Roost reacts: Sabres’ story of second chances

Immediate Reactions: Bills 37, Jets 14


Immediate reactions: Sabres 3, Maple Leafs 1

blog by Ryan Nagelhout  • 

“I grew up with a lot of our First Nation teachings, and the one thing we learned to really focus on is now. ... Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? It’s not here yet, so I’m not going to focus on how long I’m going to be here. I’m going to focus on today.” — Sabres head coach Ted Nolan, Nov. 14.

With the flag of the Iroquois Confederacy hanging over Section 313, the Buffalo Sabres put one skate toward the future on Friday night. With a focus on the past and a surprising bit of optimism about the future, the team won in the present, a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in front of a bipartisan sellout crowd of 19,070 at First Niagara Center.

Before the team focused on now, they took plenty of time to think about the past, which made for a feel-good night at First Niagara Center. Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan each got their montages and cheers during the first two television timeouts.

They played highlights of Nolan winning the Jack Adams at the NHL Awards Show in 1997. LaFontaine scored the last goal in the Aud again to big cheers.

It was warm and fuzzy atmosphere despite the chants of “Go Leafs Go” that resonated from the visitors in blue and white. A second-period goal from Trevor Smith went off Christian Ehrhoff to give the visitors a 1-0 lead, but Steve Ott tapped in a rebound on the power play to tie the game just over three minutes later.

Then came the real noise. Marcus Foligno took a tripping penalty, then raced out of the penalty box and down the ice to take an Ott pass in front to give the Sabres the lead. Buffalo had a rare lead after two, and they survived a third period that featured two more Toronto power plays and a few more big saves from Ryan Miller.

The future of the Buffalo Sabres is still unwritten. There is a general manager to hire and players to draft. Rookies need developing, and there is that whole Ryan Miller thing this team needs to figure out. What was nice about Friday night’s game was that the present, the “now” of Sabres hockey, was suddenly much more enjoyable. It finally felt possible to like what was happening on the ice in the present, even if the team was squarely focused on the future.

Ehrhoff made amends for the first goal by protecting an empty net from a James van Riemsdyk shot with less than a minute to play. Seconds later the puck is in Toronto’s empty net, and Ehrhoff has his first goal of the season. In a crazy finish it was the Leafs fans who sat in silence. Buffalo has two straight wins at home, and it received a rousing ovation from the Sabres faithful.

I think a rebuild can look like this if a team has a head coach focused on the present. They still probably won’t win many games, but that’s not all that matters this season. It was just 60 minutes of hockey, but it felt like a necessary cleanse at First Niagara Center on Friday night. Walking out of the building, Sabres fans weren’t talking about the draft or what general manager the team should hire. They were talking about now, or at least the “now” that just happened. They witnessed a game that felt like it mattered, and I’ll take that over a hazy peer into the crystal ball any day.

There’s a lot of hockey left to be played this season. Call me crazy, but I might be starting to look forward to it.

Fresh Hot Takes

— I think it’s important to note for the record that I’m not the only person who thinks this whole thing is a bit wacky. I think it’s great that Western New York is at least kind of excited about Sabres hockey again. That’s a good thing for sure.

The reasoning and execution of the moves, though, leaves a lot to be desired. I personally think it’s very troubling, and I’m not alone. This is the one buzzkill graph you’ll find in this post. I swear.

— Pretty cool intro for the game, which included lots of clips from Wednesday’s press conference and highlights from LaFontaine’s playing career. The footage of him scoring the last goal at the Aud will never not be cool, and Ted Nolan got a good cheer when he started talking in the video.

As cynical as I am, it’s really great to see people actually excited about something Sabres-related. Call it temporary progress if you must.

— There was a moment in the first period where Tyler Myers leaned on a Leafs player who had the puck in the Sabres zone. The Leaf fell, lost the puck, and Myers started the breakout. Leafs fans booed. If that’s not the ideal Tyler Myers, I don’t know what else Sabres fans are expecting. I’d love to see a lot more of that out of the big guy.

— This was definitely the Leafiest Sabres/Leafs crowd I’ve seen at First Niagara Center, but that’s to be expected given the Sabres’ sub-par secondary market for tickets and the strong start for Toronto. It could also be all of Torontonians fleeing the city in fear before Rob Ford plows through a half-dozen Happy Hour drinks and swings his car keys around with a purpose.

— The Sabres updated the “Student Surge” banner in the arena so you can now actually see both the Canisius and Sabres logos on it. I hope they used some of my loan payments on that bad boy because otherwise I have no idea where it’s going I’m so broke oh god someone help me.

Hot Twitter Takes of the Game

Ryan Miller’s Mumford and Mustache is clearly the best Movember stache on the team, but Brian Duff’s is a developing masterpiece that will conquer all worlds and lead us to glory. Miller could probably rob a train while twisting his milk-saver, but Duffer’s dandy could win the space race all over again.

This drew an ugly laugh from me up in the press box. I regret nothing.

Hit of the Night
None — There were some good hits here and there (I think Foligno got the in-house honors), but what I was looking for here was the one that started the obligatory scrap to complete the Sabres/Leafs narrative established in preseason. It never came. I guess there’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true here on the Island of Misfit Brawlers.

Scratch of the Game
Nikita Zadorov — Grigorenko would be the easy pick here, but I like watching Zadorov play because he tries to hit anything that moves in another team’s jersey. I think he has really good hockey instincts and look forward to watching him develop… into a world-class press box hot dog eater. OMG FIRE NOLAN OMG!

Hometown Hero Villain of the Night
Dave Bolland — Bolland is from Mimico, which is just outside of Toronto. I guess that means he plays for his hometown team. David Clarkson is also from Toronto. This feature just makes me assume every team in the league has someone from Toronto. Which means…
Did you know? Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America and is STILL the largest run by a known crackhead. I just left this in from last week’s post. There’s no need to come up with another joke. I mean, why bother?

Stat-line I liked:
— That’s the first period shot margin, IN FAVOR OF THE SABRES. It was remarkable to watch.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
— Aside from a shot on goal, that’s Ville Leino’s stat line. He looked much better than zeros across. It was encouraging.

Next Game:
Saturday (11/16) at Toronto (7 p.m.) — Good. I’m ready to keep having fun.

(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, hockey, immediate reactions, ryan nagelhout, ted nolan

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