Saturday, November 28, 2009

Freaky Friday

Well, that was an odd game. Something about playing on a Friday afternoon apparently sends the Sabres into bizarro world. It was an entertaining, emotional, and hard-fought win, but it rarely made any sense. Here are some unorganized thoughts:

-This game was the very picture of inconsistency. One minute both teams looked fundamentally unfamiliar with the game of hockey, as things like creating pressure and maintaining puck possession seemed to elude them, and the next minute Tim Connolly was firing a perfectly placed shot past Emery, or Drew Stafford was maneuvering around him and his defenders like they were pylons. (By the way, was I the only one who thought there was something familiar about the way Emery tried to stop that first goal? [There you go, Mom, consider that your Pommer praise for the day.]) I spent a good portion of the game confused about what exactly I was watching, but it seemed that every time I was about to comment that the Sabres looked incompetent, they managed to pull a goal or some other smart play out of thin air. Very disconcerting.

-Inconsistency was the name of the game with the officials, as well, although that's not really anything new. Still, in a game that certainly needed a lot of enforced discipline, the refs seemed to invent tripping penalties out of nothing, and downplay actual dangerous plays. On the one hand Kaleta gets a major and a game misconduct for a hit that looked more unfortunate than malicious, and on the other hand Richards gets a mere two minutes for popping Myers' helmet off with the blade of his stick like it was a bottle cap. Not to mention the clear high-sticking incident later in the game when the Flyer player (I admit I don't remember who was involved) dutifully took himself to the box only to be told he wasn't receiving a penalty. I'm not one for blaming officials for the outcome of a game, and I'm doing that here (not least of all because I don't have any outcome to complain about), but I do think the officials have a duty to dictate the rules in a coherent way, and they were doing a rather haphazard job of that last night.

-About that Kaleta hit. Despite the way I characterized it, I have no problem with the call. As far as I'm concerned, any hit from behind into the boards should always earn a game ejection, just because that's too dangerous a situation to be ambivalent about. But I do wonder about placing all of the blame for such hits squarely on the hitter. I'm not saying the hittee should be assessed a penalty, but it seems pretty clear to me that Ross put himself in danger by turning into the boards when he felt someone bearing down on him. For Kaleta's part, it looked like he committed to the check just as Ross was turning, and while he may have been able to slow up (having never played hockey, I can't really say), I don't think it was his intention to hit Ross from behind. But by rightfully taking gray-area intention out of the equation, the refs have created a troubling scenario where players can get an opponent ejected from the game with just a well-timed pirouette. I'm not sure I have a remedy for that situation, except to hope that no one is dumb enough to let the promise of a five minute power play tempt them into a potentially career- not to mention brain-damaging position.

-As for the Richards/Myers incident, I can't see why that wasn't as clear a cut-and-dry call. Maybe a game misconduct would have been a little extreme, but I would have liked to see at least a major penalty called. Intentional or not, it was more dangerous than your average high sticking, and I wanted a punishment that fit the crime. If the refs intended to send the message with the Kaleta call, they mised the opportunity to send one there as well. Control your body; control your stick. It's pretty simple.

-Even without the rough and tumble play--not to mention the flaring tempers and rash of scrums--there was plenty of accidental mayhem to go around. Taking a shot to the face is never good, but I imagine a one-timed slapshot is the worst kind to get: apparently loss-of-seven-teeth, gain-of-seventy-five-stitches kind of bad. Likewise, heading feet-first into the boards is never a good way to go, but Rivet's looked especially bad, even before the replay was shown. Fortunately Rivet seems to have siphoned off some of Vanek's feet-first-into-the-boards luck, as his injury isn't as severe as it initially seemed. Which is certainly good news, considering my dad's professional opinion after seeing the replay was that Rivet had blown out his knee if nothing else. Too bad it doesn't look like Gaustad will be as lucky.

-It was an ugly game all around, even in the intermission, when Tim Kennedy ruined a perfectly adorable father-son piece by refusing to wear his teeth. Here's a hint, Tim, if the occasion seems to call for a suit, it generally calls for you to not have big gaps in your mouth. The least you could have done was worn a black suit to at least try to coordinate.

Tonight's the first time since coming home that I'll be able to watch a game in real time and in HD, and it'll be the last time before I return to the pixellated hockey wasteland that is Minnesota. So here's hoping the Sabres can manage a pretty one tonight, for me and for my relatives that will be attending the game. And I'm assuming it will have to be the Sabres who bring the pretty, if the Hurricanes are as bad as I've heard. Let's not give them their first road win tonight, Sabres, ok? Ok.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

As I write this, I am sitting in my parents' house, mere feet away from the HDTV that will be brightening my life with crystal clear hockey later on. I am so looking forward to that.

Another reason it's the most wonderful time of the year is that today is my sister's birthday, and she's pretty great. Happy birthday, Meghan!

And then I guess there's that whole Thanksgiving thing coming up, too.

