The Sabres lost their first game of the season last night, and it was everything that we could have wanted, and more.
It was the debut of a brand new team after a tumultuous pair of tank seasons, and boy, was the packed house at the FNC excited to start something new. There was, of course, Jack Eichel, and many other new Sabre names. There were so many new names out there, that sometimes I didn’t have enough eyeballs for all of them.
For the first 2 periods, it turned out I didn’t need so many eyeballs. Aside from some pretty consistently impressive rushes from Evander Kane, most of the young roster looked nervous. Their decisions were rushed, and the Ottawa Senators rushed over them in waves. Robin Lehner let in a goal with only 30 seconds in, and left in the 2nd period with an ominous looking leg injury. The injury would prove to be the worst moment of the night, and has put the young season already in jeopardy – but you can hit the Interwebs for more of that doom and gloom on your own. This recap is more about our first glimpse of greatness.
In the third period, it seemed the Sabres finally had their feet wet enough and their backs sweaty enough to shake off the Sens and get to work. Eichel started to fly with Kane, and joined with Zemgus Girgensons, they became a force to be reckoned with (I’m not sure – do we call them the KEG line? Maybe the EKG line, since they put my heartbeat on hold for a few moments attacking the net with a passion, speed and precision that I have not seen in years. Ah, it’s far too early to name lines that have not been set yet, but I digress.)
It would be at the 9:11 mark when Eichel would score his historic goal. Fed by a marvelous pass by Marcus Foligno (mark that name down, trivia nerds), he calmly, momentarily let Sens netminder Craig Anderson (mark that one down, too) get into position, before rifling the puck into the very small spot of daylight left in the crease. Top shelf, of course, where those cookies are stored. Rick Jeanneret screamed “JEICHEL,” and continued with every other thought that occurred to him in a frenzy, as the Sabres brand new goal song kicked in.
It was bliss. Pure and unadulterated fun was back at the FNC. The place was swingin.’ Soon, Evander Kane collected a puck behind the net and wrapped it around for the 2-2 tie, and the Sabres were putting the hockey world on notice one “Here we go now!” at a time.
A coach’s challenge would negate that Kane goal (a tedious, drawn out process that was clumsy and awful – more on that another day), but it could not negate the howl that Evander let loose when he slid that puck into the net, and it couldn’t negate his pure aggression when he slammed his stick into the bench upon hearing it was getting called back. I absolutely loved his fire all game long. It’s something we’re going to enjoy all season. He never stops, he never quits.
We’ll call it a day there for the recap. Sure, on the box score you’ll see that the Sabres lost the game, 3-1. But as far as I’m concerned, the fans were treated to a buncha kids rallying together late in a tough, heavily hyped and anticipated debut, to willfully make that game a 2-2 tie.
The end of the game left our hearts full, yet wanting more. We still want that first win of the season, and we’ll get it soon. But something about this team tells me that this will be a common sort of feeling. This team is so good, it’s always going to have us wanting more – wins, playoffs, and eventually a Cup or three. It’s a feeling you get with the great teams.
And that’s not hyperbole.
After the game, there was an exchange between Sens GM Bryan Murray and Coach Dan.
Hockey sincerity is the best sincerity in sport.
Bryan Murray was feeling a bit of the same thing fans were at the end of this one. There were some signs of greatness on the ice last night, signs of thing to come.
Now, I’d like to introduce you to a new segment at BSN called “The Kid Line.” It’s a special place where one very small but precocious hockey fanatic will be weighing in with an opinion or two of the team of his generation. Watch out Sabres, my boy doesn’t hold back any punches. He’s usually spot on, (and refreshingly hilarious) so pay attention.
THE KID LINE
Today features a pair of observations from last night’s event. As per usual, his wit scored more RT’s than his father:
That gem came late in the game, when the Sabres were down 3-1, and I was feeling down too. Watch the games with your kids as much as you can. They’re good medicine, and great company.
There he is! I can finally see his face again!
That one was during the player introductions. Eichel, Kane, Reinhart, O’Reilly, Ennis and co. – we love you all, but it’s pretty clear by the volume at which he said this that it’s going to take a lot from all of you to get some room on his poster wall alongside Zemgus Girgensons.
The fun is back, everyone.
We’re just one sleep away, as they say, from the first game of the
2015-16 regular season new era of Sabres hockey.
How will the season shake out? Are the playoffs a possibility? I’m not sure it makes any sense to ask.
