Many people are quick to pull out this little gem regarding the Buffalo Sabres playoff hopes. Gritty forecheck and physical play throughout a series will wear down the Buffalo Sabres and dash their Stanley Cup run! Right?
This seems to be a misconception that has spread and become a generally accepted rule of thumb.
Look at the 05-06 Philadelphia Flyers. They had many skilled players such as Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne, and Sami Kapanen. All fast and skilled players capable of a run and gun game. They also had a good amount of grit and size, much more than the Sabres did. Their strategy? Hit 'em hard and the Sabres will crumple to their knees. We all know how that turned out.
The Buffalo Sabres of 05-06 survived the Flyers and moved on to a very tough series with Ottawa, one that would take a toll on any team. But the hits and physical play didn't stop the Sabres from reaching Game 7 of the ECF...only to be foiled by injuries on the blueline.
This time around Darcy Regier has bolstered his blueline depth just in case this happened again. And we all know what kind of players are waiting in Rochester should the forwards take the brunt of injuries.
Why do I draw so many connections to last season?
The 06-07 Sabres are virtually the same team! The loss of Jay McKee, a shot blocking machine and veteran blueliner, has been replaced by Jaro Spacek, a more offensively minded forward but one with good size and jam. Mike Grier, probably the grittiest player on the Sabres and one of the better PKers, was lost to San Jose. The addition of Zubrus at the deadline added a great power forward with the size, skill, and speed to fill the void left by Grier.
The team is the same, they've done it before. They'll do it again.
Let me just rattle off some names...these are the grit and jam of the Sabres with the size, heart, and drive to battle in the corners and go for loose pucks when the games matter:
Chris Drury, Dainius Zubrus, Ales Kotalik, Daniel Paille, Drew Stafford, Jochen Hecht, Adam Mair, Paul Gaustad (injured), Thomas Vanek...
Jason Pominville, Daniel Briere, Derek Roy, Maxim Afinogenov don't have the size but certainly the dogged determination and character to make the clutch play and battle along the boards.
Jaro Spacek, Hank Tallinder, Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell, Teppo Numminen, Dmitri Kalinin, Nathan Paetsch....have been criticized for their softness in their own end, but as the last few weeks have shown when the big boys start playing for something they can be a handful for opponents. Winning battles along the boards and being able to deny time and space. Not to mention the biggest defender -- Ryan Miller, who is always capable of the big save.
Looking at that list....WOW that's the entire team! There are quite a few big guys on the Sabres, something many people overlook. An even bigger oversight is the heart and determination that the smaller guys have. Paille and Roy, two small speedy forwards, have taken down Zdeno Chara, on 2 separate occasions, along the boards battling for pucks.
These aren't just "the small and speedy Sabres"...this is a determined and hard working team that won't overlook their opponents. Lindy Ruff knows what he's doing and the Sabres will come out flying.
These guys are the real deal. And they know when to step up.
SABRES IN 5!