Thursday, February 26, 2009

They're Back...

I never thought I'd say this...

Thank God Patrick Lalime is in goal tonight.

No offense to Jhonas Enroth, who I'm sure is a great kid, but we need someone who has at least, at some point, proven that they can handle tending goal in a game as big as this one is for our team. Even though he may not be the ideal goalie for us, Lalime has experience, which Enroth simply can't supply.

This is what I like to see - Lalime by the net with the puck not in it

In other news of the joyous variety, it seems that Thomas Vanek is not only back skating but skating well enough to move his timetable up for his return. What was recently deemed another two weeks has been moved to one.

Next Wednesday. I don't know about you, but I got a little emotional just thinking about seeing that Austrian face (behind his cage) mercilessly screening goalies again. I'll give you a second to wipe your misty eyes.

Still no word on Ryan's ankle, but it should make the situation even a little bit better having Vanek back out there. We counted on him so much at the beginning of the season, and I have faith that he could really help this team just when it needs help the most.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If a Picture's Worth a Thousand Words...

...then this one is worth more than anything I could write about tonight's loss. Just look at the faces in the crowd:Which one were you tonight: grimacing ski cap guy? trying not to watch in her turtleneck girl? that dude in disgust behind the net?

Me? I was the girl in the pink hoodie, physically pulling back from this team in sheer terror.

I normally don't like to engage in blog-prayer, but please, God, let this be the most mild ankle sprain EVER because my hockey-loving, playoff-wanting heart cannot take this for very long.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Denial

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat.

The Sabres did win a hockey game last night, and I am glad that we picked up two points in a ridiculously close playoff race, without allowing the Rangers to get one.

I am glad that no one lost their cool in such a way that cost us those two points or even more players off our roster due to a suspension. In a push to the postseason that will probably be decided by two points or fewer, I know I would have been angry had we lost that game by giving the Rangers a 5-on-3 with a cold Patrick Lalime in net.

I suppose saying those things will earn me some angry comments or eye rolls about drinking Blue and Gold Kool-Aid and sticking up for the softies.

With that in mind, it's time to get another thing straight.

I hate what happened on the ice last night.

I know that doesn't match at all with what I said above, but I really can't explain how I feel about the team's response to Ryan Miller being run by Scott Gomez. I'm glad we won and I agree with Lindy that the playoffs are more important than punching an average center in the face.

That's what the rational, logical part of me says. The emotional, passionate part of me - the "fan" part - that part is singing a different tune.

There have been quite a few games this season that we've lost, and, yet, I haven't been all that mad. That's because I saw heart and effort out there, even in a loss. I'm not saying that those things weren't present on the ice last night, but there was something missing.

If we would have lost, and lost because of someone giving Gomez his just desserts, I think it would have been one of those losses that I put in the "at least they did something" category.

Anyone who reads this blog knows how I like my team to play hockey. Grit and toughness win out over finesse and flash every day in my book. I guess that's why I'm in denial today.

I don't want to believe my boys - my Sabres - are soft.

I don't want to believe that Craig Rivet, the captain of this team, brought in for his toughness, has let his goaltenders get run again and again this season and hasn't forced anyone to be accountable about that.

I don't want to believe that Paul Gaustad could lose his cool so many other times in his career and chose this moment to think with his head and not with his heart. I don't want to believe that he could see one of his best friends unable to stand in his crease and do nothing.

I don't want to believe that Henrik Tallinder saw the whole thing happen right in front of him and let Gomez skate away.

I don't want to believe that Tim Connolly - Tim "one punch from a vegetative state" Connolly was the only Sabre to even look interested in avenging his goalie.

So I guess I'll keep telling myself that Miller got hurt behind the play, and no one knew what had happened until it was too late.

The bad thing is - I can't get that image of Ryan Miller in his dress suit, looking worried and alone, out of my mind. He's been left out to dry too many times this season (and in seasons before), and I feel scared for both his ankle and his psyche.

I can't live in denial anymore, and that hurts almost as bad as a high ankle sprain.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mail Bag

Dear Marshawn Lynch,
I've tried really hard to like you; honestly, you have no idea how hard. Last season, I was willing to forgive the whole "hit-a-random-lady-with-you-car" thing because people don't exactly abide by proper street-crossing etiquette on Chippewa. You play hard and battle for us in every game, which is something I've always admired about you. While it's tough for me to embrace guys who act irresponsibly off the field, I was willing to accept that incident as the accident it was, and you were on the verge of becoming a favorite of mine.

This, though, this I can't excuse. One time, it's an accident. Two offseasons in a row, it's a habit, and it's not what I want in a player that I root for. Faces of franchises should not be getting high in a car where police could pull them over - not to mention faces of franchises should not have loaded guns in their car.

So I guess I just want to say that it's over, Beast Mode. I think we could have had something great together with our player-fan relationship, but you know what I wanted in a favorite player. I'm not shy about it - I like "my guys" to play with heart and to use that heart to help make Buffalo better away from the game, too. "Good players and good people" is an often used tag over here for a reason; there are plenty of role models for you. On your team alone there's Brian Moorman, Poz, and Donte Whitner.