It will be a curious season, one not so much defined by the number of wins, but the incremental growth of the team and its young stars, headlined by Jack Eichel. Of course – and Jack will tell you this – we should see plenty of headlines from Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, and Tyler Ennis as well. Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons could generate some surprising production against lesser NHL talent on the third line. The offense is young, and remarkably talented.
The defense is an interesting mix of youth and veteran stop gaps. The continuing emergence of Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk will be a welcome sight as the season rolls along.
In goal, Robin Lehner will be proving to the NHL that he is the starting goaltender that Tim Murray is wagering on.
There’s a lot of youth and a lot to prove here in Buffalo.
So, I’m not going to try to sell you on wins. Those W’s will happen, but let’s allow this group time to learn to play together under Coach Dan and against the more inveterate and finely tuned squads of the National Hockey League.
I was going to pour over my posts from last year, and remind you all just how awful it was back then, and how much better it will be – or already is – in Buffalo this year. But who the hell wants to be dragged through any of that anymore? Let’s be adults, and just shoulder the burden of the past.
Let me tell you about my boy, instead. After all, he’s one of the generation that is inheriting this generational team.
This morning, my son woke up eager to vote for the Sabres’ goal song. His first words to me were “IT’S HOCKEY EVE!” He’s got the front page of The Buffalo News’ NHL preview tacked up on his wall, and will tell anyone listening that Evander Kane is going to be that Ovechkin we’ve always wanted (or “Ovech-chicken” as he prefers to say, since that’s how he mispronounced it on his first try a couple years ago, and the joke just stuck, as fun things tend to do). He’ll also mention O’Reilly and Reinhart at times, but he always goes back to Kane. Maybe because, pre-Eichel, that’s where the fun started for him. Mostly because he just wants to see more goals this year. Those are also fun, or so that’s what I think I remember. It’s been a while.
I’ve been showing him clips and highlights of Eichel since the draft. I’ve done my due diligence as a hockey fan parent to explain what a generational talent is, how rare they are, and how lucky he is to grow up watching one. Of course, by the time I get through with the lecture, he’s tuned out. He doesn’t want things explained to him. He just wants the season to get started, already.
He just wants to say things like this:
And what of that Eichel kid? Like my boy, there are so many fans out there who have no idea what it is like to watch a hockey team with this kind of talent. I’d like to describe it for you. After all, I’ve lived through and enjoyed the thrills of the Perreault and Hasek eras. But again, I won’t bore any of you with wordy memories of thrills long gone.
If you insist on a season prediction, we’ll go back to The Boy, who, even full of his own youthful exuberance, tells me that “The Sabres will win half and lose half.” He says it with a shrug, as if becoming instant winners doesn’t really matter. He gets it. He’s going to have a lot more to cheer for this year, be it through Eichel, or any of the other “Ovech-chickens” that will keep that goal song playing all season long. He’s going to have a lot more fun. And as his father reassures him, there are some great years coming our way.
The wins will come, but take The Boy’s advice, and be patient. Enjoy the ride.
As for me, I’m more than satisfied with my generational part in all of this. I’m ready to sit back in my E-Z chair, looking forward to watching this team and my boy grow up together into a couple of champs. Who on this sporting earth could ask for anything more than that?
Hockey eve. This house is ready.
Physicals were taken today at the First Niagara Center. Bodies were examined, measured, and worried over – for once, not to measure potential or promise, but just to make sure that the kids are OK and ready for their first days together at Sabres U.
In a weird sort of way, it was also to make sure that these kids are real. After the wasteland of The Suffering, the elite talents showed up to snowy Buffalo. They had their pulse taken, and there was a concurrence that they were alive, and were all here, willingly. Pictures were taken, so we have proof. You could see it in the smiles. There was no hint of regret in any of the new pickups that they were now snowbound in hapless Buffalo.
In a series of quick pressers, the youngsters exuded excitement. They were happy. There was confidence in each other, in what the future holds, for this team, for this town, and for its long suffering fans. Smiles all around.
It’s easy to smile now, unless you’re Tim Murray. He arrived here with a meaningful scowl on his face, but this shrewd personality and insight of his have paid off. He’s been a man of few words at the draft podium and in public, but bombastic in the statements of his actions and roster manipulations. His projected team, even if not yet complete, looks to dominate in a few short years. Maybe sooner, if he pushes the plunger down on another dynamite move, or two. There has been a ton of detonation and noise around this man of few words.
