10-Pack Power Play - Games 1-10
A four-minute read on the good old hockey games...
Listen to the classic song by Stompin' Tom Connors
The Big Picture
In starting the season a machine-like 10-0, the Sabres won from behind, won going away, won in shootouts and, to tie the NHL record on Long Island, went back to an old standby and won the boring road game. Although they needed a tuneup here and there, especially when it came to getting off to better starts and staying out of the penalty box, the Sabres traveled like a burning flame as they scorched some of the league’s best teams. You want interchangeable parts? When Jochen Hecht left the Islanders game with a cut, Lindy Ruff merely tapped a fourth-liner on the back, and 24-year-old Paul Gaustad plugged himself in, looking completely comfortable as he earned an assist on only-slightly-older Jason Pominville’s goal. This baby’s just getting warmed up.
mild | medium | hot | SUICIDAL
Sabretooth can’t speak, of course, but he said it all when, in a moment of sheer delirium after the Sabres came from behind to rout the Rangers, he broke the glass behind the Buffalo bench. This team is a smashing good time.
The bond between the fans and the team, almost unbreakable coming into the season, was cemented even stronger when the players responded to boisterous sellouts in the midst of a devastating storm by giving the people three straight reasons to pack up all their troubles and smile, smile, smile.
Fandemonium has some people hunting the message boards looking for recordings of “We’re gonna win that Cup.”
Chris Drury (10-4-14, +4). Drury set the tone last season when he asked that a photo of the Stanley Cup be hung in the lockerroom. He set the tone this season with his strong talk about winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Then he walked the icy walk, scoring from his office on the power play, scoring shorthanded and scoring at even strength to lead the league in goals with 10, including six where it especially counts — on the road. All the while, the co-captain maintained his commitment to defense, shining on the penalty kill and winning 56% of his faceoffs. His biggest contribution to a team full of guys who don’t pack a shaving bag yet? It might this Drury adaptation of an old sports cliché: “You’re only as good as your next game.”
Bruce MacLeod (0-0-0, -11). The writer for the Oakland Press in Michigan did not name Ryan Miller the first star, or even a star at all, after number 30 Sharpied a little curly cue on the bottom of the zero and did an uncanny impression of Dominik Hasek in his prime as the Sabres beat the Wings. Sorry, I just can’t get over that!
10-Pack Power Play Three Stars
- Chris Drury (10-4-14, +4) Instead of saying everywhere he goes he wins, how about everywhere he goes they win? Coincidence?
- Ryan Miller (8-0, .925 save %, 2.19 GAA, 1 SO) The next Grant Fuhr? The art of the timely save does have him doing a pretty mean impression of the former Oiler great. In three games, Miller made huge saves before 60 seconds were gone, and in three games he came up large with the clock not ticking at all, in a shootout. And of course there were a ton of big stops in between, including one on a penalty shot where he completely flustered the shooter. Miller’s in his special place, leading the league in wins even though he’s eighth in both save percentage and goals-against average. Like Fuhr, numbers don’t tell the story.
- Maxim Afinogenov (6-10-16, +4) Though the NHL’s leading scorer sometimes reverts to his old form with a frustrating rush, the new Max has learned to use his speed to open up ice for his teammates, and he’s finding them, as his 10 assists attest. And when he gets his own chances to score, he’s starting to become a dead-eye. He scored the goal of the season when he excused himself around Kevin Hatcher against Philly. As the minor league baseball sales pitch goes, we’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge when Max grabs the puck and goes bursting up.
Thomas Vanek (6-7-13, +12). Plus-minus rating leads the league. Amazing. Passion has entered his game — witness the hits and the blocked shots and the mouthguards that are chewed down to bits. The ungodly talent was always there, and in the first 10 games it was still on display, in spades.
The Sabres scored six goals in the second period against Philadelphia in Game 6. After slow starts in four of the first five games, the Sabres finally showed up, but the game was still scoreless after one. Thirty-seven seconds into the second period, though, Thomas Vanek cashed his own rebound to bring a rain dance down onto the deserted Robert Esche. The double give-and-go goal by Derek Roy off a Vanek pass showed that the Sabres were only toying with the Flyers, and the 9-1 win became a warning shot across the bow of the East. The rout reverberated when the Flyers graciously accepted Bobby Clarke’s resignation and made Ken Hitchcock walk the plank. That was one huge splash.
In Game 5 against the Rangers, the Sabres found themselves in an early hole for the fourth time in the season. Late in the first, with the Sabres trailing 2-1 after a floating shot by Ales Kotalik dropped into the net, Jaromir Jagr took a dumb penalty, started his crying game and ignited the crowd. Chris Drury buried a rebound to tie the game on the ensuing power play, then just over a minute later, Daniel Briere finished off a pretty passing play to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead. In the second period, the Sabres poured it on, perhaps realizing just how good they can be. “That looked like our team” said Lindy Ruff afterwards. It did indeed.
On the Hot Seat
Daniel Briere (2-11-13, +6). A huge contract led to huge expectations, but Briere was one of the few people disappointed in his play through 10 games. Briere didn’t light the lamp much, but he did score one of the biggest goals of the young season in Game 2 when he fired through center ice against the Canadiens, split the D and beat the goalie to draw the Sabres within a goal late in the third period. The Elfin One in one fell swoop rekindled the magic from a year ago. That was huge. The goal sparked Briere onto a nine-game point-scoring streak, the longest of his career. But the co-captain said after the Islanders game that he’s not all that happy with his play. After throwing out 11 helpers, good for fourth in the league, and scoring at well over a point-per-game pace, Briere must have the rest of the league hoping his mood gets much, much darker.
The Burning Question
Can the neurotic worrywart Lindy Ruff find something he doesn’t like about his team?
Crunching the Numbers
2 - Games it took for Jochen Hecht and Danny Briere to have a J.P. back on right wing
0 - Goals on the Sabres’ first 17 power play chances
13 - On the next 45
7.6 - Times shorthanded on average, first five games
4.2 - Second five games
35 - of 36 times shorthanded on the road, number Buffalo killed
1 - Kill that came after Maxim Afinogenov played the puck while standing on the Buffalo bench, in Detroit
61 - For the briefest moment, Max’s IQ
2 - Weak third period goals to break up Ryan Miller shutout bids
0 - Man games lost to injury so far in 2006-2007
“We want 10!”
—Another HSBC Arena sellout crowd, in the 9-1 win over Philadelphia
In the Buffalo Wings
After the second four-day break of the segment, the Sabres play six games in nine days, including another visit to Raleigh and home and home with Ottawa (with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sandwiched in between the Senators games). Highlight: The Sabres host the Thrashers on Saturday night as Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk meet Chris Drury and Maxim Afinogenov somewhere other than on the league’s stat sheet.
10-Pack Power Play Archive
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