It really doesn’t matter that the Sabres won last night. It doesn’t.
A preseason game is just that, a game before the real ones count. The result is ultimately insignificant but the way they played means a lot.
The Sabres were able to hang on to a one-goal lead late in a game. Go back to last season and they only way they didn’t choke was if they were graced with some divine intervention.
Granted, the Leafs didn’t put out the best lineup. Their defense was missing their shiny new toy Francois Beauchemin and Phil Kessel is still nursing a shoulder injury that will keep him off the ice for another couple weeks.
The Sabres sat finesse players Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly and Andrej Sekera and went with a bigger, grittier lineup. We didn’t exactly witness the brand of Sabres hockey we’ve become accustomed to (thankfully).
Paul Gaustad (who wore the “C” last night in Craig Rivet’s absence — maybe Lindy finally found the Roost) centered a line that featured Jochen Hecht and Mike Grier. Now that has the potential to be a great shutdown line — if everything goes according to plan.
But when you put three of the team’s best defensive forwards together, they had better be able to grind and take away the other team’s best scoring opportunities.
What you wouldn’t necessarily expect is for the line to produce a goal in a 3-2 hockey game. They did and created a variety of quality chances.
And not just scoring chances. Midway through the third period, Gaustad took an elbow in the Toronto corner. Goose went right in and retaliated.
Grier was right there to back him up and soon enough everyone was paired up — even rookie Tyler Myers, who got into a half-hearted cross-checking scrum with Jason Blake.
Gaustad took a roughing penalty but it sent a message that no one was going to put up with a cheap shot.
Jeff Cowan and Cody McCormick will be hard-pressed to make the Sabres out of camp but both were impressive. They should add some nice grit to Portland (McCormick fought within the first five minutes of the game) and toughen up the kids coming up.
One player you won’t see in Portland is Myers. Since he’s only eligible to play in juniors or the NHL, the Sabres have a crucial decision to make.
After watching the 19-year-old defenseman play last night, I definitely think he could play in the NHL this year.
Yes there will be some growing pains (he tried to cover on a breakaway and ended up giving the Lesfs a penalty shotas there will be with any rookie. But I feel he can learn so much more from NHL personnel than he can in the Western Hockey League.
There are legitimate concerns that he won’t be able to handle a full season’s worth of work. It’s tough to see how he will look in February. For now, however, he looks like he belongs and the Sabres should do everything possible to get him on the final roster.
Also on defense, Steve Montador made his Sabres debut last night and played some point on the power play. Don’t expect to see him there during the season.
The first star of the game was Ryan Miller and deservingly so. He stayed square to shooters all night and the two goals scored on him were really nothing to worry about.
The second one was on that penalty shot and Miller knows he should have stopped it — it just inched through his legs and over the goal line. There should be no worries about Miller’s play coming into the new season.
All-in-all, the Sabres put forth an honest effort. Whether or not that will translate to the regular season is yet to be seen, but in terms of work ethic, it’s tough to find anything to really complain about. And that matters.