Much of the discussion about the Sabres this summer centered around new acquisitions Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Ville Leino. During the past couple days, it's Jason Pominville who has become the focus as fans discuss the meaning of his captaincy and its effect on the team.
Thomas Vanek wants your attention, too, and spent the first 40 minutes of the season opener demanding it.
In an utterly dominating performance, Vanek put up two goals and an assist and reminded us who the true superstar is on this team (amongst players not named Miller, of course). His first goal was vintage Vanek, daring the Ducks to clear him out from the front of the net and gobbling up Luke Adam's loose change when Anaheim declined to ask him to leave. Setting up base camp near Jonas Hiller also led to a more unconventional second goal, one that was kicked in by Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who became so awed by Vanek that he felt obligated to kick the puck in after Vanek whiffed on a backhand. (Or so I'd like to believe.) When Vanek wasn't being the immovable object in front of the net, he was the unstoppable force bursting up the wing after a loose puck. Vanek even got to spend a little time killing penalties, blocking a shot and nearly turning it into a breakaway. Thomas Vanek imposed his will on this game like few players can, and if performances like that were more commonplace I doubt you'd ever hear anyone crying about his $7.1 million cap hit.
Pluses (yeah, there's a lot of them):
- We knew that Ville Leino was a guy who likes to work the corners and is generally strong on the puck. In this game, we also learned that he knows how to get in position in the slot and erect a force field that prevents defenders from coming within five feet of him. Leino had so much space that he might have been able to knit a sweater before scoring the goal that made it 2-0 (and I would be remiss if I didn't mention Andrej Sekera's great vision to recognize this and deliver the puck to him). I was also impressed with his lunging backcheck that thwarted an Anaheim wraparound attempt right before Robyn Regehr's first-period interference penalty.
- I thought Derek Roy looked good in his first real game back. (No, Game 7 of the Philly series doesn't count in my book - he clearly wasn't ready.) He was kept off the scoresheet but looked pretty zippy. He's definitely back to his old complaining self, as his facial expressions when being sent to the box in the third period would seem to indicate. (The latter probably doesn't belong in "pluses", though.)
- Luke Adam played like a guy that expects to stay in the lineup with a pair of assists in only 7:11 of ice time, and I certainly hope he does. With Adam, the Sabres have three scoring lines and a checking/energy line. With Jochen Hecht in place of Adam, the Sabres have 2.5 scoring lines, a checking/energy line, and a solid defensive forward. With the current makeup of this team, I'm struggling to see exactly where Hecht fits anymore.
- Special teams looked good as the powerplay went 2-for-4 and had little trouble keeping the puck in the attacking zone, while the penalty kill posted a big fat goose egg at the other end. Apparently the Sabres won't miss Brian McCutcheon one bit.
- Newcomer Robyn Regehr impressed me as well. You'd like to see him in the box a bit less, but given that the penalties he took are the product of his hard-nosed style - a style we hope rubs off on the entire team - they're acceptable. Especially of note was his breakup of a 2-on-1 while killing a third-period penalty.
- On the whole, the revamped defensive unit was outstanding and gave the Ducks nothing to work with. (See overly stretchy first bullet point under "Minuses" below for more on that.) Miller noted in the postgame that it seemed like the Ducks didn't want to go to the front of the net because of how hard Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff in particular played.
- There's not much to really complain about after a dominating 4-1 win, so this is admittedly a stretch - but that was not a quality goal Ryan Miller allowed. Had we lost, it's the sort of goal everyone would be squawking about. The slow-moving puck was shot from the point sometime last Tuesday and
didn't appear to be tipped; instead, it seemed that Miller just lost it in the traffic. (Edit: Phil points out below that the puck was in fact deflected. Thanks, Phil. Fail on my part.) I hate to rag on Miller for that, because it's not really his fault - it's hard to stay sharp when you're not tested, and Anaheim didn't bother to do that until Bobby Ryan forced Miller to make a great save with about 4:45 to go in the second.
- Atlanta may not have a team anymore, but apparently "Blueland" still exists - it's just been moved to Helsinki, Finland. Seriously, what was up with that blue tint all over the broadcast? Was it a DirecTV thing, or did everyone watch the game through a blue haze? I half-expected Eiffel 65 to make a guest appearance during the intermission.
- Too bad Drew Stafford doesn't get on the scoresheet for that slide into the Anaheim net. He looked like he was trying to take out the post with a slide tackle soccer-style. I think I hit rewind on that play about 3-4 times because it was so fun to watch.