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Immediate reactions: Penguins 3, Sabres 0

blog by Ryan Nagelhout  • 

Drew Stafford didn’t play for the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

Without Stafford, the Pittsburgh Penguins shut Buffalo out, 3-0, at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

On national television and with some of the best hockey players in the world wearing black and gold, it’s easy to say the result was predetermined.

Pittsburgh was the better team and it showed. They scored goals when Ryan Miller was down and out of the play, taking advantage of a Jamie McBain turnover on the first goal and a shaky play on the back end by Henrik Tallinder on the second.

Miller was on the bench when Tanner Glass roofed the third goal into the empty net to seal the game. By then, it felt like it was never in doubt.

The Sabres weren’t meant to win on Monday night, but assumptions are dangerous in sports. When we think we know something, it can become hard to focus on what’s actually happening on the playing surface.

The easy example is Saturday night’s game in Columbus, which saw a superior hockey team skate circles around the Sabres and lose by four goals because their goaltender decided his glove was no longer an effective method of stopping the puck.

An astounding -60 Corsi rating be damned, Buffalo got two points and snapped the Blue Jackets’ 8-game win streak. I hope you didn’t bet the farm on Buffalo to lose.

In sports it is certainly possible to assume you know too much. Stafford is just one example of a player that drags around plenty of assumptions.

Sabres fans know his past and his contract, and that means they don’t have to watch him play in real time to have opinions on what he can do.

Stafford is confirmation bias on skates at this point, but he wasn’t out there for Buffalo on Monday night. Hearing media and fans describing Stafford’s absence as a significant loss for the team, and it was, can be an overwhelming amount of dissonance to take.

I mean, why can’t everything just stay within our preconceived notions of sport? It would be so much easier to not pay attention and fall back on already established themes, right?

But this is where you can assume too much. Stafford has played 46 games for the Sabres this season, netting seven goals and 11 assists.

The numbers are almost identical to his lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. He is remarkably close in goals, assists, penalty minutes and even things like hits, blocked shots and faceoff percentage.

Assuming we’re watching the same Drew Stafford, though, is downright silly. He was clearly a lost cause under Lindy Ruff and iPad Wrangler Ron Rolston, but he’s one of the many Sabres to see a significant boost in play under Ted Nolan.

He’s been good enough to miss recently, which is a bit too much dissonance to handle for someone not paying enough attention to him on the ice. He’s supposed to just be bad, remember?

Drew Stafford still might not be the real future of the Buffalo Sabres. It’s safe to say most fans desperately hope he is not. Along with guys like Ville Leino and every waiver wire pickup currently playing on the fourth line, Stafford probably won’t be the player that leads this team to glory.

But much like longtime Sabres such as Tyler Myers, the story is starting to change with Drew Stafford. A lot of players on this team are starting to become something else.

I think at this point in the year—with goals of rebuilding and evaluation clearly established—it’s a good idea to stop thinking about what you’ve already “learned” about this team and try to see what’s actually happening. The answer on Monday, of course, was “not much.”

Welp.

Fresh Hot Takes

— Where things are happening with the Sabres is with Zemgus Girgensons. If you want to think about this team, go read Kevin Oklobzija’s feature on Girgensons.

It veers toward cliché and gritty at times, but it also gets you excited about what’s to come for this team.

Watching Girgensons every shift can do that, too. Listening to the crowd boo when Girgensons crushes a Penguin in the slot to prevent a scoring chance on Ryan Miller in the first period was enough for me.

He could be just what the Sabres need for the next decade. I’m really looking forward to finding out one way or the other.

— The Penguins are a good team with lots of nationally known players on the roster. Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player on the planet right now, is one of those players I’d call “good” and “on the Pittsburgh Penguins.”

So, they’re probably going to talk about that guy. I’ve never really understood why people don’t like Sidney Crosby beyond the fact that he doesn’t play hockey for the team they root for.

Maybe I’m crazy, but that’s not a good enough reason for me to think he’s not worthy of discussion.

Crosby’s line started the third period and did all but score on the Sabres to put the game away. It looked like Tyler Myers and company were given silly string and champagne poppers to play hockey with instead of sticks. It was impressive.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to acknowledge that there are good hockey players on other teams.

When you consider that the Sabres are still the worst team in hockey, it’s kind of inevitable that the other 29 teams have some talented dudes on their rosters.

This is totally okay.

— Brian Flynn set up Buffalo’s best chance to score on Monday night. So, yeah, not a lot happening. Maybe you should just shut your brain off and rag on Drew Stafford. What do I know about anything, anyway?

Zenon Konopka’s Rabbit, Hoppy, Shows His Biases
Zenon left me at the Adam’s Mark (Sarajevo Highway View Penthouse Suite. No expenses spared) to go on a road trip to Ohio and Pennsylvania these last few days. The weather here hasn’t been the best, but I’m glad I got to hang out here while he tours two of the worst states in the Union. The best part about going to Ohio is that I get to poop on it.

I hear the Penguins have a turtle that plays center. My kind does not look too fondly on turtles for obvious reasons. I bet he’s soft.

Also Kendrick Lamar was robbed at the Grammys on Sunday. That white guy with the hair can go jump in a lake.

Let’s Check in with Genocide Apologist John Scott
Scott, who threw the last of the dodos into the Sarlacc pit and into extinction, was scratched on Monday night. I wasn’t in the Penguins press box, but I’m pretty sure no one died up there.

Hot Twitter Takes of the Game

Myers broke his stick on the power play which led to a 1-on-.5 break for the Penguins, but Leino got back just in time to lift the stick of Kunitz as he was trying to get a shot on Miller.

It was a really nice play, but this goes right back to what I said about Leino on Thursday. It’s just not going to be enough. He’s ruined.

Compete level just wasn’t strong enough tonight. Also, lacking proper levels: talent.

This was, by far, the most disturbing commercial aired during the game. It’s not “ear wax vacuum on NHL Network” bad, but the implied visuals are just as awful.

Hit of the Night
Nah.

Stat-line I liked:

Stat-line I didn’t like:

Next Game:
Tuesday (1/28) vs. Washington (7 p.m.) — Hey! That’s probably today!

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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

TAGGED: buffalo sabres, hockey, immediate reactions, pittsburgh penguins, ryan nagelhout

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