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Tasca's Take

The Gauntlet

After a lengthy bout with laryngitis (not ideal for a radio broadcaster), I’m looking forward to the holidays.  Something tells me the Buffalo Sabre players are, as well.

I can’t remember the last time a hockey team was lambasted like the Sabres have been over the past 11 days.  That’s probably because I can’t remember the last time a team’s star goaltender got run over by a charging forward, only to have the goalie’s teammates stand by idly, watching the guilty player escorted away from the fray with a smile on his face. 

Granted, Ryan Miller isn’t having a stand out season, but he’s still one of the elite netminders in the game.  He’s a consummate professional, and in many ways, he’s the face of the Buffalo franchise.  And even though Jhonas Enroth is a more than capable replacement, the fact that Milan Lucic was allowed to steamroll a Vezina Trophy winner with no consequence is a disturbing development.

Watching a star player go down elicits a unique reaction from players, coaches, management, and fans.  Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier were very outspoken after the incident, with Regier actually calling out his players for not responding to the hit on Miller.  Guys like Paul Gaustad took full responsibility for their cowardice, while the fan base has been nailing Buffalo players to the cross ever since.  Even the team’s beat writers have been ripping them to shreds.

Call me crazy, but I firmly believe that if Lucic had plastered Andrej Sekera, I don’t think you would’ve seen the same post-game reaction.  Sure, fans would be upset, but Sekera isn’t exactly a vital cog in the Buffalo machine.  Miller, conversely, is seen as the centerpiece of an upcoming Stanley Cup run.  Watching that centerpiece fall off the mantle and crash to the ground is enough to cause a slew of heart palpitations across upstate New York. 

The vitriol coming out of Buffalo since the Miller hit has been stunning, and it’s put the Sabres in a position where they have no choice but to display their mettle during tonight’s rematch with the Bruins.  Buffalo is supposed to be a championship contender, but the team’s lack of solidarity is certainly a cause for concern.  Even Lucic taunted the Sabres after the game, saying Boston would have taken care of business had Thomas been the victim of a questionable hit. 

The problem is, there’s not much the Sabres can do to atone for their failure to answer the bell earlier this month.  They don’t have the ammunition required to stand up to a physical Bruins team.  Paul Gaustad wouldn’t last long in a bout with Lucic, and outside of Patrick Kaleta and Robyn Regehr, there isn’t another player in the Buffalo lineup that plays with an edge.  Put simply, the Sabres are a soft team.

Inevitably, I think that’s the primary reason why Sabre fans are up in arms over the Miller hit.  Buffalo was supposed to challenge the Bruins this season, but there’s no way a team that doesn’t stick together on the ice is going to dethrone the defending champs.  Milan Lucic exposed the team’s major weakness, and consequently, we now know who would win a playoff series between the two clubs. 

Some people will argue the Sabres don’t deserve to be torn apart, and to a degree, I can understand that perspective.  Frontier justice is frowned upon these days, so in that regard, the Sabres’ hands were tied.  Had somebody delivered a solid two-hander to Lucic’s ankle late in the game, the perpetrator would’ve likely been handed a 20-game suspension.  Players aren’t allowed to police themselves, so Buffalo’s tepid response to the Miller hit isn’t surprising.

It’s also worth noting that no matter what the Sabre players do tonight, it’s not going to stop Lucic from playing his brash style of hockey.  He knows he can “accidentally” take a run at a goaltender and face nothing more than a two minute penalty (and perhaps a shove from Andrej Sekera).  The league has officially set that precedent, and any Buffalo player who crosses the line to exact revenge is going to be punished severely. 

Sadly, the only thing the Sabres can do to save face at this point is play tit for tat.  They can crowd Thomas, slew-foot him, jump on top of him during a goal-mouth scramble, or all of the above.  It may not prove particularly effective, especially if it results in a suspension, but in the end, what choices do they have?  Gaustad squaring off with Lucic accomplishes nothing.  For one, it’s too little, too late.  Secondly, a bloodied Gaustad would only fire up a Boston team that already looks at the Sabres as pansies. 

There was once a time when a player charging the goaltender, even if accidentally, would’ve incited a riot.  It’s long been considered a cardinal sin, and the Sabres’ refusal to immediately come to the aid of Ryan Miller is a poor commentary on their hockey team.  The stinging indictments that have followed are well-deserved (albeit entirely hypocritical on the media side). 

Buffalo failed its most important test of the season last Saturday, and it wasn’t on the scoreboard.  By not standing up for its star netminder, the team showed it’s easily intimidated.  When the gauntlet of challenge was thrown down at the Sabres’ feet, they wilted.  It speaks volumes about the lack of character on the club. 

For all the money Terry Pegula dished out this summer, he overlooked one important factor: heart.  More so than anything else, that missing ingredient, as it has in past years, will cost the Sabres a Stanley Cup.   

Filed in: | Tasca's Take | Permalink
  Tags: boston+bruins, buffalo+sabres, milan+lucic, ryan+miller

Comments

Avatar

Honestly, as a Sabres fan. i think in the “new NHL” with the onus on preventing concussions etc. Brendan Shanahan is at fault here. Not the Sabres. To me, the Sabres reaction was the only correct one. Do not take justice in your own hands, let the appropriate functionaries handle it.

They didn’t and in not doing so failed Miller, the Sabres, every other goalie and the NHL business. It is once again clear that ther’s been a lot of hot air blown about player safety, but at the end of the day, it’s just a farce.

I believe the sabres should nail every player from every single team that even thinks about getting within 4 feet from their goalie for the rest of the season.

That would be a statement.

Posted by malamut on 11/23/11 at 12:32 PM ET

bezukov's avatar

Thanks for the write up Joe.  I expect tonights game to be a good one.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 11/23/11 at 12:41 PM ET

@DaveDavisHockey's avatar

You’re questioning Pegula for not acquiring players with heart.  He had that in mind when signing Regehr.  25-year old Mark Messier wasn’t available.  Who did you have in mind?

Posted by @DaveDavisHockey from Buffalo, NY on 11/23/11 at 12:56 PM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.