A View From the Roost: Early Birds

by Ryan

I am late for everything but sporting events. They are the one thing I can actually get to on time, and yet last night I hit traffic and showed up late. I was in the building for puck drop, but by the time I got to my seats the score was 2-0. A few seconds after we hit our seats Clarke MacArthur made it 3-0, and it looked like the rout was on.

Five minutes later, however, it looked like a completely different game. The Sabres got caught it their own end a bit, made some stupid decisions and Miller let in two goals in the same spot. It still sort of felt like a rout, but it was a hockey game again.

The reason it felt so out of hand was simple: Tampa’s defense was absolutely terrible. They didn’t make good decisions with the puck, their forecheck was awful, and they couldn’t contain anyone at all. Anyone. Myers, Mair, Ellis, Roy, Connolly, Kennedy, Vanek; no one on the Sabres roster was getting turned away last night.

The Tampa blueline was unable to keep Sabres forwards from moving laterally on them, and they couldn’t get any pressure on the Sabres in the zone. The MacArthur goal was a great example of a team moving the puck with ease, and the Sabres continued to do it all night. Buffalo had five shots in the third period and still came away with 35 for the game. For the most part it was a shooting gallery, and if not for a timeout and some big saves early in the first, Mike Smith was looking at an early night.

Tampa Bay did battle back, but only because the Sabres tailed off for a bit. You can’t really blame anyone for the Hedman goal (really nice shot) but St. Louis can’t be left alone in front, and Lecavalier outworked everyone in front for the Lightning’s third tally. It is hard to keep players like that off the scoresheet, but plenty of teams have found a way to do just that. Despite an atmosphere that looked ripe for an easy win the Sabres had moments of panic, but they didn’t let things unravel completely.

Most importantly, the Sabres played a game against an inferior opponent and clearly looked like the better team. That’s the fear we’ve grown to have with this team: they play down to bad teams and up to good ones. The Sabres’ struggles against teams like Ottawa and Atlanta give credence to that fear, but last night it wasn’t an issue. Buffalo came out strong and despite a few bumps in the road they never looked back.

This is the kind of game we should expect from the Sabres against a bad team, and lately it’s the game we’ve been getting. A few other thoughts:

– I thought Toni Lydman had a really nice game on both ends of the rink. He made a few really nice defensive plays, especially laying his stick on the ice to break up a 2 on 1 later in the game. he also made the difference on the Sabres’ fifth goal, activating from the point and moving the puck to the front of the net where Pominville kicked banged it in. It was a play that might have been a bit dangerous, but he took the extra step to make that play happen and got the reward. The Sabres have an increasingly active defense, but it’s good to see Lydman getting involved in the same way guys like Myers and Butler are, especially when it works.

– It was a very somber mood at the game last night, despite the big start. You could call it the typical Value Game crowd, but I think this is the real problem: no Doug Allen. He has chuch on Wednesdays, and some girl does the anthems instead. God, you owe us on this.

– I really, really like Tim Kennedy centering Vanek and Grier. Well, I like a passer like Kennedy centering Vanek, really. There’s a reason Grier has been so productive this year, and his number is 13. His faceoff numbers are not great, but he’s learning the position on the go and his work in the corners has been great. Tim Kennedy is slowly getting out of that third line center role, and that’s great news for us all.

– Ryan Miller makes goaltending look so easy this season, and his lateral movement is the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. This is not news to anyone, but I feel it should be said every so often so we know how lucky we really are.

– Did you know the Sabres have the third best goals allowed total in the league? And three out of the top four are all in the Eastern Conference? Interesting, no?

– If the Sabres keep winning games like this, Boston doesn’t stand a chance of catching this team. There, I said it.