I am sure the parade in Buffalo to celebrate the Sabres 7-4 win over the Bruins will be quite an event. I know all those January 31st 2013 Regular Season Champions shirts and hats will sell out faster than NoGoal.com bumper stickers. And while the banner raising ceremony will bring more than a tear to perpetually weepy Sabres owner Terry Pegulas eyes, it doesnt change a thing. Last night actually confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Sabres are still a flawed, gutless team and that all their moves to respond to last years incident are Band-Aids that will hurt them in the long run.
Yes the Sabres did win last nights game by a very convincing margin. Thomas Vanek might as well be ethereal as far as the Bruins defense is concerned. Offensively, he seems to do whatever he wants against the Bruins, and that was the case yet again last night, as he turned in a 3-goal, 5-point performance that was the driving force behind the Sabres win. In the other major storyline, John Scott lived up to his billing as the toughest man on two (unsteady) skates, as he pounded the brave, but overmatched, Shawn Thornton to the ice in short order.
I had said going into this game that anyone who agrees to fight Scott is foolish, because by doing so, you're making someone who gets three minutes of ice time a night because he is a marginal hockey player (marginal is being very generous) relevant. Bluntly, Scott is Goons Doug Glatt, minus the skating ability. If I was Thornton I would have told Scott to go push his milk crate and skate a shift. But I am not Shawn Thornton nor do I think I ever could be. Because Thornton did the same selfless work hes done countless times during his Bruins career. He did it in spite of the probable outcome and personal risk, and by doing so he demonstrated the fundamental difference between the two teams.
Thornton knew he was probably going to get pounded, probably knew it weeks in advance, but he still hopped over the boards, accepted Scotts challenge and took a beating for his team. Why? Because even though there is no 'C' or 'A' on his jersey, Thornton knows hes a leader in that locker room, knows what his role is and, most importantly knows what that situation demanded of him. Claude Julian probably never had to utter a word to Thornton. He just assumed that his team's fistic deterrent would do his job and be same team player hes always been.
Contrast that with how the Milan Lucic - Ryan Miller incident went down. Lucic freight trains Miller and turns to face what should have been wave after wave of furious Sabres. Unfortunately for Miller, the closest Sabres to Lucic were team captain, Jason Pominville, and assistant captain Vanek. Pominville took one look at Lucic and immediately curled, found Bruins center David Krejci and clinged for life to him like he was Queequegs coffin. Vanek, to his limited credit, actually tried to engage Lucic, but after one swipe from the hulking Bruin, Vaneks colon buckled and he turned to join Pominville, the two nestling into the safety of Krejcis bosom. This left Andres Sekera alone to get mauled by Lucic. Tyler Myers and the furthest player away from the incident, Paul Gaustad were both intercepted by linesman and other Bruins before they could get involved.
So here again we have team leaders faced with an altercation they arent going to win. Lucic would handle any of the Sabres on the ice at that time and maybe even two of them at once. But it wasnt an actual fight. Given the way the linesmen jumped in, it would never have a chance to become one, and it certainly wasnt the potential death match Thornton willingly stepped into. Yet Pominville and Vanek couldnt even be bothered to give a half assed face wash to Lucic over a linesmans shoulder. If I was the coach of those two, there would have been some embroidery work done between periods as we reassigned team leadership.
But I wasnt the coach of the team. Lindy Ruff was. And since the Lucic incident happened in the first period, he had two chances to tell his team and its leaders exactly what he thought of their lack of response and demand they rectify it. But he didnt. Instead he chose to send his teams out for two more retribution-free periods, then bitch and moan to the press afterwards like an impudent soccer dad about how it was open season on goalies.
Ruff's gutless leadership didnt end there. In the fallout after the incident, Ruff chose to cuss out the press, but not before singling out, effectively scapegoating, one of his own players. Gaustad, again the Sabre furthest away from the incident when it happened, expressed to the local media his remorse and embarrassment following that game. "I hoped I could have done more there," He said. What was Ruffs response to Gaustads remorse? Paul was on the ice. Yup, Paul was on the ice, Lindy. And so were your captain and assistant, Lindy, but you chose to feed Gaustad to the wolves. Because alienating a 3rd line center man is easier to do than it is to call out Pominville or Vanek. Lord forbid, if you actually have to be a head coach and hold your team leaders accountable. No, lets pillory Gaustad and shame him into fighting Lucic. That will fix everything right Lindy? Its no wonder the Sabres season collapsed around them shortly thereafter. But it shouldnt surprise anyone that Lindy Ruff the coach turtles exactly the same way Lindy Ruff the player did against Cam Neely.
And last night, with 13.6 seconds remaining in a 7-4 game, the real Sabres were exposed again. Vanek and Pominville were taking a faceoff across from recently called up Providence Bruins tough guy Lane McDermid. Ruff responded by calling a timeout that was originally perceived as the insulting cherry on top of a grudge match beat down sundae. When asked to explain the questionable stoppage, Ruff said the following:
Well when Lane MacDermid was lined up on the faceoff with one of our skill players, I didnt want anything to happen, Ruff said. Thats really all it was about.
I dont know whether Ruff legitimately feared a late game mugging or if he caught a whiff of his captain and assistant having a brown out in their hockey pants from the Buffalo bench. But either way, feeling the need to spare his dainty team leaders 13.6 seconds of mortal peril tells you all you need to know about the Sabres. They are still a gutless operation from the top down. So forget about the timeout being some sort of shot at the Bruins. If Ruff was really doing it to insult Boston, he would have made Scott call the time out.
Buffalo may think last nights win fixed all its toughness problems and avenged the embarrassment of last season. But the truth is that by bringing in John Scott and trading Derek Roy for Steve Ott (who managed to record a -1 in a seven goal rout) they made themselves a shallow, one line team. Great in NHL 95 on Sega where you can turn line changes off, but bad if you want to win in the NHL playoffs, where your new found security blanket wont sniff the ice.
Come this summer, there wont be any hats, t-shirts or parades in Buffalo. If the Sabres want rings, theyll have to ask Shawn Thornton to borrow one of his. Thats because in the NHL playoffs, you have to play every shift like you have something in your cup in order to hoist one on the last day of the season.