Something is off.
There’s a squiddling little feeling in my stomach this morning, and it wasn’t the dollar store cheezy curls I ate during that game last night. No, this is the kind of anxiety that I normally wake up with after playoff losses. What is happening to me?
This is new territory for Sabres fans. Big name signings. A revamped arena. A fancy locker room. Hype enough to overwhelm even the calming stupor of the arena beer-filled masses. By the end of last night’s mental breakdown disaster, fans at the FNC were clutching their free clappers a little too tightly. That’s appropriate, given how the Sabres were gripping their sticks a little too tightly.
The breakdowns on the ice were aplenty. Shift after shift of solid play was foiled by a terrible miscue, a bobble, a stumble, or an errant pass that seemed to lead to a five man breakaway for the Canes every time. Not the stuff of champions. Not the way the Big Dogs play.
Then again, let me check my Twitter feed again…
My stomach, and Sabres fans in general, need to be reminded that there are 79 games left. The Sabres haven’t stamped their identity out yet – that usually takes at least the first ten games. In those first ten, we’re 2-1-0 so far, and that’s pretty good. A goals for/goals against of 11-7 is not so bad either.
Toronto?!? What horrible nightmare world is this?
Keep it in check, gut. It’s still early.
Still, this is new territory – we’ve joined the elite clubs in terms of relevance and expectations. Since Pegula took over on February 22, the Sabres enjoyed a magical 16-4-4 run, and almost got by the Flyers in Round One of the playoffs. We enjoyed a dominating performance over two Western Conference teams in the Euro-trip. We’re punch drunk on Pegula power and all the improvements he’s brought, while also used to winning pretty much every game.
Yep. These early losses are going to be hard to digest. But we’re going to have to get used to losing some games, folks.
It’s been a fun, awesome ride into the fore-front of the NHL in terms of legitimacy, but now that the actual season is upon us, all of that needs to be backed up. That’s a lot of pressure, but it’s the kind of pressure contenders, real contenders, must learn to deal with – be it the players or the fans.
So, it’s gut check time. Let’s regroup with our boys for game 4 of 82 against Pittsburgh today. Let’s take it one game at a time. Let’s remember that it’s a long road to the playoffs. Let’s sweat playoff type sweat when it comes down to those final 16 games.
And please, let’s ensure we don’t barrage the Pegula daughters on Twitter with angry drunken tweets after every loss.
Keep your heads level, (get a Scream Vase if you need to), and breathe with me. After all, we’re supposed to be enjoying this grand new era, aren’t we?
It just may take a little getting used to.
Sometimes, profound events move people towards profound purpose.
Such was the case for local and star involvement with Western New York’s “Dreams From the Heart Camp,” created in 1994 for children with severe congenital heart disease. A “Heart Walk” to support the camp takes place in Chestnut Ridge Park on the 2nd or 3rd Saturday every year. (This year’s Walk takes place on Saturday, October 15th.)
Many are excited to spread the word about the yearly event.
One of those people is former Buffalo Sabres’ star Pat LaFontaine, who knew a young man that helped to inspire this camp, Paul Orrange. Paul, along with his friends and family, watched a Sabres game with Pat, in Pat’s own luxury suite at the old Memorial Auditorium in 1995. Paul had been awaiting a heart transplant at the time, but many of the friends he brought with him that day were his buddies – from the college he was enrolled in. College? Absolutely. Nothing held Paul back from his dreams.
“Paul was a very special young man and this camp is a phenomenal way to honor his memory,” LaFontaine said in a recent interview.
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“This is a great way for children from throughout WNY with congenital heart problems to come to a place where they can comfortably laugh, play and maybe learn a little bit more about their health concerns. When kids are going through some tough medical times, they often find themselves in a very lonely place. A camp like “Dreams From the Heart” can have a profound effect on their recovery and their continued well-being.”
You gotta’ feel bad for Mike Weber these days.
Last season, Weber tied for 2nd place in plus/minus on the Sabres with a +13, lead the team in hits (158), and was 3rd in blocked shots (99). He also added 4 goals and 13 assists, and he did this all in just 58 games. He continuously put himself between Ryan Miller and Philadelphia’s shooters in the playoffs, leading the team with 16 blocked shots. He was the star of buffalo74’s much under-heralded “Mike Weber Watch.”
All that, and the guy has to sit in the press box and watch games this year. A healthy scratch. The seventh defenseman. All the while, the 6 ahead of him are playing great, and it doesn’t look like any of them are coming out of the starting lineup anytime soon, barring injury. Top six take note: avoid Weber’s hits during practice. He’s not going to let up. Call it frustration, desperation, or pure determination, Weber must put everything into every hockey shift he has this year just to get a sniff of ice time during a real game. It’s tough times for Weber.
And it’s a wonderful time for Lindy Ruff.
Ruff has gone from one of the most green defenses in the NHL to a balanced squad full of blue-chip veterans and prospects. It’s a squad so deep, that when Drew Schiestel (an AHL all star last season and the Sabres best bet for the number 8 d-man) went down for 4-6 weeks with a MCL injury, no one seemed to notice. It’s a weird twist of fate for the defense corps. With Pegula, the Sabres have the additions of Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr eating up huge minutes of ice time. Without Pegula, Weber and Schiestel may have been battling for the 6th, maybe even the 5th defensive spot.
