Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bruins @ Sabres: A Ten-Word Preview

There's no way it can be worse than last time. 

(Programming notice: I know I've been AWOL again recently, but I have a good excuse: I decided to ignore the Sabres this past weekend. Partly because my sneaky, free internet ways failed me and partly because I really needed a break after the way the last Boston game upset me. Despite the discouraging text messages I received about the scores this weekend, tonight I find myself somewhat refreshed and ready for more hockey, even if it means more heartache. Unfortunately, I'm going to be spending this evening flying between Saint Paul and Nashville to join my family for the holiday, so whatever happens in tonight's game, for better or worse, I won't be able to see it. And since I'll be spending the weekend with mostly non-hockey-appreciating family members, I'm not sure I'll get to see either of those games either. But stick around. I'll have something to say soon, regardless of whether I've seen the games or not. Promise. Happy Turkey!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

There's No Beauty In The Breakdown

That's right, the Garden State soundtrack lies.

I'll be honest, I didn't really pay much attention to the last game. After losing half of my Friday night to the "game" against Columbus, I chose to dedicate my Saturday night to doing more collegey things with actual people, which I figured was almost certain to be more fun, even if it didn't provide the opportunity to make fun of ridiculous names. Still, because I'm a crazy hockey fan and my friends expect it of me anyway, I kept the game running on my computer in a corner of the room, and checked in every ten minutes or so. I'll admit, I was tempted at a couple of points to abandon my pretense of being social and settle into the action. Through the first two periods they seemed to have things under control, and I was intrigued by the Vanek-Hecht-Pominville line. Mostly because of the high concentration of love involved there. (Seriously, the Vanek love is getting out of control.) 

Well, I sure am glad I didn't fall for that old trick. I successfully resisted the siren call of my computer, and as I watched out of the corner of my eye as the Pens scored in rapid succession in the last five minutes to take the score from 2-2 to 5-2, I felt vindicated. At the same time, I also feel completely unequipped to tackle the question every blogger and fan is trying to figure out: What went wrong? Really all I can do is try to guess at what the problem was. On the one hand, the Penguins are a good team. (Although there's still plenty of time for that Stanley Cup runner-up curse to catch up with them, just like it did with Ottawa last year.) It's not entirely impossible that they managed to take over the game even if the Sabres looked like they were doing everything right. On the other hand, the Sabres have been playing like crap lately, and maybe keeping focus for a full 60 minutes is too much to ask of them. As strong as the defensive play was to start the season, it's been full of holes recently, and lazy backchecking by the forwards coupled with shaky goaltending isn't helping things. 

Whatever the cause, Saturday's game is the type that I instinctively want to just chalk up to bad luck, bad karma, bad energy and just forget about. I tell myself it's still early in the season, far too early to be putting any stock in the standings, and there's still plenty of time left for improvement. The problem is, I've had to tell myself that too many times recently. There's plenty of season left, but if a team can't focus for a full 60 minutes, how are they going to be able to focus for a full 82 games? Even good teams have bad nights, but how many bad nights does it take to mean you have a bad team? It's a question we slowly learned the answer to last season, and no one wants a repeat demonstration.

Come on, Sabres. The real beauty is in pulling it back together.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Sabres got the Blues, but I don't have to

Well, that was a pretty awful series of games. Following an uninspired win against the Blues with an un-boring but completely frustrating loss to the Bluejackets, isn't exactly my definition of fun times. So what's a fan to do to entertain herself when her hockey team fails to come through for her? Not to mention, what's a blogger fighting to get back in the game supposed to write about when the only complete sentences that come to mind about hockey are creative death threats? Why, it's one of my favorite pastimes: Making fun of hockey names!

