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Immediate reactions: Oilers 3, Sabres 2

blog by Ryan Nagelhout  • 

The two worst teams in hockey played sports on Monday night at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The statistically worse team lost to the slightly better one by the slimmest of margins.

The 18,531 people on hand seemed to enjoy it. The 539 empty seats in the building appeared indifferent to the whole matter. If you want a true recap of the game, there you go. The Buffalo Sabres lost 3-2 to the Edmonton Oilers.

Hockey was played. The contest was decided in regulation. Those interested in finality can move on without remorse.

If you’re looking for something more—and I hope you are—how about this: this was a tremendous hockey game between two tremendously bad hockey teams.

For two periods the worst teams in hockey squared off and netted two goals apiece. The tallies were the result of a mix of bad play and genuine talent. They were similar teams that played a similar style and didn’t muck things up with particularly strong defensive efforts.

It was, insert startled Victorian indecency gasp here, fun to watch. I had a good time watching bad hockey.

This is something I can’t stress enough: just because a team is bad doesn’t mean they can’t be any fun. The Ron Rolston Sabres were all-around bad because no one appeared to try and the team was routinely routed. The games themselves made you want to stop watching hockey altogether.

The Buffalo Sabres now have a coach in Ted Nolan primarily interested in getting a good effort out of his team. That means when Buffalo plays teams with similar skill level, the games are pretty good.

Monday night was a great example of two teams equally matched putting on an entertaining show. Each team basically did its collective thing with little interference from the other squad. It wasn’t ideal, but it was far from terrible. It was sloppy and, at times, a bit comical. There were turnovers and a lot of penalties.

The Star Wars cantina song would have been good background music for the action. Overall, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a Monday night and the crowd seemed into it. There was even a bit of DRAMA in the third period with a no-goal call on a premature whistle.

I overheard a member of the media lament the time they’ll never get back covering this game. I disagree with that outlook on the Sabres. Here’s what I’m working with these days: They’re going to lose some more hockey games. Why not lose them in an entertaining fashion? Isn’t that the best way to pass time these next few months? Especially if you’re going to be stuck here covering games and getting paid like an employed person.

You don’t have to be positive about the team, but you can at least step back and appreciate the aesthetics a bit.

I don’t like thinking about these games within the context of draft position because I think it’s a little too easy to tell fans how to root for their team. Getting the first overall pick would be nice. It’s not a guarantee by any stretch of the imagination. It seems silly to worry too much about it at this point.

Other than “try to have fun,” I’m out of real suggestions for fans, but what I’m trying to say is that there were lots of chances to have fun on Monday night. If you didn’t, well, I’m not sure your expectations are in the right place with this hockey team. Which is fine, but probably a bit unfair.

Buffalo had a season-high 44 shots in the loss. It was far from a “tank” effort, even though this would be a good game to lose in that regard. That the team ended up losing means that every kind of Sabres fan can walk away from this one happy.

It was a good night to be bad for the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. That hasn’t been the case all season, and hopefully someday it won’t HAVE to be the best possible result for the franchise very soon. If that outlook sounds a lot like what Ted Nolan says in his post-game press conferences, than maybe he’s the right guy to be coaching this team right now.

He might not be the right guy moving forward, but he’s getting effort from mostly bad hockey players and converting that into interesting hockey. He’s a high-efficiency hockey engine turning Matt Ellis into small quantities of fun.

It’s a pretty remarkable feat, even if the wins aren’t coming.

Fresh Takes, Always Fresh and Ready For Your Face

— Jhonas Enroth didn’t speak to the media after the loss on Monday. I haven’t personally seen him give comment since his “It’s tough to win with this team” line after a loss to the Panthers on Jan. 9.

He’s definitely looked less confident in net since uttering that quote, and he’s now winless in his last 15 appearances. Not all of those losses are his fault, and he came on in relief in two of those, but he was far from his best tonight. It’s definitely a concern for a team looking to trade a goaltender in a few weeks.

— During the first television timeout on Monday the Sabres honored Andre Reed on his upcoming induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which got a nice ovation from the crowd.

I thought for a moment they had him stashed somewhere in the building, ready to pounce and bring the house down. I know I would have freaked out if Reed rappelled from the ceiling like Sabretooth used to. Alas, he was nowhere to be found. Another opportunity lost.

— There were plenty of Oilers fans in the building on Monday night, enough to start a few Oilers chants throughout the game. I’m not sure if there’s a groundswell of interest with Edmonton because of its young talent, or if these are the same Canadian fans who come to every Sabres game that features a Canadian opponent.

One of these days someone is going to do some digging and unearth a weird sect of people from Southern Ontario who have season tickets for the Sabres and cheer for them UNLESS they play a Canadian team.

Entire subdivisions with closets full of Jets, Habs and Maple Leafs jerseys on one end and a single Ryan Miller jersey on the other. I’d love to put together a 30 for 30 on them. “What would you say if I told you a group of fans love cheap hockey tickets but love their country more?”

— Linus Omark was in the starting lineup against his former team on Monday. He skated on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. The trio had one really great shift in the second period where they dominated Edmonton and generated at least three strong chances on goal.

Omark even covered as a defenseman two separate occasions, breaking up an Oilers rush to start another counter-attack for Buffalo. He played 16:15 on Monday and probably had his best game as a Sabre despite being a minus on the night.

It was encouraging to see him work when put on a line with higher skill. I’d love to see more of that moving forward.

— Tyler Myers left the game with an injury, and I’d guess he misses some time because of it. Whenever Ted Nolan doesn’t know the extend of an injury, assume that player isn’t in the lineup for the next game.

Zenon Konopka’s Rabbit, Hoppy, Gets Scratched
Rabbits enjoy getting scratched. Zenon Konopka, however, probably didn’t have much fun on Monday night.

Let’s Check in with Real Lindbergh Baby Kidnapper John Scott
Scott had a good hit in the first period and had lots of grit. Overwhelming amounts of grit. Scott is lousy with grit. He played 2:55 on Monday and is a very important member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Hot Twitter Takes of the Game

This is a really good point that I have yet to see elsewhere. So now it’s here. The last time Stafford was in a contract year he had 31 goals and 52 points in 62 games for the Sabres. So there’s that.

The disallowed goal was unfortunate, but called correctly. Score one for Mr. Hamilton here. Also, here’s my professional opinion on the matter:

They let me in the press box and everything, you guys.

Hit of the Night
DJ Synth Organ went classic organ-Touch Me, then led into “Let’s Go Buff-a-lo” which was just the right amount of dirty. It was a subtle touch. Classy erotica, mayhaps. Other musical notes include a boundless array of Billy Joel organ songs and New Found Glory’s cover of “Kiss Me” playing during the Kiss Cam.

They make covers of Sixpence None the Richer songs because there aren’t enough horrible atrocities to endure in this world just yet.

Stat-line I liked:

What am I going to do with all this motor oil?

Stat-line I didn’t like:

Score more goals please.

Next Game:
Wednesday (2/5) vs. Pittsburgh (7 p.m.) — One more Crosby/Miller before the Olympic break, one hopes?

(Top photo courtesy of the official Sabres Facebook page.)

Ryan Nagelhout is a freelance writer who blogs at The Goose’s Roost when he’s not writing children’s books.

TAGGED: buffalo sabres, downtown, edmonton oilers, hockey, immediate reactions, ryan nagelhout

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