One thing that decidedly does not make it the most wonderful time of the year is that the Sabres are playing the Caps tonight. For reasons I've never quite been able to articulate, the Caps--and Alex Ovechkin in particular--get my ire up in a way no one else in hockey can. There's no obvious historical justification for it, not like with the Senators or the Hurricanes, but that doesn't make it any less real. The Caps and I are just true hate. Even though I can't explain it, I see the potential to harness the power of that hate and use it for something good--or at least entertaining.

Just as the off-season was coming to a close, in an effort to rediscover my enthusiasm for blogging, I delved into the Desperation Hockey archives, hoping to be inspired by my own genius. It ultimately worked, and along the way I was reminded of a few running themes, structures, and jokes that I hoped and plan to revive. Chief among these was the exclamation "Where's the fucking phone?!" which is a reference to this scene from Wet Hot American Summer:

I originally used "Where's the fucking phone?!" to illustrate my feelings about seeing Chris Drury in a Rangers jersey for the first time, when I felt like tipping over cabinets and tearing things off shelves. As time went on, though, my grudge hardened and my rage waned, and my need to find the fucking phone appeared less frequently and less vehemently. I don't know if I'm getting soft, or if general cynicism has just mellowed out the peaks and valleys of my moods, but nothing seems to send me into an infirmary-destroying tizzy these days. That's where the Caps come in. We haven't met them yet this season, so I haven't given them much thought. Tonight they and the wrath they leave in their wake will become impossible to ignore, and I'm trying to make the best of that situation in advance. The Sabres need a win like they need fewer holes in their line-up, but since they seem to find expectations an unbearable weight, this is what remains of mine after pitching the majority overboard: no matter the outcome, if I have an excuse to type "Where's the fucking phone?!" again, well, it hasn't been all bad.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hey, Where's my Cash?

'Cause that sure was a clunker.

Warning: game in photo was less exciting than it appears.

At least I've learned my lesson about admitting my optimism. It wasn't even just my last post; I went through most of the game believing, despite the effort I was seeing, that the Sabres were somehow going to pull it off in the end. It wasn't a conscious decision, just a certain sense of the energy and flow of the game. Roby seemed to be there with me in the first intermission, when he pointed out that while the game seemed pretty even so far, we would really see the fruits of Buffalo's labor once the third period rolled around. He was right, but not exactly in the way that he meant to be right. What Roby and I sensed as the Sabres puting off winning the game turned out to be the Sabres just not planning on winning the game in the first place.

Or not. Maybe the Sabres really did plan on getting around to winning for most of the game, but then decided they didn't have the energy to follow through with their plan.

So either my hockey-dar is off, or the Sabres are lazy. Since this is my blog, I'm going to go with the latter (to make it fair, if the Sabres want to call me names in their blog, they're more than entitled), but either way it made for a thoroughly unenjoyable hockey game, at least in retrospect. Any potential excitement or pressure the Sabres may have generated throughout was ultimately erased by their lack of finish, both on individual chances as well as on the game as a whole. Just when I decide to praise them for the opposite, they fall back on their old tricks of giving away a game in the last few minutes, and in the biggest of ways. There's not even anywhere to point the finger, since the collapse was, as Lindy said, "a team effort," ultimately producing an overall impression of blandness with a strong aftertaste of crap.

Though actually it's just a concidence, I want the Sabres to think of me not watching either game this weekend as a conscious punishment. I hope they sit there, think about what they've done, and decide to change it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don't Get Me Wrong

I realize that my last couple of posts here make it seem like I'm all doom and gloom about this team right now, but don't be fooled. After seeing two strong games and hearing about another, the Doldrums are festering far behind me now. It seems like the same can be said of the Sabres (with the possible exception of Pominville--it remains to be seen whether he has pulled himself together to my liking), who came off last weekend's decided lack of luster with square shoulders and straight screwed-on heads all around.

The Edmonton and Calgary games were hardly the prettiest games I've ever seen, but they were wins. They were types of wins, in fact, that it seems like this team hasn't been able to pull off in some seasons. If the biggest insult to the 2007-2009 Sabres was that they were gutless, then these two games (Calgary in particular) were undeniable displays of guts. Going up against the notoriously tougher Western Conference, the Sabres didn't let themselves get pushed around or intimidated off the puck. When they were shoved, they shoved back, to the point that their game against the Flames began to resemble a barrage of scrums and almost-but-not-quite highlight-reel goals in constant alternation. And instead of wearing thin from the effort of trying to keep up and allowing the Flames to pull away late in the game, they matched them through 65 minutes and met them in the shootout. Shootout wins are never my favorite, but this one did have a little dramatic flair about it since the game had been so hard fought by both sides. (I suppose that should make the fact that one of them lost remarkably unfair, but I don't really feel like getting into that right now. My vitriol levels are too low for me to accurately talk about my feelings for the shootout.) All in all, even though the Sabres put me to sleep (literally) with their early second period snoozeout, it was a game that they fought hard to win and that they deserved to win. Any time I see that from this team it's exciting. Maybe someday it will stop feeling new, too.

