The story writes itself.
The Sabres are about to do “the comeback thing” they’ve done so many times before. After drifting through 55 minutes of hockey, Buffalo gets a power play goal with 3:34 to play to cut the lead to 3-2. The crowd is finally into it, and off the faceoff the team is buzzing. Just as it looked like the same old Sabres, an old friend decides to make an appearance.
But there’s more to the story than just revenge. Max coming back to town may be the story in the end, but Saturday night was the first sign of adversity in the young season.
It didn’t go very well.
I think it’s pretty clear the Sabres are a two-horse team. Thomas Vanek is the team’s most prolific forward, and Ryan Miller is the franchise goaltender. No one’s going to argue against that, but what some will question is this: when the two stars are out there isn’t much left on this team.
At least not when it matters. They are unorganized, meandering and one dimensional when the big two are missing. Last year’s failures were many, but when Vanek and Miller went down, so did the rest of the team. Leadership failed, they couldn’t score when it really mattered, and they simply weren’t tough enough.
Darcy promised to address those issues in the offseason, and through five games it looked like he handled at least one of them. The team has played with and edge, Kaleta has been great, and Gaustad has an ‘A’ to go with Craig Rivet’s captaincy. They even brought in another some solid bodies in free agency with Montador and Grier.
Things looked good, but with Vanek going down and Miller playing every game this season, it was only a matter of time that the team play a game without the two. The result was less than impressive, but I’m trying hard not to overreact so early in the season. You can point back to the Sabres’ inability to beat bad teams, which goes back to coaching, but who really knows if Atlanta is “good” or “bad” just yet?
The fact of the matter is this: Atlanta got two great goals out of their superstar, and the Sabres had no answer. Their two superstars were up in the press box munching free popcorn, and the final score showed it.
When the 5 on 3 was called in the second, how many Sabres fans said out loud, “This is where you need Thomas Vanek?” I know I did.
Those two minutes resulted in absolutely nothing. They tried to execute the cross-crease backdoor play twice, but Atlanta had it covered well even with their two best defenseman in the box. There was no creativity, no screen in front, no big shot from the point with a quick stick ready for the tip. A power play like that was made for Thomas Vanek, but he wasn’t there.
It’s a point that reflects on the team itself. Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and company can’t play the part Vanek does, both on the power play and on the team itself. Tim Connolly is the closest this team has, but he lacks the consistency and ability to finish that Vanek has.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s true. We’ve seen a good start from a very familiar team, and this game showed that the other side of this team still exists. They aren’t completely out of the woods, and they clearly have some of their old habits this year. Shots on goal are great, but once again the Sabres made a backup goaltender look good and couldn’t cash in on the chances their toughness created.
It’s early and that’s important to remember, but Saturday showed us that perhaps this team isn’t as different as we hoped. Not just yet.
A few other things about Saturday:
– Borderline JerseyFail: A #28 third jersey with “GOOSE” on the back. I know he’s the namesake of the blog and all, but even I think that’s sort of a waste of money.
– Speaking of jerseys, I still haven’t found a Myers at the arena. I think most people wanted to see how the kid played, but I think we’re a few business days from a few dozen 57s arriving in the mail throughout Western New York.
– I really like Bogosian. I know he was in the box three times, but he looked pretty solid when he was on the ice. He had a ton of composure and wasn’t afraid to get aggressive, something a team like Atlanta needs from its young players.
– As far as Myers’ play on Saturday: meh. He’s bound to look human at some point, but again I’d rather see him making mistakes and learning from them than watching the same mistakes over and over from the same players. Look for some more thoughts on Myers before Wednesday’s game.
– New boards: springy! They ran a nice little video about the boards on Saturday, and that could be the only reason I noticed, but those boards do have a lot of give. I have no idea what that means, other than the sightlines in the 100s, that is.
– I love the way Ilya Kovalchuk plays, especially this year. He’s not even celebrating goals at this point, like he knows it’s all just a big tryout for the trade deadline. Yeah yeah, Atlanta’s doing everything they can to sign him. That’s fine, but you know at least a few teams are willing to throw the kitchen sink at Hotlanta for his rights. I know I would.