Where have all the tough guys gone?

Well, that was a shitty weekend for Buffalo sports fans.

Both the Sabres and Bills were utterly embarrassed by their opponents on Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively. The Sabres got burned by the Bruins for 6 goals and lost their #1 goalie to a concussion, and the Bills got trounced by the Cowboys, 44-7, leaving fans wondering whether or not they’re actually going places this season. Fortunately, I was at a wedding yesterday afternoon and didn’t watch any of the Bills game, so this post will mainly be about the Sabres defeat in Beantown on Saturday. Yay…

Where to begin?

There seems to be about a million different stories coming out of this loss at the hands of the Bruins. Why does our defense look so horrible at times? Where’s the physicality and toughness? Is the team playing differently in front of Enroth than they are for Miller? Let’s just tackle the middle one for now, since there’s so much about it to discuss.

Obviously the big news from the game Saturday night was Ryan Miller getting steamrolled by Milan Lucic after Miller strided forward to play a loose puck outside the faceoff dot. Now because of this hit, but maybe also from when Miller was run into again later in the second period, he has sustained a concussion and will be out for at least one week. For those three of you that haven’t seen the collision, here it is.

Now I don’t want to use this post to get into the recap of how or why the hit happened, or why Lucic is a “piece of shit” as Miller so elegantly put it in his post game interview. I do want to talk about the response the players and the coaches had for this incident and how it reflects on the dynamic of this team currently.

If you’ve been a Sabres fan since at least the lockout, you’ll know this isn’t the first time Miller’s been run into by opposing players. (See: Gomez, Scott, Douchebag, 2009). It’s also not the first time a major player and face of the Sabres was taken out by a cheap shot on the ice. We all remember this:

That game against the Senators in 2007 is INFAMOUS in Sabres lore now. Drury gets injured, Neil gets stepped up to, brawls happen, goalies fight, and every Sabres fan loved the response. So, where the hell was that on Saturday night?

Ryan Miller is not the captain of this team like Drury was in 2007, but he is THE face of the Sabres (ask any non-Sabres fan to think of a player on the team and Miller’s the go to answer) and may be the most important player on the ice every time he’s out there. With that said, the response after Drury being hit is exactly what should have happened Saturday night in Boston, but it was no where in sight. Yes, as soon as Lucic collided with Miller, Gaustad, Sekera, Myers and co. skated over to Lucic to get “a piece” of him, but after some swatting and batting of the hands, the scrum was over. Maybe the refs got in there too quick to break it up, maybe the Sabres were dumbfounded by what just happened, but in the end it was all over before it even began.

Now the differences between the hit on Drury and the hit on Miller are not very large, but might have been just enough to affect the Sabres players and coaches attitudes on how to respond. When Neil hit Drury, there was no penalty called. There was one called on Lucic though, two minutes for charging. The hit on Drury occurred at a HSBC arena, a home game for Buffalo, where the hit on Miller occurred on the road at Boston’s rink. And finally, there were multiple scrums after Drury was injured, but there was only one gathering of the players on the ice after Miller got hit.

Out of all those differences, I think the fact that Saturday nights game was on the road was the one that most affected Ruff’s judgement on what to do after the game resumed. When you’re the home team and one of your guy’s gets run, especially the goalie, you know shit is going to go down. You HAVE to make a statement. And as Lucic said in his postgame remarks, if the roles were reversed and Tim Thomas was hit like that, the Sabres would’ve paid for it 10 fold. So, being on the road Ruff decided to play it smart and take advantage of the extra man for two minutes. The thought that Sabres were better off responding by getting a 2-0 lead than they were with some physicality. Obviously not the right choice. The Sabres failed to score, and the hit and the subsequent penalty kill by the Bruins sparked them to three goals in the second, and another 3 goals in the third.

So here we are a day and a half removed from the incident and all we can talk about is the lack of toughness and response by the Sabres players and coaches. Clearly the decision to not send out Kaleta and McCormick after the hit has gone beyond the realms of just the game from Saturday. Even Paul Gaustad acknowledged in his post-game interview that things should’ve been handled differently. The Sabres and their fans are now hoping big-time for a nice suspension on Lucic from Brendan Shanahan this afternoon, but in the end that will not change how other teams now view the Sabres in upcoming games. The stigma of being a less-than-physical team has lingered over the team for a couple years now, but this seems to be the icing on the cake. The NHL can send a strong league-wide message about colliding with goalies outside of the crease, but that message wont change how other teams look at the Sabres and game plan against them. A couple fights and some hitting on Saturday night would’ve done that.

The Sabres and the Bruins meet again the night before Thanksgiving, and you can be sure the Sabres will come out strong and determined, but it will be about a week and a half too late. The time to stand up for yourselves and show the Bruins and the rest of the league that this cheap shot artistry wont be tolerated has come and passed. Any team can wait until the rematch to get some payback and revenge, but the strongest teams -physically and mentally- take charge right away and don’t settle for anything less. Clearly, the Sabres still have a lot of growing to do.


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