mild | medium | HOT | suicidal
It was great to see the return of hockey in Buffalo, especially after two horrible weeks of Bills football! Tonight's scrimmage featured a lot of strong play from a few "on-the-cusp" players while certain veterans had rough patches that will hopefully get ironed out in time for the start of regular season. Tonight was clearly an opportunity to evaluate the young guys who aren't guaranteed to be spending October in Buffalo. We all know that the likes of Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly will be doing their things come October 5th, but what really mattered tonight was how the likes of Marek Zagrapan and Philip Gogulla performed.
Mark Mancari (Blue Team): The 6-foot-4 winger was all over the ice. He made many key plays tonight by either keeping the puck in the offensive zone or back-checking aggressively enough to come away with the puck in the defensive zone. Of all the players in camp that could surprise come cut-down day, Mancari may have been the best tonight.
Jason Pominville (Gold Team): The man couldn't find the back of the net if it was labeled in big, bold letters on a light-up sign. Pominville had three separate penalty shot attempts – with two on starting goaltender Ryan Miller – and he couldn't bury any of them. It wasn't his night, apparently.
Jaroslav Spacek (Gold Team): Hold up. Before you dismiss me, it should be noted that Spacek took a nasty spill into the boards in the second period and was assisted off the ice by the training staff without putting weight on his left foot. But the man returned to the ice at the end of the period, and proceeded to score a goal on a penalty shot opportunity of his own. It was a pretty deke, too.
Adam Dennis (Gold Team): This kid is supposed to be good. Tonight he gave up more than a few goals that probably should have been stopped. The final score stood at 10-4 in favor of the Blue Team, but Dennis surrendered the final six goals. Going against the offensively stacked blue squad didn't help much, but hey, someone has to be the slug to start the season.
PPP Three Stars
1. Mark Mancari (Blue Team): Two goals, strong forecheck.
2. Dylan Hunter (Gold Team): Two goals for gold squad, only player to score on Miller.
3. Philip Gogulla (Blue Team): Two goals in limited playing time.
The Fourth Star
4. Mike Ryan (Blue Team): Impressive play from the expected fourth-liner.
It's a scrimmage, so how does one define a moment? Well, it has all ready been mentioned, but the defining moment for tonight's "game" came when Jaroslav Spacek returned to the ice after an awkward crash into the boards saw him hobble off the ice. Knowing he was O.K. defined relief, especially knowing that Teppo Numminen is out long-term.
The turning point came with less than seven minutes remaining in the first period. After being tripped up, Drew Stafford (Blue Team) receives a penalty shot and buries it with a nifty move that put newly acquired Jocelyn Thibault on his bum. Before the goal, both goalies were battling it out in a strong duel. After Stafford's marker, the blue squad's offensive dominance reigned supreme, scoring three more times on Thibault and six total on Dennis.
On the Hot Seat
Daniel Paille (Gold Team): He's my favorite Sabre but he needs to be more responsible with the puck in the defensive zone. There were more than a couple instances where Paille either blindly threw the puck into the center of the ice or just lost control in dangerous areas. For a guy who is supposed to be defensively sound, Paille needs to recognize this flaw and correct it. He cannot lose a roster position this year.
The Burning Question
What are the lines going to look like this year? I ask this, because all the hype the Buffalo News gave this morning to the Pominville-Connolly-Kotalik (Gold Team) line seems to be misplaced. They struggled mightily and failed to show any chemistry, rather surprising for a line that features the uber-talented Connolly. Failed opportunities piled up and left this observer hoping something changes for these guys before the games start to count in October.
Crunching the Numbers
14 – goals scored in the scrimmage
2 – times Vanek (Blue Team) was seen back checking with wonderful success. He looked good.
2 – players on the ice during first intermission before the Zamboni could even get off the ice. Connolly and Peters were itching to play, I guess.
2 – goals scored by Dylan Hunter, half of his team's total.
1 – Campbell (Blue Team) spin-o-ramas. And it even directly set up a goal by Gogulla.
1 – Missing Russian speedster. Maxim Afinogenov sat out the proceedings despite being on the lineup sheet made available on Sabres.com before the scrimmage.
No quotes tonight, sorry. What? It was only a scrimmage…
In the Buffalo Wings
Friday night, the games begin. Columbus ventures slightly east to HSBC for the first Sabres preseason game of 2007. Let the fun begin.