Thank any deity you want to, the Sabres are back! I have waited and yearned for this day since April and it finally happened. If you have missed hockey as much as I have, then you didn’t really care what happened on the ice, you just wanted to see the Sabres.
The great thing about tonight is that they didn’t disappoint and were, in general, very fun to watch! And they beat Ottawa! He are some of my random musings, vaguely organized, about tonights game.
The Sabres went with a top line of Roy, Stafford and Ennis. They were flying most of the night and were fairly productive. Roy had a magical goal in the 1st period and Ennis picked up the primary helper. Roy was offensively involved all game, but looked lazy defensively in the 3rd period. Ennis was as shifty and quick as he’s always been.
Stafford was the hammer on this line with power moves to the front of the net and strong physical play. He ever wrecked Matt Carkner and shook him up on one play. He helped out Roy by bodily dragging Chris Neil off of him.
The 2nd line consisted of Vanek, Connolly and Pominville. Thinking a bit about this, I don’t hate it. I also don’t love it. This unit will be good defensively, but I think that they may struggle to score as playing styles may not be compatible. Vanek looked good tonight. He got plenty of chances going to the front of the net. When he got there he was very creative too. Unfortunately, even with his exorbitant salary, he couldn’t buy a goal tonight.
Tim Connolly still drives me crazy and still sucks at faceoffs. He did have a nice move between his legs to drive to the front of the net and create a chance. Pominville wasn’t too noticeable tonight although his ramped up physicality from the preseason seems to be continuing.
The 3rd line is the one we all thought we’d see after Rob Niedermayer was signed. He is centering Jochen Hecht and Mike Grier and they are living up to what fans wanted them to be. They backcheck and forecheck like animals. They are solid defensively and yet they had a bunch of scoring chances.
The line is also just chalk full of leadership. Niedermayer communicates well and was very vocal on the ice. Hecht is an assistant captain and we all know what Grier can do. It is very telling that this was the line on the ice in the final minute. They are just hard to play against. It’s good to have a checking line in Buffalo again.
The 4th line was Cody McCormick, Paul Gaustad and Pat Kaleta. This line was solid and unspectacular. Kaleta was once again a human missile and he can still get under everyone’s skin. Gaustad made some nice plays on dump-ins and continues to win faceoffs. Cody McCormick didn’t show me enough to keep a roster spot from Nathan Gerbe (especially to help the Power Play).
Speaking of the power play, here are the units:
Connolly – Gaustad – Stafford
Leopold – Sekera
Vanek – Roy – Ennis
Pominville – Myers
One thing I noticed that made me wonder a little bit was Vanek taking faceoffs on the power play. Is it an issue with Roy, similar to Connolly last year? Are they testing Vanek as a center? Could that be foreshadowing something? Was it just a mistake and should I stop dreaming? Oh well, never hurts to keep tabs on these things though.
Onwards to the backline; a group that I appear to have underestimated if they continue to play the way they did tonight. If anyone thought Myers is going to have a sophomore slump they can shut up now. He is still as dominant as ever. In fact, the experience seems to have made him even calmer and more responsible with the puck. He now includes the big added bonus of muscle.
He is no longer a gangly kid. He absolutely decked someone who tried to move him out of the way in front of Leclaire. Which leads me to my next point: he was in front of Leclaire! That’s right; he is still an offensive force, jumping into the rush and pushing into the zone. Also, he now has a pretty good shot. Look out NHL!
The top pairing of Shaone Morrisonn and Myers looks to be a very strong one. Myers has really improved on his physical play. He moves people and plays the body confidently. Morrisonn is also a physical force. Combined they stand a mind-shattering 13’2”. They look to be a shut down, physical, down right hard to play against defensive pairing.
Morrisonn, and his ridiculously spelled name, seems to have some leadership potential. He pointed out Roy on the 1st goal so Ennis could get him the pass. Morrisonn also Buried Alex Kovalev for trying to get the front of the net. He did have a gaffe in the last minute that almost led to a goal. But I will forgive that for now, since he had an otherwise solid game.
Steve Montador really played like a second pairing defenseman tonight, which surprised me a lot because I thought of him as a liability last season. He seems to have improved his skating. His partner Jordan Leopold is fast and reads plays very well. He should be a good addition to the blueline. He did pull a Sekera and lose the puck at the point which led to the Ottawa goal. Montador still hasn’t learned when to lay out on odd man rushes.
I complement Montador, but I have this addendum: Steven Montador and Craig A. Rivet should never, ever be on the ice at the same time! When they were out there together (and I think it was only 1 or 2 shifts) they were a liability.
That being said I didn’t notice Rivet too much outside of those shifts. This is a good thing because it means he isn’t losing races and failing all over the ice. His new partner Andrej Sekera played well too. Sekera was on tonight and I hope this continues. When two players who were bad last year get paired together and perform well it’s a good sign of things to come.
The main thing I liked about this pairing is that they cleared out the front of the net – with a vengeance! You know that Montador does this, and the rest of the defensive corps was surprisingly active in defending Miller. But fresh off his first fight, Sekera seems to have developed a nasty disposition. He and Rivet were not tolerating anyone looking a Miller in front of the net. Man, Sabres’ Hockey could be really, really fun this season.
Forwards that played on the penalty kill: Pominville – Niedermayer, Connolly – Kaleta, Roy – Pominville, Hecht, Grier, Gaustad. All 6 defenseman spent time on the penalty kill. On the subject of time: Tyler Myers led all players with over 24 minutes of ice time. Morrisonn and Leopold also exceeded 20 minutes on the ice.
Roy led all forwards with 19:15 and was rewarded with 2 goals. Ennis was second with 17:34 and had 2 assists on the night. The TOI was pretty evenly distributed throughout the roster. Only Cody McCormick had less than 10 minutes of ice time.
Random other thoughts: Rick Jeanneret sounds to be in midseason form and I, for one, am extremely grateful to have him back…Apparently boarding is no longer a penalty. Either that or the refs were terrible…Mike Grier looks ridiculous in the road jerseys…The road jerseys are very cool…Tyler Ennis now has 11 points 11 regular season games, this kid is special!