I'm pretty sure that at least half the Blues' roster is made up. The fact my most dominant memory of Wednesday night's game (aside from Hank Tallinder, newest Wiggle, of course) is of me shouting at my screen "There's no way that's a real person!" every time the name Pietrangelo was mentioned, probably tells you all you need to know about that game. But, seriously, Pietrangelo? That's totally not a real name. Just take a second to say it out loud. Pietrangelo. It's like saying the word "eleventybillion." It just feels false on the tongue, like someone squished two different last names together to make a nonsense last name. Also, as much as his name was mentioned in the play-by-play--which was relatively frequently, since I was forced into watching the St. Louis feed--I never actually got visual confirmation. Amongst the numerous close-up shots, I never once got one of the name "Pietrangelo" on the back of a jersey. Furthermore, the name is nowhere to be found on the Blues' roster page. Very suspicious. I'm pretty convinced that the Blues announcer came into this game with an incomplete roster list, panicked when a player touched the puck whose name he didn't know, and blurted out the first name that popped into his head. Unfortunately, that "name" was Pietrangelo, so now not only does everyone know that he's bad at his job, but also that he sucks at making up names. That's not the only suspect name, though. There's also this "Hinote" character, if that really is his name. Unlike Pietrangelo, this one was supported by visual evidence, so at least I know it's not just in the imagination of the announcer. But still. I'm supposed to believe that someone named Hinote completely coincidentally plays for the Blues, where he gets to wear a musical note on his chest every game? I don't think so. I'm a big fan of nominative determinism, but how do I know there isn't some Chad Ocho Cinco-esque name change action going on here? Add in the fact that "Polak" is apparently pronounced like the Polish slur and not like Jackson the painter, and I can't trust that anyone's name is real. At this point, I'm willing to bet that "Blues" itself is a completely fabricated title.

The Bluejackets also have entertaining names, but for different reasons. First of all, there are those names that completely caught me off guard. The first time Commodore was mentioned, I had to double check that we weren't playing Ottawa. (Serves me right for spacing out during the off-season, although it didn't freak me out nearly as much as realizing Darcy Tucker is all of the sudden in Colorado. When did that happen?) And the first time Novotny was mentioned I had to double check that we weren't playing a team from somewhere off the face of the earth, which is where I imagined Jiri fell when he left the Sabres. Of course, they also have a universally silly name in Tyutin, and a universally bitchin' name in Chimera, but the one that entertained me the most was Huselius, for the way it fit into the play-by-play call. "Huselius," when spoken, at least by RJ, sounds an awful lot like "his alias," which became particularly funny to me in the phrase "Afinogenov is intercepted by Huselius!" Me: "It's like Spy vs. Spy!" I think it may be the first time a Max interception has ever made me laugh. Also, unrelated to names, but am I the only one who thinks Pascal Leclaire looks a bit like a werewolf? A little fake fur and he and Staffy could have some kickin' haunted house Halloween parties.

Anyway, Sabres, do you see what you do to me (and this blog) when you force me to draw entertainment from something other than the brilliance of your play? Please play better against Pittsburgh tonight. I know it's probably too much to ask, but there's nothing for me to work with on that roster of names. The "Satan should be traded to the Devils" line is practically older than Teppo, you know?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Heard Tell There's Some Hockey Going On Tonight?

Leave it to me to return to bloggerly form just in time to have a busy weekend, miss both games, and then sit through a four day layoff. It's like I go out of my way to keep myself from blogging. Anyway, barring any emergencies or interruptions in my illegally-obtained internet feed, I'll be around for tonight's game, and might even have something to say afterwards.

I have to say, I'm not feeling too optimistic. Even aside from the fact that the Sabres are coming off a long break after two lackluster performances, that they apparently now love giving struggling teams the jumpstart they've been looking for, and that we haven't beaten the Blues in something like 12 years, it just doesn't feel like a good day. Currently my room is sitting somewhere around 4o˚F, the illness I thought I was finally over returned this morning with a wicked cough, and what had at midnight last night been an insanely idyllic snowglobe-esque winter landscape here on campus had by morning light turned into a slushy, foggy, overcast mess. So I'm just not feeling the mojo of this day.

Then again, these just might be the perfect circumstances for watching the Sabres. If they win, then I can forget about all that crap. And if they lose, well, it's not like I can feel much crummier.

Let's Go, Buffalo, I guess. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Triumphant Return!

Tonight, those wearing number 55 get back in the game.

That's right, Jochen Hecht, backbone of the backchecking forwards and official ambassador to my heart, will set skate on ice again tonight for the first time following what seemed like the longest surgery recovery period ever. (That's the last time he borrows a finger from Tim Connolly.) In a show of solidarity, I'm coming out of my months-long blogger hibernation to set fingers to keyboard and start reversing the troublesome trend in this, an ostensible hockey blog in which 90% of the posts appearing on the first page are about a sport that is not hockey. (That's the last time I borrow my work ethic from Jaromir Jagr.) 

