It’s unfortunate that Patrick Kaleta razed the Isle of Manhattan last night. Burning that village to the ground will cost him, but it did offer an interesting scenario for the Sabres to play out in the hockey simulation machine at Madison Square Garden.
Kaleta’s crosscheck turned a simple penalty kill into a five-minute power play of doom, the first 90 seconds of which was spent at 5-on-3. Derek Stepan promptly scored for the Rangers, then Rick Nash followed suit 43 seconds later. A 1-0 lead for Buffalo became a 2-1 hole. Everything was on fire and goats started screaming and it was all Pat Kaleta’s fault.
With just over 11 minutes left in regulation, the Sabres had to survive the remainder of the power play and transition into mounting a comeback in the game’s final movement. Two goals in a minute can rock you, but good teams can overcome the shock if they have enough time. You just have to make sure New York doesn’t get a third.
Then a funny thing happened. On the penalty kill, Nathan Gerbe makes a play along the wall in the Sabres zone. He chips it out and starts skating. Steve Ott breaks out of the neutral zone and gains the Rangers line. Then he waits, watching Rick Nash slide into oblivion as Gerbe races towards the net. The cross-ice pass was only bested by Gerbe’s quick shot past Henrik Lundqvist.
With nine seconds left in the Rangers power play, it was a tie game.
It’s a great play that becomes extra-ordinary within the context of this sad-sack Sabres season. We’ve watched this team wilt a number of times this year, and Kaleta’s carelessness gave them plenty of reason to go down that road once again. But, perseverance and all that. Gerbe makes a play and it got them a point on Sunday night. Points are points.
Here is where I agree with every skeptical point a Sabres fan can make. Yes, they are still in the basement of the conference. Yes, they are still fairly terrible. And yes, they have far and away the worst power play in the league. Just one goal with the man-advantage wins this game and gets us away from all the moving in the right direction semantics. They couldn’t get it done.
I get that. It’s all true. But points in four straight is a big deal for a team that seemed on the cooling table at the morgue a few games ago. They are not playing great, but they are playing better and they just got points in two straight without their best player. Again, resiliency and all those things that fill notebooks and off-day stories.
The biggest about this team is that things are changing with individual players on the team. Hodgson and Pominville are still playing well, but Gerbe’s resurgence in the Ron Rolston Era has been remarkable to watch. Seeing him play with the top half of the roster has proved fruitful. Everyone–myself included–forgot Gerbe can score. Maybe he forgot as well. I’d imagine having to skate with a bunch of scrubs can do that to you.
I’m not saying it’s the coaching with Gerbe, but it’s definitely the coaching. Lindy Ruff had decided what Gerbe’s role should be on this team, and he was withering away as a result. Say what you will about the general disorganization Ron Rolston’s squad has shown on the ice thus far, but he’s definitely open to moving the pieces parts around to see what works. That’s a good thing, especially if you think the answer for this team is moving useless pieces out and bringing shiny new players in.
In a weird way, it feels like a real team again. They are probably still junk and there’s still so much going wrong with this team each night, but the equations are changing for this team. That’s absolutely good news. They would be better off without Kaleta’s absurdity and with a few more power play goals, but right now you take what you can get out of this mess. What they’re getting is points, which is definitely something new.