Two years ago I made a trip to Hamilton to watch the Rochester Americans play the Bulldogs. It was a great chance to see hockey in a place other than Western New York, and the game turned out to be really good. However, the one thing I kept coming back to was Patrick Kaleta. At the time we had seen a glimpse of him, a seven game stretch that saw plenty of potential and a lot of hard hits.
Still there was something about Kaleta that I really liked, and I hoped to see something more at the minor league level. I had heard about his penalty killing and his reputation for trouble-making, and I wanted to see that first hand. Here’s what I had to say about him after the Hamilton game:
Kaleta needs to start playing real hockey. Watching him in action it is obvious to see why most AHL fans consider him nothing but a goon. The kid hits harder than I’ve ever seen live, but that is pretty much all he tries to do all night. He eggs players on, takes himself out of the play to deliver a late hit, and takes stupid penalties.
That being said, I like him at least 4,000 times better than Peters. Kaleta can actually skate and has better hands than Petey, and as far as I’m concerned he can take Andrew’s NHLPA job as well if he promises to start playing the game. I’m as big a proponent of fighting as any hockey fan, but I think Kaleta can be a much better player if he focused less on being hated than on playing the game. There is room for fighting, but you have to actually handle the puck and play defense to get ice time.
The new NHL has given much more value to a guy like Sean Avery or Chris Neil, and if Kaleta focused on playing that style of game Petey would be obsolete in days. I know Peters is a “fan favorite”, but Kaleta may be the best man for the job if he shapes up. We shall see.
That was over two years ago, but I think the depiction of Kaleta is quite accurate. For much of his career he has focused on doing a lot of what I described: drawing penalties at his own expense and refusing to drop the gloves. It has hurt his reputation and hurt him physically, but recently he’s done a bit more with his time on the ice and I have to admit I’m very happy about it.
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit I give Kaleta a hard time. I say he turtles, that he isn’t focused enough on playing good hockey, and that he’s going to get hurt if he keeps it up. The truth is that I don’t hate Patrick Kaleta, in fact I really love what he brings to the team. However I think for the first few years of his career he was focusing on the wrong things, that he was leaving too much on the table when it came to his ability.
If anything, the past few games have shown us that 1) Pat Kaleta is more than just a hard hitter, and 2) he just may have some increased utility on this team after all. Let’s call this video exhibit A:
Scoring two goals is always nice, but Kaleta was all over the ice on Saturday night, and the goals came as a result of strong play. His shorthanded goal was the result of good instincts and a great effort to get the puck out of the zone first and foremost. The fact that he picked a spot on Lundqvist and hit it is only icing on the cake. And how about exhibit B?
Again there is Tim Connolly making a play happen, but it’s Kaleta forcing the puck at the point and getting it to Timmy in the first place. After that he does his job by driving to the front of the net, and the hands required to finish that play warrant the celebration afterwards. Suddenly it’s Patrick Kaleta working hard on both ends of the ice, and the only contact involved is with his stick, the puck, and that puck hitting the back of the net.
There is no unique opinion to take on this: Pat Kaleta scoring goals is a good thing, and that certainly includes special teams goals. With important players like Gaustad out, Kaleta has been given a role many feel he can fill and he has fit the bill through and through. This is great news no matter how you spin it, and maybe this is the player we’ve been hoping Kaleta can be all along.
It’s just two games and it might in fact be an aberration; but I know I’m not the only Sabres fan hoping that this is the newer, better version of Pat Kaleta that is here to stay. Finally, this seems to be what he is capable of doing when given the chance, and I hope he gets that chance much more often.