You know, after spending most of last season and the summer in Europe, I guess I just started to take being out of the loop for granted. Why bother writing anything when those other, more diligent minds behind the ever-growing number of excellent Sabres blogs out there are just going to cover it better? Being in Minnesota doesn't really help. My only access to the (non-Versus) games has been through grainy internet feeds, and outside of text messages with my family, no one in my daily life has any desire to talk about hockey. So it's been easy to grow complacent. I've fallen back on the excuse that since most of my contact with hockey is through hearsay and guessing games, I couldn't possibly offer up any kind of worthwhile insight. Well, no longer. I'm not going to let those excuses cover up the truth anymore, the truth that caused me to start this blog in the first place and the truth that is still true today: I have shit to say. That's the main issue. Whether or not anyone wants to read it has always been a secondary concern.

So what do I have to say about this season so far? Well, overall it's been pleasantly surprising, with few notable exceptions. Here's my distillation of the young season down to the highest highs and lowest lows:

  • Captain Rivet - I'll admit, when I first learned via text message that off-season acquisition and grumpily reluctant new Buffalonian, Craig Rivet, had been chosen captain, my reaction wasn't thoroughly positive. It was somewhere between wanting to laugh out loud and wanting vomit silently. (You know, that sensation that somehow only your favorite sports team can provoke.) It's not that I didn't like him, more that I was worried he didn't like us. How could he possibly be ready to lead a team he'd known for a mere matter of weeks? My anxiety lessened some when I learned that the appointment was the result of a team vote, and it disappeared completely after I first got to see him in action. From leading the defense with a steady hand, to finally applying the crease-policing force Miller's been needing (wow, that sounded dirtier than I meant it to), and unhesitatingly jumping into any conflict to protect his teammates, I'm pretty sure he's done all he needs to do to get everyone in Buffalo head over heels. 
  • TV Upgrade - What is there left to say about Thomas Vanek at this point? It's pretty obvious that he's turning into a player worthy of his contract, maybe even worthy of mention alongside the league's elite right before our very eyes. And it's been a delightful transformation to witness. Not like we didn't know this before, but a confident Vanek is a force to be reckoned with out there, and it's nice to see him proving it consistently. On a personal note, I'm glad to see my previously irrational affection for him find justification. Now I can say I love him because he's Austrian, Minnesotan, and an ass-kicking hockey player.
  • Penalty Thrilling - The PK has been the most consistently delightful thing about the season so far, from my view. Especially following a season where special teams were so abysmal, it's a beautiful thing to have a unit of players that kills penalties and not our souls. It's gotten to the point that I almost cheer for every penalty we have called against us, just because I love seeing our PKers in action, usually competent and often downright dominant while down one man. Through 12 games we've only been outscored 5-2 while killing penalties, and that's one sexy statistic.
  • Brochen Jochen - Okay, so this one might be a little personal, but it definitely counts as one of the low points of the season when I found out my favorite player wasn't going to be healthy for the game I saw here against the Wild on October 23rd. The game was an exciting one regardless, but it just wasn't the same without being able to watch for good old number 55 to miss an open net or shoot right at the goaltender. Apparently scoring a goal so early in the season was too much of a strain on him, though. He has to learn how to pace himself better. I'll be honest, I didn't really get what the big deal was for this injury, especially for a player who apparently played with a broken wrist for four months last season. I mean, couldn't they have just taped his fingers together and waited for it to heal on its own? It's not like Yo-Yo's known for his great dexterity or anything. No, I'm pretty sure he just sat out to spite me. It's okay, Yo-Yo. I still love you.
  • Disappearing Derek - There have been a number of disappointing player performances so far this season, but for the most part it's been what's expected. Stafford continues to be a non-factor with promise, Connolly continues to be held together with chewing gum and dental floss, and Max continues to be... Max. But Roy-Z has only 6 points in 12 games, and that's just not acceptable, especially after the bedazzling end to his season he had last year. He's not yet gotten to the "pile of puke" stage in my eyes (I save that for when he's being actively detrimental to his team), but even given his over-exaggerated 5'9" stature, I know he can be more visible.
  • Relapses - This has got to be the biggest fear on every Sabres fan's mind right now. It's why those losses against Ottawa and Tampa made us so nervous. The season began with a number of encouraging displays of things last year's Sabres failed to do on a regular basis--sticking out a whole game against a good team, blowing away a bad team--but that Tampa game in particular looked like a direct cut and paste from last year's worst: scattered offense, sloppy defense, and shaky goaltending. It looked way too familiar for comfort. The Sabres bounced back from those two tough losses with a pair of shutout wins, which is reassuring, but if they want to keep these good times rolling they're going to have to avoid pulling games like that on their jumpy, PTSD-y fans.