After the first two games of this series, I had a few hundred thoughts about each game. However after the dust settled last night, I had about four. Here they are:
1) It’s not as bad as everyone seems to think.
2) It’s not Tim Kennedy’s fault.
3) Thomas Vanek is not going to save this team.
4) Drew Stafford isn’t going to save this team.
Two days later, I’ve added one more to the list:
5) Cody McCormick isn’t going to save this team.
I know the Sabres are trailing in the series 2-1, but I honestly don’t understand all the pessimism surrounding this team. I also don’t understand why adding people to the lineup is supposed to spark this team. Listen, I know it’s been a while since the Sabres have been in the playoffs, but this is how these things go. There are good games and there are bad, and losing one (or two) games doesn’t mean a series is over.
I keep going back to Saturday’s game and wonder where things went bad. Clearly the atmosphere in the building changed when Vanek went down, but let’s be serious here: the Sabres have won games without Thomas Vanek. They will win games without Thomas Vanek. It will happen.
People may forget this, but Atlas Vanek wasn’t playing like Atlas until the very end of the season. The Sabres have gotten about three games out of Vanek where he looked fantastic and they still won the Northeast Division. They will be fine without him, and when he comes back it will be an added boost to the team.
Until then, we have to stop expecting his “replacements” to provide a spark. Drew Stafford is not going to hit the ice and be the best player out there. This is a guy coming off a concussion and who had a less-than-stellar regular season. He’s not going to flip a switch and get going, and we shouldn’t expect that from him.
The same goes for Cody McCormick, who will not set the world on fire tonight. There was a reason he didn’t see action throughout the regular season: usually we have better options. Because of injuries, we do not. He will see a few minutes of ice time, try to hit some people and not do anything stupid. That’s all I expect from him, and that’s all we’re going to get.
I still don’t see a reason to panic heading into tonight. Go back and look at the stats through the first two periods on Monday: they were almost exactly even. Shots on goal, hits, faceoffs, everything. The game was there for the Sabres to win, but they didn’t pull it off. Mark Recchi and his Ed Hardy shirts made a great play behind the net, and just like that the Bruins had the lead. That’s it.
It wasn’t domination, it wasn’t Pittsburgh/Ottawa, this was a play here and there that has made the difference in this series. A hit, a penalty, a blocked shot; these are the differences between 3-0 or 2-1 either way. The idea that this series is over seems silly when you think about just how close these games have been.
So if you’re looking for someone to step up and make a difference, don’t look to McCormick or Stafford or the last guy on the roster. Look at who should be making the difference throughout the season: 9, 19, and 29. Roy, Connolly and Pominville are supposed to be the big impact players on this roster when Vanek isn’t there. They make the big money, and before this series started they were touted as grown up and ready to lead this team.
So there it is. Lead. Despite all the talk about being as tough or tougher than the Bruins, the point of the game is to score goals. So far we’ve only seen six goals in three games from this team, and as good as Miller will be, that isn’t enough. We’re not at dire straits with this team just yet, but they need a big game to feel good about this thing again.
It’s not over, and the Germans haven’t even bombed Pearl Harbor yet. In fact, I think this thing is just getting started. But, if that’s the case then it has to start tonight. Secondary scoring is nice, but it’s about time the primary guns start firing. This team has never been the Atlas Show, and it can’t be if they expect to be playing two weeks from now.