Welcome to the First Niagara Center for Sabres and Leafs and my first foray into the press box on behalf of Buffalo Wins. Tonight's live blog will be two fold. I'll be providing my general and, as usual, long-winded commentary, as the game unfolds. But also look for some Brayden McNabb tidbits as I tease my game story to follow later on tonight. I'll be watching Brayden closely every time he hits the ice as it's not often that you such a great view of the action such as this and focus on one player.
One thing you won't find here is play by play. I'll be assuming that you're watching or listening to the game and reading this as a supplement. So join me after the break for some fun. Remember to keep hitting refresh and follow me on Twitter as well.
06:19 - I imagine a lot of the discussion tonight will be about Tim Connolly. That's part of the reason I decided to key in on Brayden instead. Everyone will be on the Connolly watch tonight, and it will probably get to be a bit much. For my part, I wished the guy well when he left here since if anyone needed a change of scenery it was him. And it's served him well with 15 points in 18 games. And I won't be giving you revisionist history either, crying that we didn't keep him and bemoaning the Leino signing. I wanted Tim as gone as much as the next person. Will be interested to see how he shows up tonight: we've seen both good Tim and bad Tim over the years and you never know which one you'll get. You have to think he'll be motivated tonight, though. Understatement there.
06:28 - First McNabb tidbit. He played alongside Tyler Myers at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, a prep school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. Wikipedia is a wondrous thing.
07:00 - Sabres and the Leafs hit the ice for warmups. I've always enjoyed going to open practices when the team have them in training camp as it's fun to see not only the routine of the players but also the more light moments between teammates. Hockey's an amazing sport, isn't it? Even the simple things like turning when skating and releasing a blistering slapshot are addicting to watch, especially live. For a guy like me who took the ice 1 or 2 times in his life, I have much respect for these athletes. Doesn't mean I won't be moaning about players going offside in about 45 minutes, though.
07:21 - Players off the ice and game time approaches. I'm really interested to see the Leafs as I haven't watched them at all this year. They're obviously playing much better now, but it will be fun to gauge if they're a real playoff threat. I will be skeptical until they prove me wrong. It's like the Bills - years of futility take a lot to overcome doubts in just part of a season.
07:39 - Doug Allen finished the anthems and the game is on. For my money (all $5 dollars), he is the best. I'm no anthem singer guru, but I love Doug. Cheesy pointing and all. He has a great voice.
07:41 - Miller appears to be on his game early with a couple nice saves. Leafs outplaying the Sabres at start. Slow starts seem to be Buffalo's identity. Not a good one to have.
07:44 - McNabb Alert. He currently appears to have no partner but is dressed. Hope Lindy doesn't screw up my plans here.
07:49 - McNabb Alert. Brayden with his first shift alongside Mike Weber. This tandem has such potential on the physical side of things.
07:54 - Who before the season would have pegged Paul Szczechura as Vanek and Pominville's center on the #1 line? As well as he has played, that's not a source of pride.
07:58 - Slight change of plans. Since it seems Brayden is being rotated with Gragnani, I will also keep my eyes on the other hot rookie, Zack Kassian. Got to be flexible!
08:00 - Excellent shift by the Vanek line. Let's see if this allows the Sabres to start taking the momentum back a bit. Not as if the Leafs were dominating but the quality chances have mostly been on their side so far.
08:03 - McNabb Alert. Poor giveaway behind the net but a nice effort for the shot block attempt.
08:06 Kassian Alert. Dominating shift there by Zack. His strength is something even a novice viewer would appreciate.
08:10. First chance to watch our shorthanded unit coming up. I love the game within a game with special teams so let's see how this plays out with my bird's eye view.
08:12 - Sabres fare quite well on the kill with virtually no quality chances. They were hard on the puck and didn't give the Leafs players much room.
08:17 - Period ends with Toronto holding an edge in shots (14-8) and a slight advantage in the overall play. Not a terrible period as I think it was pretty close, but I'm hoping to see more zone time down in the Leafs end as the game goes along. Reimer is far from a star goalie and they need to test him more. The Sabres' ineptitude with scoring goals continues with yet another scoreless period. We're not at epidemic levels yet, but it continues to be a concern.
08:36 - Kassian Alert. Nice early backcheck to stop a Leafs rush. He may not be the quickest skater but he has extreme determination.
08:38 - Buffalo Twitter enemy gets himself on board on a 2 on 1 and the natives are restless. Odd man rushes have been another bane of the Sabres. Can give Kessel that much room to wheel and deal.
08:41 - Kassian Alert. Zack draws a penalty on Gunnarsson with pure strength and energy. He seems to be shining over McNabb right now but that happens when you're looking at forwards vs D.
08:42 - Nice when the power play clicks isn't it? That was a pretty passing play with 29 & 26 to Stafford. Quick plays are the key. Kassian doesn't get an assist but he should. 100th career goal for Drew. Need to get him going.
08:45 - Another quick rush up the ice by Toronto and a chance by Grabovski is foiled by Miller who continues to look on his game. He's not fighting the puck as he was early in the season.
08:48 - Is there anything more maddening than an offensive zone penalty? This is why fans have such a hard time embracing Derek Roy. He just does mind numbingly stupid things sometimes.
08:50 - Miller robs Lupul as he professes his love for the view of City Hall.
