Monday, February 05, 2007

Hank the Tank and the Tiny Terror

I'm going to start with the more negative stuff first so I can end on a happy note 'cause that's how I roll.

Does someone infuriate you every game? If you could trade someone, who would that be?

I'm not sure it's fair to call Andrew Peters a disappointment since I doubt anyone expected him to suddenly become an offensive force, but there was a lot of talk before the season began about how he had really committed himself to working out and improving himself in the off-season. And he does look great. He's lost a noticeable amount of weight - 30 lbs. I think - and he does have an extra spring in his step. That said, he just doesn't have any hockey skills, atleast not enough that he isn't dragging anyone else on our otherwise fast and skilled team down a bit. Yeah, yeah, I know, he's the team enforcer. He brings energy, he drops the gloves, he defends his teammates. Except no, he doesn't! He doesn't get enough ice time to do any of those things. Paul Gaustad is doing all the things Peters is supposed to be doing only he's doing them much, much better while also scoring the occasional goal. Also I hate watching Peters circle around and around and around another guy before finally throwing a punch. Just hit somebody already!

So yeah, Andrew Peters. Seems like a nice guy. Total waste of a roster spot.

Is there someone on your team who isn't getting enough credit from the media, fans or other players?

Henrik Tallinder, Henrik Tallinder, Henrik Tallinder. He's missed a huge amount of time this season because of injuries - first he re-broke the arm he broke during the playoffs last year and then he sprained an ankle - so I suppose it's hard to fault the media for not noticing how much he contributes to the team, but there is no doubt that our defense and our penalty kill are much, much better when he's in the game. I've lost the exact stats, but our goals against average is much lower and our penalty kill is MUCH more effective in game's he's played. I doubt Hank will ever get a ton of attention outside of Buffalo because he's not a very flashy player. He's a defensive defensemen. He has a pretty decent shot and he seems to enjoy using it when he can, but his primary job is shutting down the other team's top line. He's got good size and he's not afraid to play a physical game but he's not skating around and bowling people over. But he makes a difference. His regular partner, Toni Lydman, is noticeably better when playing with Tallinder and somehow all the other defensemen are better when he's there too. And on a side note, the guy is just beautiful to watch on skates - he's tall and lean, he has a long reach, and he's so smooth and graceful. He flies down the ice with what seems to be very little effort. Tim Connolly's injury in the post-season last year was a big hit to the offense and crippled the power play and Jay McKee's injury was the final nail in the coffin. But I really believe it was Tallinder's injury that made the biggest difference. In the off-season he got the longest contract renewal at four years, and I'm thrilled that he's going to be anchoring the defense for all that time because I think he's only going to get better.

Has this player surprised you with his play since the beginning of the season?

There are a few good candidates here. Paul Gaustad has made himself a versatile and valuable member of the team, willing and able to play on any line with any player. He brings a lot of grit and physical play to a group that's fairly small and a little soft. (They can play tough when awakened but overall it's not the team's first instinct, I don't think.) Thomas Vanek had a very solid rookie year last season but has still managed to look like a totally different player this year, skating hard in both zones and taking a lot of banging and bruising in front of the net. However, the player I've been the most surprised by this season is Derek Roy.

Derek Roy clearly had talent coming into this season. He made himself so valuable to the team after being called up from Rochester halfway through the season last year that he was never sent back down. Anyone who watched the Ottawa series last season, particularly game one, knew he had the ability to dominate a game. But while he did play some on Chris Drury's wing in the playoffs, I just didn't expect Derek to be the complete two-way player he's been so far this season. He works his ass off and plays hard at both ends of the ice. He's small and sneaky and is able to swoop in and swipe a puck before the other guy has realized what's happening. He's been our best penalty killer, especially valuable while Tallinder was out. I can't even tell you how many times this season I've seen him steal a puck and then skate around and around and around with it, single-handedly killing 20 or 30 seconds off a penalty. For someone who's so small - and in person he looks very, very small out there - he doesn't shy away from physical play. He'll take a hit, he'll give a hit. A couple weeks ago he charged into a scrum against Boston and went straight for Chara. After Derek got in a swing, Chara knocked him on his butt with one hand but you gotta love that heart. He's not afraid to be a rat and get under people's skins - I think he loves it actually. Although he has fewer goals than Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov, I think Derek deserves a ton of credit for their success this year. Both guys are talented but very creative and hard to click with and Vanek in particular, wasn't really happy being on a line with them at first. Derek managed to play to both of their strengths and set up beautiful goal after beautiful goal while bringing some grit and defense to what would otherwise be a very offensive line. I know some fans in Buffalo are frustrated that he hasn't had the offensive output that he's shown he's capable of but I think he's brought much, much more than just offense to the team so far.

Derek's not perfect. While he has really curbed his tendency to dive, he can lose focus when he doesn't get a call he wants and he's been hit with a couple of unsportsmanlike conducts for yapping at refs and throwing little hissy fits. He also sometimes take stupid penalties when he's frustrated with the game or the team. But he's very young, still pretty inexperienced, and plays for a coach who will knock some of that stuff out of him. (When asked in his post-game conference about Derek taking a game misconduct for slamming his stick into and breaking the glass because of a call he didn't get in a 7-1 game, Lindy Ruff said simply and unhappily, "Unacceptable. It'll be dealt with. I'll leave it at that.") But all those little imperfections add up to a guy who plays with a lot of passion and drive and I have, quite simply, loved watching him play so far this season and can't wait to see what lies ahead for him and the team.


Sherry said...

Re: The last picture.
NO Derek Roy, I will NOT give you a hug.

I love Hank the Tank. If only because his nickname is Hank the Tank. Fun tidbit: I just found out this weekend my landlord was a Sabres fan. I'm not sure how to react to that.

Heather B. said...

Fun tidbit: I just found out this weekend my landlord was a Sabres fan. I'm not sure how to react to that.

Are applause and hugs out of the question?

Yeah, I'm not sure what's going on in that picture of Derek. It's kinda cute though!

Paige said...

Sometimes I think that if I were Peters I would just skate away and make the other guy look foolish.

I totally agree w/ Tallinder not getting enough credit. I do think that it's pretty cool though that he ended up just getting his arm replaced w/ metal. Sorta sounds like Xmen. LOL He is also the backbone of our Power Play kill. I love that Ruff calls his power play kill team "Tony and Tally" for Hank and Tony Lydman.

Also, you should have put a picture of the Goose up! He's by far the hottest on the team... But I would totally give Roy a hug.