It’s easy to be a fan of this team right now. It’s OK when the core group of your talent is mainly chattering about how happy they are, and how they are enjoying the city of Buffalo. It’s a young group, and unless you count the leftover bodies from the last years’ massacres, they’ve never played a game together. Fans really have no measure on how the new influx of size, smarts, possession, passion, speed, and finishing will, well, finish.
It’s easy to be a player incoming of this new, exciting project as well – but that may change very soon. At some point, maybe in a month or two, (maybe more, maybe less), it will be time to get more serious about these kids, and what they are saying. Particularly, we’ll want to talk more specifically about how they are performing. How they have gelled (or not) as a young team in a very competitive National Hockey League.
At some point, there will be an emergence from the rebuilding and the hope and the happy chatter. The real rebirth from the absurdity of the tank years will begin.
I cannot say when that turning point will happen, but I cannot wait to see who takes the reins from Murray, and begins to lead this team by the throat. The expectations are heavy, and eventually, some person or persons in the locker room are going to have to make this assembly win.
Again, Murray’s work isn’t quite done yet, but the locker room has been gone through a transformation. The emergence of leadership, of the identity of this new team, can begin from so many different and powerful personalities. To name a few: Ryan O’Reilly and Zemgus Girgensons are both capable of leading by force of will. Evander Kane is a vision of confidence and power on the ice as well, and wants to best his own goal scoring records yesterday. Samson Reinhart is a humble hockey mastermind stuck almost impatient in a growing hockey body.
Those are just of the few of the personalities that had their pictures taken at the FNC today. It’s a great mix, a balance of all the traits you need to succeed in the NHL today.
The real work began when the cameras were put away today. And now all that fans, along with Tim Murray, have to do, is to await the emergence, and who will lead the commencement to the W column, and further from there.
Speed. Smarts. Power. Passion. Possession. Finishing.
How all of that comes together will be a marvel to behold. Now, it’s just up to a group of kids who just had their their pictures snapped on the first day of school to make all of our dreams come true. Let them have their day. Tomorrow, their commencement begins.
They have what it takes – the talent, the seriousness and the will, to bring us our day(s) soon enough.
It’s been a long journey. It’s not one that any fans had asked for, and it was one of heavy burden and endurance. But it’s over. The tank is parked in the garage.
Everything changes now.
Let’s take a look at what “everything” means.
The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes are beginning a 5 game playoff series, of sorts. The winner gets a guaranteed shot at McEichel. The loser gets to sweat through the lottery and hope no other team usurps their place.
The good news for Sabres fans is that they’ve got a one game head start in the series. They should, as has been projected all season, complete Tim Murray’s project and finish out at the bottom.
Cheers to Micah Black McCurdy for supplying these calming sets of data throughout the season. Of course, no mathematical model, even those as consistent as his, is a guarantee. It’s a projection, and the Sabres and Yotes are now entering an extremely small 5 game sample size. My money remains with the math, but I have to recognize both scenarios, as they are now both entirely plausible.
So what happens if the Sabres finish 29th?
I imagine a lot of you will be pretty upset. There will be plenty of finger wagging, but there is no where to truly rest blame in this situation. The GM did his job in assembling the worst team model in the history of advanced statistical data. The coach could not find a way to upset that model. The players did some hockey things, and most of those things were horrendous, as planned. The fans cheered for the wrong team, but it’s folly to believe that some sort of magical hockey witchcraft descended on the franchise as a result.
Still, there will be plenty of upset and disappointment to go around. It will take time to get over missing out on a generational talent. That’s human nature; it takes time to process a loss. But fans will come around, and learn to embrace whomever the Sabres pick at 3rd, and learn to get excited again about the future of this prospect-loaded franchise.
Fans should take comfort in the fact that Tim Murray hasn’t put all his eggs into one basket. Just as any great mathematical model cannot guarantee a result, any team perfectly engineered to finish last cannot be guaranteed a thing. There are always backup plans in sports. Rest assured that if the Sabres do miss out on McEichel that there is a plan B, a plan C, and a plan D, etc.
At the end of this dreary season, the Sabres brass and fans may not get the trophy talent they wanted, but there are plans there for GMTM to utilize his mountain of assets within any given scenario.
Try to remember, that for the duration of this “5 game playoff,” that:
- We still have the upper hand
- There is always a Plan B