There are games you just know Pat Kaleta got to the other team. Maybe it was the hit he threw a half-second too late, or the in-your-face goal celebration he’s patented. Or maybe it was when he threw Chris Thorburn off of Ryan Miller and got punched in the face. Either way, when Pat Kaleta had the puck behind the net, Zach Bogosian had his hands high. After that it was merely a matter of time.
These are the games where you really appreciate what Pat Kaleta brings to the team. Everyone expected a strong effort in his first game back, but scoring the team’s only goal in regulation probably wasn’t on the expectations list. Kaleta got a good bounce, but without a great shot and some quick hands that puck never goes in. He continues to impress in the offensive end, and his physical presence is undeniable. Roy may have had the game winner, but Kaleta was the reason the Sabres pulled out a game they probably didn’t deserve.
We’ve used terms like that a lot this year. “Didn’t deserve” or “not a full effort”, implying the Sabres shouldn’t be winning hockey games like they do. You could say the same thing a bout last night, but I honestly can’t complain about the Sabres finding a way to win games like this.
There is a lot of talk about who the elite teams are in the Eastern Conference this year. New Jersey and Washington are discussed the most, but as the season progresses I can’t find arguments against putting the Sabres in that category as well. Other people can and will put Pittsburgh in that category instead.
Still, I’ve watched the last handful of Penguins games and can’t say I’m impressed at all. They’ve played crappy hockey against crappy teams and they haven’t won many of those games, either. Their power play is terrible, Malkin has been struggling, and their goaltending has been merely decent. Elite teams struggle, but the Sabres’ struggles have been few and far between.
Where this team has struggled, against weak teams like Atlanta and Ottawa, they aren’t losing as much anymore. Buffalo is fixing the problems that have plagued them the last two years, and this road trip could make the difference before the Olympic break. No one knows what happens after Vancouver, but piling up the points on the West Coast before that seems to be the best policy.
They haven’t even crossed the Mississippi, but they’re off to a good start.