It is with heavy heart that we regret to inform you the PuckBuddys will be going dark for a week or two. Should anyone find themselves in need of a quick dose of fabulousness, we suggest watching this super-cut of Michael Kors being arch and catty on Project Runway.
However, we did have time to eke out one more pregamer with a blogger from the opposing city. This week’s game: the Buffalo Sabres.
If it seems like Buffalo– the city and the team– have been cursed by the Frost Giants lately, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. The city and its eastern suburbs are reeling under more snow in a couple days than they usually get in a year, and let it be known they get an f-ton of snow every year. Worse for Sabres fans, their squad just has been iced out offensively so far this season, with a few notable exceptions, and despite some great forward talent and rebuilding, they’re just not that good this year. Buffalo: Washington understands your pain.
For more insight into the Sad Sabres Fans Being Sad, we spoke with Andrew Boron, managing editor and snow-shoveler extraordinaire at the superb Sabres blog Die By The Blade for the inside track on the team, and how today’s game may shake out.
First, tell me about how and when hockey became a thing for you, and how you fell in with the Sabres.
The Sabres Stanley Cup run in 1999 is what solidified my Sabres fandom. My early teenage years brought the first Buffalo sports success that I could remember, and the Cup Finals taught me what swear words were for.
One thing about Sabres fans, they all seem die-hard fanboys to the end. Is that how its seen up there, and what accounts for such loyalty?
Buffalo sports fans have long been known for their loyalty– just look at the Bills ticket sales despite going on 15 years with no playoffs. We have a great hockey market up here, with consistently high TV ratings (you’re welcome for all those Sabres games on NBCSN this year!) and a strong college and junior hockey following as well. Just like how we take pride in your ability to survive act-of-God snowstorms, we enjoy taking foolish pride in our love for our usually-terrible sports teams.
Down to hockey. No offense (sorry for the pun) but the Sabres appear to be having the sort of NHL season that Washington’s football team is having in the NFL. Namely: suckity suck suck. What’s happening up there?
The plan is working. Two years ago, in the twilight of the Darcy Reiger era, the Sabres made a conscious choice to burn their team to the ground and start over. Their core of Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and the like were good enough to squeak into the playoffs but not good enough to seriously challenge for a Cup. With all of their contracts due up at the same time, it made sense to try and start over by acquiring as many assets as possible in trade. I don’t think anyone expected what we’ve got now, which is a fantastic lack of talent at the forward position, but this is all by design.
Who and what are your bright spots? Your possession seems low, your defense flat. What am I missing, and who are you watching most closely?
Don’t pay attention to anyone on this team old enough to buy a beer, and you’ll begin to see the promise for the future. Zemgus Girgensons, our 20-year old Latvian center, is quickly becoming a two-way locomotive in his second year with a penchant for scoring highlight reel goals. The young defensive combo of Rasmus Riatolianen and Nikita Zadorov consistently leads the team in the important possession numbers, and we’re also focusing on our AHL and junior hockey players like Mikhail Grigorenko, enjoying a career resurgence playing in Rochester.
Buffalo’s been in a big re-build for the last couple years since Lindy Ruff left. What is the team building for – what’s it trying to shape itself into– and how’s that going?
This season, the Sabres are trying to be the worst team in the league, and they’re doing a heck of a job. Once they draft McEichel and begin calling up some of their prospects, the Sabres will transition to a bigger team full of strong skaters with good hockey sense. They still won’t have much top-end talent outside of whoever they draft #1 this year, but they’ll have a ton of promising young second-liners.
PuckBuddys were always fond of Michal Neuvirth. We had some weird goalie drama the last few years, and it seemed like he kept getting edged out. How’s he performing with your squad– it’s been looking good from down here– and what’s the fan reaction?
Neuvirth is playing well, well enough to challenge Jhonas Enroth for the starting gig, and the fans have responded positively. This season is all about figuring out if one of these two young tenders can be “the guy” for Buffalo next year, and Neuvirth has shown a bit better than most fans expected. Let’s hope his recent injury isn’t too serious.
Speaking of goalies, awesome news about Dominic Hašek! I’ve been a fan since his Wings days. I don’t really have a question, but maybe you’d like to wax rhapsodic about some of greats of yesteryear.
We’re all happy for Hasek, who will have his number retired by the Sabres this season. Honestly, I’ve never seen an athlete like Hasek in Buffalo, with his ridiculous contortions and unique personality, and he was a joy to watch. You’ve all seen the highlights, but they really don’t measure up to the impact Hasek had for the Sabres– during that aforementioned 1999 Cup Run and during many other seasons, Hasek was the singular force behind the Sabres success, and they probably wouldn’t have even sniffed the playoffs without him.
Prediction time: how is this game going to shake out?
Regardless of the score, enjoy watching Washington dominate possession– even when the Sabres win, they still get massively outshot – but I think it’s pretty safe to bet on a Caps victory. As we say annually in Buffalo, wait until next year!
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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