Signs you know you care

December 12, 2018 - 10:17 am

A friend and I went to Sabres-Kings Tuesday night. The Sabres won. We had fun.

(I'm sorry. I have two children in elementary school and lately I've been reading and listening to a lot of their work. It's rubbing off.)

I'm noticing many different ways that I've plugged into this Sabres season. Here from Tuesday's game are a few examples:

** - I'm paying attention to strategy. Generally I've downplayed hockey strategy, as it compares with other sports. But like with anything, if you dig into it, you can find some interesting stuff. One thing I got into last night was how Sabres head coach Phil Housley, a few times, lined Johan Larsson's group up against L.A.'s No. 1, Anze Kopitar, for faceoffs in the Kings' zone. According to, when play starts in either the offensive or defensive zone Larsson starts shifts in the offensive zone only 14-percent of the time this season. His career average is 35-percent.

Last night, Larsson started five shifts in the offensive zone and 10 on defense (33.3%). How much of this was a pointed attempt to get a certain matchup, as opposed to the line cycle the Sabres were in and where Jack Eichel's line fell at those moments, I'm not sure. The point here is, I cared enough to notice this. On examples I noticed when Larsson faced off against Kopitar in LA's end, Larsson won draws and the Sabres held play.

When the Sabres are in dead last by Thanksgiving as in recent seasons, I will admit to you that I'm not paying attention to line usage. 

** - The Sabres had two late power plays in a 3-3 game. Their first of these two began with 2:27 remaining in the third period. With about a minute left and a faceoff coming up in L.A.'s end, Housley called the Sabres' timeout. Players slowly skated to their benches as players do, but Jack Eichel did something different. He stayed in his spot in the faceoff circle, and circled in place for a few seconds. He seemed to be showing disapproval for the timeout call. Maybe he felt the Kings were dragging and the young Sabres at that moment had the upper hand in terms of stamina. Eichel eventually made his way to the bench.

As it happens, the Kings cleared the puck on the ensuing play and killed the penalty.

** - I've had season tickets since 2005-06. We have a group that has expanded to the point where we share 16 seats in the lower bowl. (It was up to 20 seats last season but some of us didn't like the 200-level experience that much. Last-place seasons don't help.)

This year, we were fortunate to add two seats in the front row. I'd never before sat on the glass for an NHL game. This year, I've done that three times so far, and I'm loving it. 

We were also very lucky to get our first seats at the top of the lower bowl. 2005-06 was a dream season, and I remember being enamored of seeing players' faces as they reacted to things. More than that, I liked watching Lindy Ruff on the bench across the ice. When you're at the game, you can watch people when television viewers are watching commercials. I liked watching Lindy look at the scoreboard during timeouts, and seeing who he would talk to.

The organization has turned over since then, and doing this is new again. From ice level, you can see so much more. (Also my vision is worse than it was 13 years ago.) There was a faceoff last night between Eichel and Kopitar in the L.A. end. Second period. On the draw, Kopitar advanced the puck forward and hard into the neutral zone. Eichel may have said something to him because a moment later Kopitar smiled. No idea, but, if I'm guessing maybe Eichel gave him a "figures you would do that" or something to that effect.

I've always very much enjoyed watching the other teams and their stars come to Buffalo -- hockey or football. Kopitar is one of those players. Seems so far away in so many ways but for that one night a year you're in the same room.

Sitting on the glass is like sitting on the floor for an NBA game, although you don't quite hear conversations. I make an effort to read lips; perhaps one of these times, I'll pick up something that I won't know whether it's right to share. Basketball media gets to sit near to the floor, which is great. Hockey media, except for the color commentator, you're way up at the top -- no chance to notice moments like these between Eichel and Kopitar. To notice them gives you insight into how players perceive each other, or what their personalities might be like. A friend sat this close for an Ottawa-Buffalo game a decade or so ago and told me about Mike Fisher making fun of Derek Roy for something he did on the ice. Here I am still remembering that.

** - One more. When a Sabre takes a penalty, a security guard walks down to the front row and sits beside the penalty box, I guess so nobody hassles the player. That guard -- his name was Marcus, he was nice -- sits right on the step between me and the penalty box. When the puck is on the near boards far zone, I can't see past Marcus. So I get way up on the edge of my seat to see past him.

In recent years, I've done far more slouching at games than sitting up.

This is all just the beginning. The standings this year will be a daily roller-coaster ride. Playoff games for intensity are last night times 10, or 100. The same Wednesday has the Sabres at 83-percent to make the postseason -- and that's after just losing five games in a row.

That I'm loaded with thoughts about a December regular-season game against a last-place team, well, I guess that speaks for itself.

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