Monday, October 01, 2007

Reader Recap: Pens v Sabres 09-29-07

A couple of posts ago, I told you that I am hoping to be able to post a few readers' game recap stories this season. I'm excited to tell you that I already got one from the preseason. Today's recap covers the game played on Saturday, September 29 in Buffalo, NY. It was submitted by Amanda T. - a Sabres fan! But go easy on her, she's a Sid fan, too! ;) Amanda put some serious time and effort into writing this so we could have a better idea of how things went down in Buffalo. It's a lengthy recap, but since the game wasn't broadcast on TV or radio, I decided not to edit it much:

My friend and I were at my sister's baby shower in Rochester (this is how much I like hockey) when we decided to go upstairs and see if tickets were available to the Saturday game in Buffalo. We searched for "best available" first and came up with two tickets in Section 200 (behind the net that the Sabres defend twice), Row 2. $40 each. We were totally there! We said goodbye to the family (including my jealous parents, who also love the Sabres and wanted to go), and headed back to Buffalo.

As we were getting seated right at the end of the warm-up, the announcer was talking about Pittsburgh's starting lineup and scratches. When Sid wasn't in the starting lineup, I thought, "He's scratched. CRAP." When the announcement was actually made, there was a curious mix of cheering and disappointment. I was disappointed. I'm a Sabres fan, but Sidney is my favorite player outside of the Sabres, and I really wanted to see him from the awesome seats I had.

The Sabres started Derek Roy centering Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford, and Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman (who looks like a serial killer on the individual introduction videos that they play when they announce the starting lineup. Swear to God.). Ryan Miller started in goal. The Pens started Jordan Staal with Colby Armstrong and Maxime Talbot, and Ryan Whitney and another guy (not Gonchar, I don't think) on defense. Marc-Andre Fleury started in goal.

The Pens got whistled for a penalty about 15 minutes in, and Lindy Ruff sent out his experimental five-forward power play. Within about 20 seconds, Roy had scored off of an Afinogenov rebound. Fleury didn't have a chance on it, and the Pens defense had trouble keeping up with Buffalo's touch passes. The score was 1-0 Sabres after one period.

Four minutes into the second, the Roy line got the nod again, and cycled the puck in the Pittsburgh zone, keeping Malkin and his linemates looking to clear the zone. Dmitri Kalinin, one of Buffalo's d-men, got the puck off of a quick passing play from Stafford and Vanek, and wristed one in through a screen. I don't think Fleury even saw that one. Vanek is very good at screening the goaltender.

The Sabres got another power play later in the period, and Talbot and Armstrong beat our point men clean and Talbot scored short-handed. Miller should've had that one, but he looked shaky the whole game to me. Funny enough, the power play unit out there for the Sabres was not the five-forward unit that you might expect to get beaten short-handed, but rather the one with defensemen on both points.

The score was 2-1 Sabres at the end of the second period. Malkin was starting to assert himself, and Staal played a strong game. Armstrong was his usual annoying self, which I'm sure makes him very popular amongst his teammates, but is hard to play against. Fleury didn't look great to me in general - I know that he tends to get out of position and use his acrobatic skills to make saves, but he was really out of position a few times and the defense had to cover for him. Don't mistake me - I like Fleury, but neither goaltender was putting on a Vezina-worthy performance.

At about two minutes into the third period, the Staal line was out against the Roy line, and simply out-muscled them for puck control. (Come on, 6'4", 220 pound Staal against 5'9", 188 pound Roy? No contest.) Armstrong scored, with an assist from Staal, who fed it to him from behind the net, and Talbot. The score was tied.

Then Maxim Afinogenov did the crazy Russian thing and got a penalty for unsportsmanslike conduct (Paul Gaustad, a big dude playing on his line and wearing an "A" in the game, looked like he was gonna take Max's head off if he didn't get in the box already.) On the power play, the Pens took their first lead of the game off a quick set of passes D to D. Gonchar scored, with an assist to Whitney and Christensen.

Gaustad muscles past Whitney to shoot on Fleury

Pittsburgh stayed in the lead for about five minutes, then the Sabres got another power play and put the five-forward unit out again. Jason Pominville plays one of the points on that unit, and he was drifting around back there, completely unchecked, calling for the puck like it was his last meal. Finally, Roy spotted him and threaded a pass through a bunch of legs, which Pominville wristed in through a screen set by, you guessed it, Thomas Vanek. He's earning his $50 million getting cross-checked by Eaton and Scuderi in front of the net...

The Sabres killed off a penalty where I was sure Malkin would score, but the Pens power play unit just didn't quite click. Good puck movement, but the finish wasn't there. It might've been bad communication - I know Geno isn't easy to communicate with. A few minutes later, at even strength, Lindy Ruff sent out the Connolly line.

Tim Connolly was playing in his first preseason game (he, like several other Sabres and your own Saint Sid, has been bothered by a groin pull/hip flexor). He was paired with Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville for the entire game. Kalinin took a shot from the point, and Fleury didn't control the rebound. Connolly, on his knees a few feet in front of the net, courtesy of a Brooks Orpik cross-check (hey, he's just doing his job), jabbed the puck under Fleury for the game-winner.

Connolly shoots the game-winning-goal past Fleury in the third period

Despite some good play from the Pens in the last five minutes, they weren't able to tie it up again and the Sabres held them off for the win. The Sabres limited the Pens to 17 shots, and they took 24 shots. The Pens had the edge in faceoffs, especially at even strenght. Connolly was still getting his timing back and was brutal on faceoffs.

Colby Armstrong got the second star after the game but didn't come out to acknowledge it (can't blame him). Besides, that welt on his neck probably hurt from that crazy paintball game at West Point, lol.

Sid addressed the media in between the first and second periods in the press box (I'm guessing he had no choice - the media probably said, "Sidney's up here! Can we talk to him? Pretty please?")

Anyway, one of the things Sid talked about was the time that he and Drew Stafford played together at Shattuck-St. Mary's. Sid was a sophomore when Drew was a senior. Drew's been asked about it before. He said, "I knew about him, vaguely, and then he shows up and it's obvious he's really good. We basically sat back and let him go. He was fun to watch."

Sid, for his part, praised Stafford (what else would Sid do, nice guy that he is) and said that he was glad Drew had made it, he was an exciting player, etc - the usual platitudes. Drew said they exchange hellos when they play each other, but they're not in contact outside of that.

Many, many thanks to Amanda for sharing her story with us!!! You KNOW this girl's a hockey fan - she left her sister's baby shower to catch this game! (That sounds like something I'd do - LOL!) Well, I suppose she can now be considered a Friend of The Show - despite the fact that she's a Sabres fan. I may have to re-evaluate the status of her Friendship during the regular season if Buffalo continues to dominate over the Penguins... ;)


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