This week’s Blue and Gold report comes after only two games but those games brought smiles to many Buffalo Sabres fans. We’re used to seeing the team wait until January to actually start its season anyways so this shouldn’t come as a surprise to many.
The Sabres opened up the season at home on Sunday against the hated Philadelphia Flyers. Now, lemme take a minute here to say something. I love sports. I’m trying to write about them in a way that will get me paid, I watch them more than I should, and invest myself in these teams that usually let me down.
Still, I cringe at those people who get really emotional about a certain rival and often scoff at the crazy things said and done in regards to that rival. I’m not quite on that “Alabama fan murdering Auburn’s trees” or “teabagging another fan in the middle of a crowded bourbon street bar” level but I fully understand the hatred people feel for other teams.
I hate the Flyers. I hate Scott Hartnell and his stupid Kyle Broflovski hair, Kimmo Timonen ever since he speared Nathan Gerbe in the balls last year, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier. Hell, I STILL hate Mike Richards but that probably has more to do with him being an awful person and his turtling when Tyler Myers came looking for him than his past affiliation with the Flyers. So needless to say, heading into the building Sunday, I was pumped to see my team take down the dreaded Flyers.
As was typical with the Sabres the last few years, the team didn’t quite get 60 minutes of effort. Their first and third period efforts were fantastic; tons of chances, they flew to every puck, got a great physical effort from not only Steve Ott (who I love already) but Drew Stafford, who stuck up for Tyler Ennis by fighting Hartnell, Marcus Foligno, and Patrick Kaleta.
They looked totally flat to start the second and really only started to fight back inside the last five minutes of the period but there were two huge differences even during that stretch. Last year, any time someone scored, the team looked deflated. Unless they were already playing with a huge lead, a goal would cripple their momentum and derail the game.
Secondly, this team isn’t going to get pushed around anymore. Yes, they went out and got Ott. He was fantastic; running around and throwing himself into everyone and everything. But Kaleta looked re-energized and you could just feel his presence on the ice, ready to throw a monster hit along the boards. Foligno upped his physical game and even Stafford seemed to remember that he’s 6’2″ 200 and used his size accordingly.
Vanek played his balls off, posting a five point night, the Sabres ran away with it in the third and sent the crowd home happy with a Monday night game at Toronto ahead.
Now, when it comes to the Leafs, no one ever plays in fear of them. They still have goaltending and secondary scoring issues, Phil Kessel can be negated and Joffrey Lupul needs to prove last year wasn’t a fluke.
So it was no surprise that Buffalo controlled the play for nearly the entire game. Chances weren’t as abundant but the Sabres again asserted their edge and even saw newbie John Scott get a scrap in, dropping the gloves with fellow baddie Colton Orr.
The real sign that the Sabres wouldn’t be trifled with came about midway through the second. Kessel unintentionally ran Ryan Miller in front and Kaleta immediately bum rushed Kessel, raining punches down on the back of his head. Sticking up for our goalie was a huge issue last year; it won’t be one this year. Not only that but the Sabres are showing they’re not afraid to muck it up in general.
Miller would stand on his head in the last five minutes to withstand a flurry of near-misses by the Leafs to get the win.
This Sabres team gives me a ton of hope and I know, I know. Hopes were through the roof last year but this isn’t last year’s team. They feel like a deep team now, with a good top six. Pomers/Vanek/CoHo are playing lights out and Ennis/Foligno/Stafford are playing well behind them. The defense isn’t overly physical but they are quick to the puck and they’re clearing out the garbage. Miller has been just about lights out. And as I stated above, there’s a physical presence to the Sabres that hasn’t been there in a looooong time. There’s no punking this team.
Next up for the Sabres: a home and home with Carolina who is TEEEEEEEEERRRIBLE. They’re in the bottom five of just about every relevant category right now. Their defense is terrible, offense non-existent and Cam Ward is pulling a disappearing act David Blaine would be jealous of. It’s a lot to expect Buffalo to start 4-0 but Carolina is playing bad enough that I wouldn’t rule it out.
See you next week, folks, and enjoy the games.
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