08:51 - The deafening noise of Leafs fans cheers overwhelm the arena as the Leafs make the Sabres pay for Roy's indiscretion with the point shot for Phaneuf. Penalty kill was doing a good job to that point but Miller was screened on the shot.
08:53 KASSIAN ALERT in all caps! Great steal of the puck and feed to Vanek. No way this guy goes down to Rochester no matter who is healthy.
08:55 - McNabb Alert. Brayden gets jealous of all the love I'm throwing towards Kassian and throws a huge check in the defensive zone. The kid just has the knack for placing his body perfectly without putting himself in danger (IE: his head).
08:59 - Matt Ellis draws a penalty by old friend MacArthur with his typical hard work and by keeping his legs moving. If only Ellis had a tad more talent he'd be invaluable.
09:00 - Uh, oh, the dreaded Sabres 2 man advantage. Please don't be a train wreck.
09:02 - It's not a train wreck! Ennis absolutely teed off on that shot and the Sabres have taken the momentum of this game in a big way.
09:04 - Well, Roy redeems himself by drawing a penalty this time. Sabres with back to back to back PP's and the Leafs are self-destructing a bit here. Good teams press this kind of advantage and don't let up. Time for the Sabres to start becoming that good team.
09:06 - This really is a terrific game so far. Major energy all over the place (on ice and in crowd).
09:08 What did I say about the self-destructing Leafs? Hit from behind by Phaneuf on Zack at end of PP is just plain idiotic. And he gets 5 and a game misconduct. Wow. Phaneuf looks like a caveman and he acts like one sometimes too.
09:11 - Sekera makes sure my comment about taking advantage is heeded with a terrific short side shot. And the PP continues.
09:12 - But can we handle the dreaded 2 goal lead?
09:13 - Random stat on the sheet the Sabres PR area gave me after 1st period - Weber had 4 hits in the 1st to lead team. Really need his continued physicality. The changing of the makeup of the Sabres involves him in a big way.
09:15 - Period ends as a big cheer goes up from the Sabres faithful. Buffalo played a tremendous period. It wasn't just the successful power plays but also the energy and vigor shown throughout. This third period is a good time for them to put their feet (skates?) down and play solid in their own zone. Can't let Toronto seize back any of this momentum.
09:29 - Sabres are still being outshot 22-18 but the ice is clearly tilted our way. A quick goal to start the third will deflate the Leafs completely. Still 2 minutes left on PP.
09:32 - Period about to start and the Leafs fans aren't quite as loud as they were earlier. Quite a shame.
09:35 - Nothing doing for the rest of the power play as the Sabres look more like their old selves with the man advantage. Should be interesting to see if the Leafs get a boost from this.
09:37 - Stat time. Ennis with 5 points in 7 games since his return. Important to see the little guy get going. He has more natural talent than any player on this roster.
09:41 - Things have slowed down in the game. Not a terrible thing for the Sabres with a 2 goal lead. Can't back off completely, though.
09:44 - Kassian Alert. Zack is deceptively smooth on his skates. That's my biggest surprise with him is the finesse he brings to go along with his size and strength. He really has the potential to the power forward star we've been yearning after all these years. He makes me giddy.
09:47 - Nice to see Weber regaining the trust of the coaching staff since he's not the one being rotated.
09:48 - Penalty shot called on trip of Kulemin. Fun stuff!
09:49 - Not so much fun after all after he scored. We have a game here, folks.
09:51 - Love the playoff atmosphere of this game. It is LOUD in here. If you can't hear it on TV, trust me it's something with the broadcast.
09:55 - Pominville has a nice chance on Reimer to force a face off in the Leafs zone. Sabres need to build off that and not let the ice tilt in Toronto's favor. Tide has turned a slight bit since their goal.
09:57 - Impressive physical play by Luke Adam in the defensive zone as Toronto was putting on the heat. He doesn't always use his size a lot as he's more of a skilled skater, but the times he does he's a force.
09:59 - McNabb Alert. Carubba Collision for one of our focus players. He and Kassian will have a lot of those before it's all said and done.
10:01 - Thomas Vanek is back in the groove! Breakaway goal is his fifth point and he's looked like the dominant TV from early in the season.
10:02 - Leafs score as I'm typing about Thomas. Grabovski puts it in and the Leafs are not going silently into that good night. Have to give them credit.
10:04 - I just remembered that Tim Connolly is playing in this game. Much like when he was a Sabre, pretty invisible.
10:06 - Empty net and Leafs putting on pressure for winning goal. Doesn't get much better than this.
10:08 - Game over, Sabres win 5-4! What a game. I'll be heading down to Lindy's post game press conference and then back for some final thoughts for the live blog.
10:44 - Just got back from Lindy's presser. Interesting given the focus of my post tonight that he raved about Kassian. Obvious for anyone to see how strong he was. In general Lindy was pleased with his team's effort and called it something any coach would be comfortable with. He also stressed the fact that his players did not let setbacks throw off their whole game, which is something we've seen a lot of lately (that second part was my take). My favorite part of the presser was when he said, "We gave it a little bit to the Toronto fans". Amen, Lindy.
That's it for our live blog tonight. Stay tuned for my McNabb/Kassian game story in a couple hours, though. What a great night for my first time in the press box.