Friday, March 13, 2009

Ode to a Sabres Penalty Kill

A good penalty kill can make a bad game better and a good game great. That's certainly what happened last night during the 5-3 the Sabres had to survive in the third period against Florida.

I love the feeling of anticipation when a player lines up to clear the puck out of the zone and the roar of the crowd when the puck goes over the blueline.

I love the sight of guys sacrificing their bodies to block shots, leading by desperate example the way Jaro Spacek did last night.

I love looking at the opposing team's goalie as he bangs his stick on the ice to signal the dying moments of their powerplay.

I love the feeling of total relief that comes when the penalty clock hits zero and the puck is calmly in the hands of a Buffalo Sabre.

I guess my experience watching a penalty being killed is a microcosm of my experience watching an entire game. It has moments of total fear when a point shot gets near a screened Patty or Ryan; anger when we have a chance to clear and can't do it; and joy when that puck reaches the other end of the ice.

It should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of the PK unit. It doesn't score many goals, it's not "pretty" or "cute," and it's all about effort. Muckers and grinders can thrive on the PK, giving up their body but proving their toughness and heart.

Penalty killing is a great way to see who wants it more, to see which team has the desire to take them past the other. Last night, the Sabres killed off a lengthy two-man advantage for Florida that could have changed the game and - not to get overly dramatic - the whole season.

The Sabres won that battle and, eventually, the game. They'll need to play with that same "killer" intensity if they are to continue the push for the playoffs.

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