First, the positives:
-The Sabres are capable of scoring.
-The Sabres are capable of playing well in front of Patrick Lalime.
-Patrick Lalime, contrary to popular belief, isn’t terrible.
-Tyler Ennis (a.k.a. Little Tyler) is really good and should stick around even after everyone is healthy.
-The energy in the building was maybe the best it’s been all season.
-Tampa is terrible.
-We’re going back to the playoffs.
Not to be a buzzkill (OK, maybe a little), but let’s not forget that the same team that put up seven goals on the Lightning laid an egg against Ottawa on Friday.
The Sabres are very good at beating bad teams and we saw that Saturday night. It’s the sign that a team deserves to be near the top of the standings. Win the games you’re supposed to and you’ll be rewarded.
So let’s enjoy the win and the fact that Buffalo has clinched their first playoff spot since 2007 (it’ll also be the first time in the history of the Roost that we’ll be able to write about a Sabres playoff run in its entirety). But let’s not get carried away.
The team still has plenty of flaws and there are still a handful of games that need to be played. There’s still plenty of time to fall head-over-heels for this team and we’re not even close to being at that point yet.
There are still a lot of questions about this team that we may never get answers to. Seeing how they deal with the pressure of the playoffs should make it an extremely interesting run — if only because we don’t know what to expect.
We’ve seen the team play very well and downright terrible. A lot of those awful games happened to be in from of Patrick Lalime. But not Saturday.
Lalime finally earned his 200th career win and earned First Star honors (I actually thought Derek Roy was the best player on the ice — one of the rare nights watching him that I didn’t want to strangle him with a skate lace). He was mercilessly booed in his last outing against Minnesota. He made a few mistakes, but wasn’t as bad as the fans made him out to be.
He played better against Tampa and probably should have had a shutout (it also helps that Vincent Lecavalier, the Bolts’ best player, got ejected early in the first period). Either way, the milestone victory was long overdue and it’s encouraging to see the Sabres step up and actually give him a chance to win. We’ll probably see him a few more times before all is said and done so it’s nice to see him build up some confidence.
Now let’s talk about Tyler Ennis.
There are a lot of reasons to get excited about the kid. He skates hard, has speed and a whole lot of talent. The play he made to assist on Mair’s goal was a veteran play — not one made by someone in his second NHL game.
It might have helped his nerves that it didn’t turn out to be a super intense game, but he looked pretty comfortable from the start. He made smart decisions on the opening powerplay and didn’t complicate things.
One of the best plays he made all night, however, wasn’t in the offensive zone. With about seven minutes to play in the third period, he made an errant pass in the neutral zone. It got picked off and Tampa started back up the ice in the other direction. Ennis hustled back, put his stick in the passing lane of the puck carrier (might have been St. Louis, not positive) and deflected the puck out of harm’s way. It was an extremely heads up and responsible play for someone as inexperienced as Ennis is.
He’s currently here because of injuries to Tim Connolly, Patrick Kaleta and Raffi Torres (we might have to add Thomas Vanek to that list), but even when those guys come back, I hope he plays well enough to warrant Darcy Regier making a permanent roster move.
I don’t want Ennis up here at the expense of those other players’ health (well, maybe Torres), but the longer he stays in the lineup, the better. Let’s see what he can do.
The Sabres have struggled scoring goals this year, and while I’m not going to say they scored seven because of Ennis, it’s pretty obvious that he did give them a bit of a boost. His hunger, if nothing else, should push the other players on the roster to give a little more.
The team next takes a trip to Boston on Monday. The Bruins are trying to hang onto a playoff spot and will be playing desperate hockey, for sure. We’ll see if the Sabres can match the intensity. The magic number for the division stands at eight.