If you want another example of how to act like the Buffalo superstar you could become, look no further than Ryan Miller. There's someone who always represents his team and his city in a positive way. You could have been loved like that here, Marshawn, but I'm not so sure that can happen now.

Sincerely (hoping you won't go to jail),

Dear Paul Gaustad,
I'm so happy to see you back on the ice tonight. As Ryan so perfectly put it, I just like this team better with you in the lineup. You bring the desire and heart that I felt were lacking against Carolina and will be much needed tonight and from now on. You've shown the ability to change a game with your physical play and sheer will to win, and effort like yours can make a huge difference on a team that likes to take some nights off.

Here's to staying healthy for longer than a few weeks! I can't wait to see the havoc that you and a healthy Rivet can cause.

Love always,

Dear Nate Gerbe,
I know you were trying very hard to score for me, as in the absence of Goose I latched on to you as my interim favorite, but I'm glad that you're heading back to Portland for a while. You were painfully pressing against Toronto, and some time in the AHL should remind you that you can score regularly like you so desperately want to. The NHL is a different animal, but I have faith that you can really succeed in Buffalo. Just remember, points will come but not if that's all you measure your play by. You have the ability to be a playmaker, but numbers aren't always the most important thing (example: Goose). In the NHL, you can't let anything take away from your effort, and I was afraid that you were getting too distracted by not scoring goals.

See you soon (I'm sure),

Dear Buffalo Sabres,
Just win. I hate the Flyers. You need the points. It can't get more simple than that.

I'll be watching,

Friday, February 13, 2009

Everything We Needed

Lindy Ruff said it best when he called tonight's win the "fairy tale ending" that we needed.

Sometimes, it is so evident when a team is playing for more than just two points. Tonight, the Sabres were playing for us, for Buffalo. Their faces after Jason Pominville tied the game and their exuberance after Ryan Miller stopped the last shot reflected the catharsis felt by all watching tonight.

Tonight, the Sabres held on to the end; they never gave up, despite the odds towards the end. They were fighting to give us a reason to cheer, a reason to smile, if only for a moment.

Ryan from The Roost sent me a text after the game, saying in two words what I'm sure anyone watching felt: "too perfect." After a day that was too terrible to be real, we needed to see something that was almost to good to be true.

I wish I had more to say, but I'm still getting chills thinking about the roar of the crowd after Pommer tied the game. If that reaction didn't make the case for why this game was necessary, I don't know what could.

Thank you, Sabres.

At a Loss

The last day in Buffalo has seemed like something out of a nightmare - a sky red with fire, sirens wailing through the night, 49 people dead.

The crash of Continental Flight 3407 has left this community reeling, and I feel ridiculous trying to write about a hockey game when so many are mourning.

My uncle would have been on that plane if he had decided to spend an extra day in New Jersey. I thank God that he's home safe with my three little cousins. A co-worker of he and my father was on that flight, and I'm sure all of you reading know someone who was touched personally by this tragedy.

I guess I just never thought that something like this could happen here. When you read about plane crashes, they seem so far-off, but this is anything but remote. One of my best friends used to live in Clarence Center, so I know how small and close that community is. I cannot imagine what it must be like there right now.

In the midst of all this, there is a hockey game tonight. I was surprised to read just how many Sabres players live that close to where the crash occurred. I don't know how they'll manage to put their shock and sadness aside to play tonight. Lindy looked as sad as I've ever seen him, and I feel for the players who had to explain to their young children what was going on only miles (or in some cases, yards) from their homes.

Some may say that tonight's game against the Sharks should have been cancelled or postponed. It's not my place to say what they should have done, but I feel that having them play is a good thing for the community. Buffalo lives through its sports teams, and, in times of tragedy like this, we need that burst of life more than anything.

Our sports teams bring us together as a city, as a common group of people. They give us a chance to forget about the crises in our lives for a little while, and, no matter how menial the distraction may seem, it is necessary in order to function some days.

It's easy to say that sports really don't matter in the face of events like what happened last night. However, I'm not so sure that's true. Sports allow us to pull together for something positive. Sports give us hope. No matter how good the Sharks are or how shaky the Sabres looked on Wednesday, there's always a chance that something good will happen on the ice. It's that hope of happiness that I'm looking forward to right now.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their families. In a community like ours, take comfort in the fact that we will help each other through this because that's what we do.

Let's Go Buffalo.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

For Comparison's Sake

In "The Battle of the Intros," I present the Buffalo Sabres latest entry:

And the old standby from Ottawa:

Cute kids trump ill-fitting helmets every time.

Let's hope it shakes out that way on the ice tonight, too.

Cute kids:

Ill-fitting helmets:

Tonight is a great night for rivalries. I'll be going back and forth between the Sabres/Sens and Duke/UNC. Expect a little something on both match-ups tomorrow, if only because I'll have no homework then.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

It's Been a While

I would like to begin this post by apologizing for being a terrible blogger this week; this semester is going to be more intense than even I could have imagined.

There's not much I can really contribute to the conversation about the Sabres right now. They're playing really well. I know they're playing really well. I hope they never stop playing really well.

