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Immediate Reactions: Sabres 2, Devils 1

blog by Ryan Nagelhout  • 

The Buffalo Sabres may not have a general manager, but they are a team that’s made plenty of transactions since Darcy Regier was fired in November. They’ve sent a number of young players to Rochester and waived Corey Tropp, who was promptly picked up by Columbus.

They themselves have also acquired players off the waiver wire, including former Penguin Matt D’Agostini and—most recently—former Wild faceoff specialist Zenon Konopka. They’ve also traded a conditional pick for Linus Omark, who struggled to find a place with the Edmonton Oilers. The roster of the Buffalo Sabres continues to change, but the odd thing about the team is that they are finding a way to win hockey games.

Saturday night’s 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils was a sleepy, uninteresting contest that featured a pointless first period and three power play goals between two teams content to dump and chase the night away. But it was a win, the team’s fifth straight at home, which puts them at 5-3-2 in their last 10 games. That’s points in 7 of 10 games, folks.

It’s tough to argue that the Sabres are even the 29th best team in the National Hockey League. They are still quite bad. They struggle to score goals, and when they do the games are not particularly interesting. But they are winning games. Saturday’s tilt wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but it got the job done. After a painfully deliberate 39 minutes of hockey, Tyler Ennis got inspired and wheeled around the net on the power play to find Matt Moulson unmarked in front. Moulson went short side and the Sabres headed to the third up 1-0.

Tyler Myers decided to jump into Dainius Zubrus’ head in the final frame, and the Devils tied the game on the ensuing man-advantage. But Zubrus took a penalty three minutes later, and D’Agostini crashed the net to win the game. The goal was his first as a Sabre and enough to give Buffalo its first regulation win of the new year.

D’Agostini was named the first star after the game. It’s the only time the forward will be called a “star” anywhere in hockey. He’s a guy who simply went to the net while on a power play line that features someone worth a conditional pick and another guy the old GM decided was worth Derek Roy. This is a team winning with pieces parts because they are far from complete. You could argue that, despite the wins, the Sabres on January 4 are less talented than they were on opening night. These are castaways and cutouts fighting for points in a league where almost every team features more skill and plenty more depth.

What is bringing this team wins is a bit of a mystery. Maybe it’s the coaching. Maybe gritty veterans who can’t find a place on real hockey teams are better for this team than rookies unprepared for the big show. Maybe this is where all those nifty intangibles come into play, which only proves that those of us who sit outside the game will never understand how hockey works. Either way, the numbers don’t lie: the Sabres have tripled their win total since Ron Rolston was fired. It’s a different hockey team we’re seeing these days. What that means, though, is very much up for debate.

Fresh Hot Takes
via a commenter on the Sabres Official Facebook page

— All the “New Jersey” action in this game would have made for the worst Mad Lib ever.

— Ryan Miller got a nice hand from the First Niagara Center crowd when he was announced as a member of Team USA during the first television timeout. I think the Olympics are a big reason he’s been so locked in this season, and I’m really looking forward to the United States exerting its global dominance over a bunch of other nations too insignificant to name next month.

— You know this game was boring because a good part of my Twitter timeline got into a debate about what the most adorable kind of dog is. This happened. I swear. I have no real skin in the game, but how could you go wrong with Doge?

— The end of the Chiefs/Colts playoff game was timed perfectly with the first intermission of Sabres/Devils. It was pretty great. About a dozen media members were crowding around three tiny televisions that carried the NBC feed. Probably the high point of the night from a pure entertainment standpoint.

Zenon Konopka’s Rabbit, Hoppy, Explains His Absence

He came home in a huff. He didn’t even see the carrot cake I had made for him. “We need to talk,” he said. I knew something was wrong.

Waived. I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I used to think it was something friendly, but Zenon said it meant we might have to tighten our belts for a little while. What’s a belt? I tried to hoard my pellets just in case. Bunnies are pretty good with context clues.

—-

“Buffalo?” I asked. “I thought I killed all of those in Red Dead Redemption?” He said nothing as he packed his suitcase. It was clear this was hard for him to discuss. Maybe there are cities named after American Bison? My petition to change Minneapolis to “Bunneapolis” gained little traction in the city council. Perhaps bison are better at lobbying.

—-

Zenon knows I don’t like to fly. He has proofread the emails I’ve sent to Delta customer service in the past. Bunnies were just not meant to stay off the ground for too long. I’m not one to tempt fate. Zenon said the team needed him. He said we needed to make a new home. I would have to meet him there. I twitched my nose in agreement. I think he understood.

—-

He fed me a goodbye carrot on his way out the door. He looked sad but said we would be together again soon. I wanted to tell him how I really felt. How much he means to me. How much he’s done for me over the years. How I would be nothing without him. Without us. I wanted to tell him it would be okay, but I didn’t have the chance. He left before I could say goodbye. Before he could hear me.

He never hears me. Because I can’t talk. Because I’m just a rabbit.

Hot Twitter Takes of the Game

This movie needs to happen. Spike Lee can direct.

But oh, what a pass it was.

Waiver Sabres are the best Sabres.

Hometown Hero Villain of the Night
Stephen Gionta — Gionta is from Rochester. I hear that’s located nearby.
Did You Know? Rochester is currently home to the closest Dinosaur BBQ, but that should change this year. Rochester is slowly becoming obsolete. Just like Kodak!

Hit of the Night
The organ player managed to swing Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” into a Let’s Go Buffalo riff midway through the first period. It was tremendous.

Stat-line I liked:
1
— D’Agostini’s first goal of the season, and first as a Sabre. Good for him to finally get on the board. But what about his pets?

Stat-line I didn’t like:
0:46
— Length of Myers’ penalty. He should know better to leave the ice on a hit like that. It also put this game very much in doubt.

Next Game:
Tuesday (1/7) vs. Carolina (7 p.m.) — Gerbe/Sekera Comin’!

(Top photo courtesy of Bill Wippert at 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, immediate reactions, ryan nagelhout

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