That’s right, the Buffalo Sabres finally played a real stinkbomb of a game. Luckily for them, Ryan Miller was in tip-top form and beyond. He really played out of his mind.
Of course, into each life a little rain must fall. One unlucky bounce followed up by the ever opportunistic Daniel Alfredsson putting it away and right there you had enough goals to determine an outcome in Game Three.
I mentioned yesterday that this absolutely was a gut-check game for the Sabres and given how everyone not named Ryan Miller played…well, it allows us to think of more than a few negative words and phrases to describe what it was the Sabres were doing out there.
All that aside, tip your caps to the Senators who stymied Buffalo all night long. The Sabres couldn’t get shots away nevermind on the net. Which leads me to some things I’ve been reading around the web forums. Call it sour grapes if you’d like, but there was grumbling coming from the ten or so New Jersey Devils fans saying that the Senators play the same way the Devils do but yet the poor wittle Devils take all the heat for it.
Not so fast there Aqua Net Brigade – let’s take a timeout here.
First of all, while it’s true the Devils weren’t the first team to employ non-hockey playing tactics in order to win hockey games (the Canadiens of the 1970s were) there’s a fundamental difference in how the Devils have and still do play hockey compared to how those Canadiens teams played it and how a team like the Senators plays it.
The Devils are, unfortunately for those of us with the distinguishing hockey eye, a well-oiled machine full of suck. They throw up the Berlin Wall across their own blueline when retreating back on defense. Their two forecheckers hang tight to the center red line, sometimes dropping one of those men back to make the wall across the blue line even more formidable. In my mind and in the mind of a lot of people who grew up watching the same hockey I did in the 1980s find this to be almost embarassing. After all, if professional hockey players can’t condition themselves to keep up with the guys they’re playing against…why does that make it OK now to have defensemen essentially be offensively retarded just so they can eat up space defensively, skate backwards and drag their stick across potential passing-lanes.
This style of defensive play was taught by Jacques Lemaire (now coaching and boring folks in Minnesota with the Wild) a former standout with the Montreal Canadiens during their dynastic days of the 1970s. Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello seeing that Lemaire had a school of thought that met his approval and the approval of the bottom line of the company became the most ardent follower of Lemaire’s instructions.
All of the many coaches Lamoriello has hired, fired and re-hired again have all been made to follow the rule book: Play the dry, trapping, don’t bother to play offense style….or else I’ll fire you after you’ve gotten the team a playoff spot and I’ll take over and either hog the glory you’ve earned or drive the bandwagon into the river. Larry Robinson, hall of fame defenseman, is in particular Lou Lamoriello’s version of Billy Martin, which is sad in and of itself since Larry Robinson isn’t anywhere near as fiery a personality as Martin was otherwise I have the feeling Robinson would’ve done us all a favor a while ago and socked it to Lamoriello.
But I digress.
The point of this ramble here is that while yes, the Senators are playing some hybrid variation of the kind of “hockey” that generally drives me insane and makes me wish the Plague upon whoever decided to do that – they’re doing it differently. The Sens don’t spend the entirety of the game skating backwards and just waiting for teams to skate right up to them and dump it in the zone over their heads ending any and all ability to skate forward and generate offense. The key to beating a trap is to attack it and hit it in the mouth and make guys snap out of it. Buffalo hasn’t even come close to showing the fire needed to do this – all the while Ottawa still sends guys to attack once they’ve got the puck rather than dumping and chasing after it as well, something that turns hockey into the worst game of Pong ever created. Imagine if you played Pong and no one scored and the ball just bounced all over the screen with no way to make a result happen.
There, that’s what you get with the Devils/Wild/Ducks variation of “hockey” these days. Everyone had wrongly assumed that the trap as we knew it in the Dark Ages would be a distant, horrible memory – meanwhile rational thinking folks pulled examples out of the European Leagues about how teams would figure out a way to make it work and continue to employ it and well, what do you know….teams did just that same thing here. Rather than accent on speed and skill they continue to accent on slowing things down, interfering with guys chasing on the dump-ins and setting picks that the referees have suddenly started letting go once again now that we’ve reached the playoffs. BAD PRECEDENT!