Meanwhile, Jochen Hecht looks to be coming back from his injury. The offense, augmented by Pegula with the likes of Brad Boyes and and Ville Leino (along with the emergence of Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe) is also out of space. Ruff will have to make a tough decision on where to place Jochen when he makes his return, and who to take out. Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick seem to be the likeliest candidates to sit for Hecht, but why mess with a lineup that is 2-0-0 and has outscored its opponents 8-3?
Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it. They know Mike Weber is ready, willing and more than able to take up the slack if someone gets lazy on defense. They know that Hecht, or even Matt Ellis or AHLers Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno could step in at any time to replace a forward floundering on his confidence.
Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it.
Gone are the days when Lindy Ruff had to have screaming fits with enigmatic players who just didn’t play The System the way he needed them to.
Hecht is lurking. Don't screw up, forwards.
Gone are the days of that ill-fated 2005-06 playoff run, when Ruff and his Sabres ran out of serviceable and healthy defensemen in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Gone is the unhealthy sting of the injury bug: replaced with a deep and lasting dose of healthy competition.
Tough times for Mike Weber? Yes. It’s going to be tough for him, or anyone else, to crack this lineup. If anyone loses their place as a starter, it’s going to be miserable trying to get back in. These boys are going to push each other to the brink, and maybe beyond.
Coach Ruff has been to the brink before – 1999, 2006, 2007. Maybe this is the kind of push that he and the Sabres always needed to get them over it. Ruff doesn’t have to say a word. He decides who plays and who sits, and he’s got a wealth of bodies fighting for his attention.
He’s the most powerful man in Hockey Heaven right now. Finally.
The Sabres started off the regular season in a huge way, with a decisive 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks. In what was technically a home game for the Sabres, it was for the Ducks that the host crowd cheered, but Buffalo did not falter in silencing that.
It was a character win for a Sabres team far, far from home. Things I liked about this game:
- Ville Leino scored in his debut with Buffalo. It’s a long 81 game road from here (and hopefully at least 16 extra games) but it was good to see him score a clutch, and very difficult goal to get himself on the NHL score sheet quickly.
- Thomas Vanek. The Mighty Alternate scored two goals, each on the power play, and was an unstoppable force on the ice. Well, that’s not exactly true. He had a whopping 9 shots, so he was stopped 7 times.
- The Sabres were outshot 11-0 in the third period, which seems pretty terrible, except for the fact that Ryan Miller stood his ground and let nothing by. Buffalo also was able to kindly kill a 5 on 3 in that trying frame.
- Vanek and Adam on the same line. I expect to see this a lot more this season, and to see their names next to each other on goal citations on the score sheet as a result. This could bode very well for the center position quandry in Pegulaville.
- Before Anaheim scored in the 2nd period to make it 2-1, the Sabres had been wholly dominant. The Ducks were surging back. Jason Pominville, the new captain of the Blue and Gold, did what a captain does best – he showed how to put a team back down by scoring a goal just 1 minute and 13 seconds later. 3-1 Buffalo at that point. Game effectually over.
- The Buffalo PP was 2 for 3 for a 67% conversion rate. That’s a great percentage. Sure, it’s just been on game, but in that one game that PP was a smooth, deadly assassin.
- The Buffalo PK was 100% for the night, killing off a total of 4 Ducks power plays (including that 5 on 3 mentioned above).
- It would seem Robyn Regehr had a quiet night on the stat sheet, until you look at the hits column. He lead the team with 5 hits.
- The Sabres’ other big addition on D, Christian Ehrhoff, managed an assist in his debut while also leading the team in blocked shots (3).
- The Sabres’ leader on ice time for the night? Jordan Leopold, with 24:45 overall, spent a lot of time out there proving that this squad has the defensive depth to give Myers, Ehrhoff and Regehr time to rest their engines.
- Buffalo found the bounces – the way a winner does. Vanek’s second goal came off a strange bounce in front of the net as he wrestled and twisted with a defender around the puck. A bounce? Yes. The result of good work in the blue paint? Yes. Meanwhile, Anaheim found a way to hit the post – twice – in what could have been their 3rd period rally.
Next up, it’s the Los Angeles Kings in a battle of the 1-0-0 undefeateds. 2pm EST. Pucktoberfest at the FN Center for the game on the big screens.
*Stats from Yahoo! sports.
It’s opening night (day)!
This means the return of hockey, and the glorious return of our Sabres BINGO! series. Today’s snark features the Anaheim Ducks in a special Finland edition.
It’s been a long offseason (as possibly evidenced by the quality level of puns in our BINGO! squares today) but it is finally time to sit back and enjoy the good ol’ hockey game, and a Buffalo afternoon beer or
three six. Unless you’re at work, then you possibly get to enjoy none of this.
Today’s prize is a autographed Tim Connolly sweater, so keep your dabbers close at hand! Seriously. I’d hate to try to sell this thing on Ebay.
*Disclaimer: the autographed Tim Connolly sweater is covered in rips, bloodstains, medical tape, fan-spit, and somehow under his signature Jerry Sullivan and Bucky Gleason managed to pen a small article about how much he sucks.
*Disclaimer #2: the autographed Tim Connolly sweater does not exist. The prize is actually being a member of Pegulaville, Pominville City, and Hockey Heaven. So we all win.
(Remember to click on the pic for larger eye-friendly versions.)
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