Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Deja vu all over again?

Published by, 2-6-2017

One full season removed from the 2004-05 lockout, the Buffalo Sabres were the toast of the National Hockey League boasting an extremely fast and highly skilled hockey team that eventually went on to win the President's Trophy for most points in the league. They were known as the "Ferrari Sabres" or "the team built for the 'New NHL.'"

All of us fans remember fondly watching Buffalo light the lamp on a nightly basis and with the way that team could skate and score, no lead was safe. It was a "New NHL" where skaters were allowed to skate and pylons who once survived by clutching, gabbing and intimidating their way to a long career were relegated to the scrap heap.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a deep run in the playoffs for Buffalo.

Mid-season then coach Lindy Ruff started complaining that clutching and grabbing had been creeping back into the game. It was like putting a governor on his team. Speed kills and it happened to be on the Sabres side. For two rounds in the playoffs they overcame a much tighter game but they eventually fell to a much bigger and stronger Ottawa Senators team that was able to manhandle them.

I remember Chris Drury after the final game of their 4-1 series loss with blood on his face from blocking a shot in the crease. He was ticked at his team mates response to a tighter, tougher series as they couldn't do much in the face of a different style of play that they'd grown accustomed to. Ottawa advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals and were in-turn manhandled by the Anaheim Ducks who used old-school intimidation, mainly from Chris Pronger who got away with a lot in the Finals.

Point being, the league changed in mid-stream that season and Buffalo had no chance with a team built the way it was.

I bring this up because of last night's game against the New Jersey Devils. Fact is the Sabres lost the game because they couldn't muster up an attack and the Devils scored two powerplay goals against the league's second-worst penalty kill. Buffalo may have survived had the second goal been rightly disallowed. A New Jersey stick nicked goalie Robin Lehner's glove as he was about to snare a shot and regardless of what the goalie said afterwards, any contact will throw mess up the timing in a glove-save like that and should be considered interference. The goal, which was a result of Lehner not being able to cleanly glove that shot, should have been disallowed.

But even that's not the point as the Sabres have not had the benefit of calls going their way lately.

Last night the New Jersey throttled Buffalo's speed heading into the Devils zone and effectively eliminated the Sabres' forecheck. For a better explanation, here's what WGR550's Paul Hamilton wrote:

"One of the reasons Monday’s game against the Devils was so boring is when a defenseman would go back for the puck, the Sabres forechecker would get picked by his partner. That is clear interference." However, it was not called by the officials.

Hamilton went on to say that he did not like head coach Dan Bylsma's response in the matter. "I don’t like what I heard today from Dan Bylsma on how to make the game even tighter."

He quotes Bylsma as saying, "I’m more of an advocate of allowing some interference on the forecheck, to detour the speed. I think the rules that we have are good ones when it comes to that.

“If you dump a puck in, the guy that’s within distance of you can hold you up or stay in his space and impede you. If I dump it in, then no one can hold up me, so personally I’m actually a guy that thinks we should hold up a little more.”

First off, it's a really puzzling response by Bylsma as his team does have speed and likes to get in on the forecheck. But secondly, it smacks of what occurred back in 2007 when clutching and grabbing slowly made it's way back into the league.

It makes me wonder how much longer the leagues new-found speed-game will last.

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