s the truth.
I think if there is a weakness on this team (and there certianly is), it is that it doesn’t have enough guys like Paul Gaustad and Dominic Moore and Craig Rivet. You always want players with skill, but I’d take a half-dozen with Goose’s heart any day of the week. That kind of heart wins big battles and big games. That kind of heart comes through when it really matters.
There are just some nights when you know you made the right choice in naming your blog, and this was one of them. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him back down from a challenge, whether it be overwhelmed fighting a monster like Parros or telling Sidney Crosby to go fuck himself and get to the bench.
In fact, tongiht’s game reminds me a lot of that Penguins game back in November. Gaustad came up with two big goals and was a force all night. My favorite quote from that post is this:
Sometimes it takes a second effort to win, but you always have to be willing to give it.
So when the Sabres are on the ropes and need a good shift, who gets sent out there to take care of business?
The goal had a lot to do with a Jochen Hecht who wants to go to the net and a Justin Pogge who doesn’t know where the puck is, but Goose is the guy who is getting the credit in this post. When the team needed an answer last night, Gaustad gave one again and again. When Miller needed him, when the opposition challenged, and when heads were down on the bench, Goose dropped the gloves and chipped in the biggest goal of the year.
The smile says it all. When I was watching the game again (the ‘Cuse game made me miss most parts) we kept rewinding to Gaustad’s goal celebrations. They are almost Ovechkin-like in joy, without the pantomime. You saw it on Hecht’s goal in the first period, too. I think Goose may have one true joy in life: to win hockey games. To think that this is coming from a ten goal/year player getting a $700k pay raise next season. Is anyone complaining about that contract?
I have no idea what this means in the long-term for this team. I do know that tonight the Sabres have a meaningful hockey game to play. At this point, I’ll take it. I also know that last night was fun. I like watching Tim Connolly score goals, and I love watching Paul Gaustad take over a hockey game.
Suddenly something is very different about this team. I like it.