In all seriousness, I am so pleased with not only the fact that they're winning games but how they're winning those games. Whether it's a blowout like Wednesday or a tight battle like last night, this team has shown up to play in every situation over the last stretch of games.

I know everyone loves to talk about a season's "turning point," but I have to say that this team has been different since that loss to Washington in December. After Goose, Ryan, and the others stated that they were going to hold each other accountable, I've seen a more determined team on the ice every night. Sure, some nights since then haven't been perfect, but I think we can all agree that the thing that matters most, the effort, has been more palpable ever since.

I keep waiting for this to end, for the lazy, uninspired play to start again. I'm anxiously looking at the schedule for games where they could use travel or fatigue as an excuse (yes, I know I'm a masochist). So far, though, the boys haven't taken the bait, coming to work every night - much to my pleasant surprise.

To make up for my six days without posting, I give you six reasons to be really happy with the Sabres right now:

1.) Tim Connolly - I know that Timmy is the hot subject to talk about right now, but I couldn't write a blog about the recent success of this team and not mention him. That goal last night was a thing of beauty, but it's also a thing of regularity when Timmy's in the lineup. This team plays differently with him on the ice. That is why we cannot trade him at the deadline. He makes our team better, and, with the battle to move up in the standings getting more intense every day, we need the best team we can possibly put on the ice. That team only exists with #19 as our center.

2.) Ryan Miller - Have I mentioned how excited I am that we get to keep him for the next five years?

3.) Pat Kaleta - I'm almost as happy as my father to see his man-crush back on the ice. He plays a role on our team that no one else can fill, and I love that guys on the other team know what he's trying to do and still take penalties against him. He's been pretty strong on the PK lately, too.

4.) The Vanek-Connolly-Stafford Line - It's so nice to have a strong #1 scoring line again.

5.) Defense - Spacho's shot finally hit the net. Rivet is bringing the grit and character to the blueline that we got him for. Paetsch looked good out there as a forward yesterday, playing on the strongest line of the night. I've been so impressed with Nate this season; he does what he's asked without whining, and it was nice to see him rewarded with success yesterday.

6.) Paul Gaustad (kind of...) - So I'm extremely depressed about Goose being hurt...again. Indefinitely is a long time. However, many thanks to Amy from SOTC for alerting me to this interview following the Anaheim loss. Ladies, if this doesn't make you smile as a Sabres fan, nothing will:

I don't know about anyone else, but shirtless interviews with Goose just scream journalistic integrity for me. Just keeping it classy over here at M&G.

Tonight, the Sabres take on everyone's favorite team to hate (and, this year, to laugh at), the Ottawa Senators. I just hope Ruutu isn't hungry again...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Obligatory Super Bowl Preview

Since this is primarily a hockey blog, I figured I should mention how happy I was to see Ryan Miller and our depleted defense shutout Phoenix last night.

Shutouts have a way of making me recognize just how great Ryan really is when he's on his game, but, as all of you know, I admire him even more for how great he is in the community. That is why I was ecstatic to see this article in The Buffalo News this morning. If I have time tomorrow, I'll discuss it even more, but for now I'll just say that sometimes I feel too old to look up to professional athletes anymore, but I truly do admire Ryan Miller as a generous and good human being.

My Unsung Hero of the Game goes to Derek Roy for the amazing play he made on Danny Paille's goal.

Now that hockey talk is over, it's time to discuss what I'm sure is on all of your minds today as sports fans, the Super Bowl.

Some of my earliest memories are of Super Bowl Sundays in my grandparents' basement, getting dressed up in my Bills cheerleader outfit with pom-poms, only to stand there confused and a little afraid as the grown-ups yelled bad words at the TV.

When I was around five or six, I remember not understanding why the Bills weren't in the Big Game that year; I honestly thought that it was just another Sunday game that they would always be in. Boy was I wrong (but that's another rant for another day...).

Big football games always make me think of my grandfather, the biggest Bills fan I knew. He passed away four years ago but not before travelling to see his team play in all of their Super Bowl appearances. My dad loves to tell the story about Super Bowl XXV, when my grandfather thought, for only a few seconds, that Norwood's kick was good. My dad always said that he was jealous because, even if only for a moment, my grandfather knew what it felt like to think that his team won it all.

Super Bowls without the Bills are both nostalgic and depressing for me. Not depressing because I remember, but depressing because I honestly don't know what it feels like to see your team in the Super Bowl - I was too young to appreciate the fact that things like that didn't happen every year, too young to remember the "Glory Years."

Last year's Super Bowl was everything I could have hoped for. All of my family was gathered in my grandmother's house once again with a common rooting interest, to see Tom Brady knocked down all game long. This year, we're divided between Steelers fans and Cardinals supporters, which always makes for a strained watching experience.

As for which of the above groups I fall into; I'm rooting for those perennial powerhouses from Pittsburgh. The Steelers play football the way I love to watch it; hard-hitting, gritty, and in-your-face. I have unending respect for Mike Tomlin as a coach, and I think Troy Polamalu is the most electrifying defensive player out there right now.
I have no real prediction for tonight's game, but I hope it's a good one. And if all else fails, there's a new episode of The Office on after it's done.