If the Calgary game was about grit, then the Edmonton game was about control. Sure, it got a little wonky in the middle, and the MacArthur on Reddox hit was obviously anything but controlled, but the Sabres started out with a firm grip on the play, and ended on a dominant note with a 5-minute penalty kill and successfully holding off the Oiler tie-up attempt. If you can't show up for a full 60 minutes, then those are the minutes you want to make sure you cover, and that's just what the Sabres did. It wasn't a perfect game, but it got the job done with as little drama as possible. That 5-minute PK was a reassuring sign from the Sabres that even when things get a little hairy, they know what they need to do. How many times did we see hairiness scare them in the opposite direction last season?

As I said, I didn't get to see the game in Philly, but I have a hard time imagining that toughness wasn't involved, given that the Flyers added names like Pronger and Emery to their infamy this off-season. Eye-witness reports have told me no differently, and that's a doubly encouraging sign considering that, with the game they played the night before, fatigue must have been a factor.

There are still many questions waiting to be answered about this iteration of the Sabres: Will Vanek get visible again? Will anyone show up when Miller can't? Will Timmy stay healthy? (Who am I kidding, we all know the answer to that already.) But for right now it seems like this team has finally figured out that there's more to the game than scoring goals when you can and hoping for the best when you can't. That, more than anything, gives me hope that they have discarded their old binary of either playing offensively (as in lighting the lamp), or playing offensively (as in I am offended).

And with the Panthers in town tonight, the Sabres find themselves with another prime opportunity to prove they've broken an old habit. Let's see if they've learned how not to play down to their competition.

Let's Go, Buffalo!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Letter of Disgust

Dear Jason Pominville,

You suck. What gives?

I know I've frequently enjoyed picking on you in the past, but honestly that's usually more about picking on my mom for liking you than anything else. Last night, though, I was genuinely appalled by your play. Now, I know what you (and my mom) are going to say: "But I won the game in the shootout!" To which I say: Big deal. That may be true, but the rest of your game sucked the big one. When you weren't passing to the other team or getting pushed off the puck by a stiff breeze, you were tipping the puck wide of an empty net. You know there's only one player on this team who can pull a stunt like that and earn my love for it, and you're not him. You're not quite German enough, and your shooting percentage is about 7 points too high.

You know I'm not just saying this to be mean. You know I want to like you. I have loved liking you in the past. But there's nothing to like about you right now. The only time I noticed you with the puck (during the non-shootout portion of the game) and didn't find something to gripe about, it turned out it was actually Connolly I was looking at and not you. It was hardly a perfect game for anyone, I'll admit, but at least the rest of your teammates graced us with a period of spunk before they slapped us with a period of suck. You were decidedly spunkless throughout. I know you have a new litter at home, and I'm sure that's exhausting and whatever, but you need to pull yourself together.

Luckily for you, your redemption can start as early as tonight, even though I won't be watching. I'll be spending the evening working, and I suggest you do the same.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Doldrums

Man, it's been dull around here lately. Thank goodness for those adorable Globetrotters, or there wouldn't have been anything of substance in this blog for over three weeks. (One might argue that a post about the Amazing Race is hardly relevant to a hockey blog, but hey. If it's relevant substance you're after... you're probably in the wrong place.)

It's not that I haven't been trying, honest, I just haven't felt inspired in the least. Over the past couple of weeks I've tried to write about five different blog posts, but they only ever amounted to about six sentences before they were abandoned. At first I chalked it up to me, once again, not being able to watch the games. For one reason or another (geez, I don't even feel like blogging about excuses anymore--what's come over me?), I was hockeyless until last weekend. The good news is that all the right stars aligned and I finally got to watch two full hockey games. The bad news is that they were those two particular hockey games. Not exactly stellar blogworthy material. I have absolutely nothing to say about the "hockey" the Sabres "played" this weekend. (Nothing a few well-placed quotation marks can't say for me, in any case.)

And don't even get me started on the Adam Mair non-story. As sad as I would have been to see him go, I admit I was a little excited to finally have something worth writing about. But then yesterday noon came and went, and Mair's still where he's always been. Yawn. I'm sure I would have been more upset than most to see him play with another team, but what's the point in getting into all that now that he's not even going to Portland, let alone another NHL franchise? (Ironically, in the fond letter of farewell I had planned, I was going to curse myself for taking Mair for granted too much. But now that nothing's changed I don't see a reason to stop. Sorry, Mairsy. I'm very glad no one else wants you.)

Clearly I'm stuck in the Doldrums, but I don't think I'm the only one. The Sabres seem to be spinning their wheels right there beside me, and if I have any hopes of saving this blog I'm going to need a little help from them. If the only way to find my way out of the Doldrums is to start thinking, I'm going to need them to give me something worth thinking about.

Unfortunately, the Sabres are playing Edmonton tonight, who are pretty much the most doldrummy team I can think of. I can't be bothered to go look up their record, but I'm sure it's nothing good. Plus, they're in the Western Conference, so we can't be expected to care, right? Looks like I'm just going to have to be covered in Lethargians for the rest of my life.