First off: Wow! It’s great to have hockey again. I thought the long, lame summer would never end. So now that the honeymoon is over we can talk about how the Sabres looked. Before that, I would like to go on record as saying I like what the Leafs have done. They will be very good in a couple of years. (That felt like I just kissed my cousin!)
The Sabres, on the other hand, went with a veteran heavy lineup to put on a good show in front of the home town fans. I’ll start with some thoughts on them. Ryan Miller is not human. The first pre-season game and he’s making big time stops…for fun!
This one is in big, bold capital letters on my notes: Why is Derek Roy wearing the Captain’s C!? That makes me very, very unhappy with management and coaching. Roy had some good plays and earned the #2 star of the game, but he is still Derek Roy. He had a great defensive play in the 1st and he also nabbed an assist. As Derek Roy he couldn’t do any of this without being frustrating by turning over the puck on ill advised dekes.
Stafford is proving me right as he looks much improved over last season. Big, strong, physical play. At times he looks like a tough guy out there. Has he finally learned to finish his checks? This is the year for Stafford and he’s smart enough to know that. Sabres’ fans are holding their breaths, wondering if he can finally put it all together.
It looked like Stafford is having an influence on Luke Adam. He was invisible in the 1st period, but came out and finished his checks as the game continued. Stafford, Adam and Kassian in a lineup and all of a sudden I feel like the Sabres have gotten bigger, but haven’t sacrificed skill to do it. Adam confirmed, in my mind, that he needs to spend a year in Portland. He can really develop as a center down there with much less pressure.
Niedermayer doesn’t look to me like an impact player. I wouldn’t hate having him center the 4th line. I’d like to see a possession type unit on the 3rd line and I don’t think Niedermayer would fit well on that type of line. His goal was rather luck as Rynnas should have stopped it. He and Kassian combined to allow the Toronto goal as Niedermayer lost the faceoff and Kassian lost his man in coverage.
Tim Connolly picked up right where he left off, making me want to trade him even more. The main difference from the playoffs: he’s faster. So his foot probably healed, which leads me to believe he was playing injured against Boston. Vanek looks like he added some muscle and has gotten a bit of a mean streak. It’s great to see him go after a big hit on Armstrong.
Speaking of big hitting Sabres, there were plenty in this game. That is something I haven’t seen from Buffalo in quite some time. Stafford and Adam had some hits as I’ve already mentioned. Tyler Myers looks more physical too. I loved the play where he did a double tap on Luca Caputi. McCormick had a big hit in the 2nd and Kassian dropped Hason in the 1st. Even Gerbe got in on the action.
Gerbe looks really quick. Matthew Barnaby tweeted that he could see Gerbe on the 4th line and I agree. He’s fiesty, he gets under opponents skins. He’s fast, he likes to shoot and he is built very solidly with a nice low center of gravity. When he and Caputi collided the both went down and Caputi is significantly talled.
Zack Kassian doesn’t take crap from anyone! Komisarek gave him a couple of jabs in front of the net and Kassian threw off his gloves. I like the spunk and the message from this kid. Don’t mess with me or my teammates. He also meshed well with Ennis. The goal they combined on was great. Kassian found space and made a great pass. Ennis (who was quiet in the 1st) made a nifty little move and buried it. The combined again on the Niedermayer tally.
Cody McCormick didn’t get a ton of time in this game. He played mostly on the PK and did a great job. I loved his effort and tenacity. The main issue I have with him at this point is that at times his skating looks suspect. Time will tell whether or not it is in fact an issue. On the flip side of the coin I thought Drew Shiestel looked great skating around. He looked very comfortable carrying the puck up ice on the breakout and dump in.
In a head-to-head position battle I think that Andrej Sekera beat Chris Butler tonight. Butler looked really shaky to start the game. He has absolutely no ability to play physical and play the body. If you had asked me a year ago who would be more physical, of these two guys I would never, ever have said Sekera. Sekera did play physical tonight he was also aggressive on offense and defense. His one big blemish came on a faceoff that flew into the Sabres zone and Sekera almost got beat to the puck and ended up losing it. Butler’s main bright spot was a great skating rush up the ice midway through the 3rd period.
There you have it some brief thoughts about what was a very encouraging first pre-season game. I can’t wait until the games start to matter.