Sabres/NHL Notebook: Restraint from all parties would be better in Milan Lucic - Ryan Miller issue
Thursday November 17, 2011 | By:Mike Haim, Special to Metro
It turns out you didn’t need to be watching the first period of last Saturday’s Sabres game against the Boston to know when Bruins pest Milan Lucic carelessly barreled into Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.
Through the magic of text messages immediately after it happened (along the lines of “Miller just got drilled - this could get ugly”), it seemed like you didn’t really need to see it live. In my case, I got home and saw the incident and had a reaction along the lines of: “Was that it?”
It’s never good to see any goaltender straying too far from his crease and getting the raw end of the deal. But, frankly, we’ve seen worse contact many times before. Unfortunately, we’ve rarely seen more hyped post-game (or days after) reactions.
The fact that Miller suffered an injury – which, from my unprofessional opinion, was more from the whipping motion of his neck than his head contacting anything – was concerning. The fact that Lucic was able to skate to the penalty box without having to defend himself was equally so.
I could have done without the post-game assessments of who was “gutless” and who was “soft,” since most of that talk primarily serves to set up the five remaining games between two divisional rivals. Boston goalie Tim Thomas feigning surprise that he wasn’t a target was nothing more than him playing mind games.
The Sabres organization was no better, suddenly becoming upfront about Miller’s concussion. It’s hard to demand a suspension for something as simple as an “upper body injury.” But Wednesday night, the first thing in the “five things you need to know” section of the media notes was that Miller is sidelined with a concussion. Yet there’s no indication of what’s wrong with Cody McCormick. Really?
The bottom line is that the time for the Sabres to have retaliated was during the scrum with Lucic right after the hit. Doing anything later in the game would have resulted in typical NHL justice, where the retaliation gets a greater penalty than the original infraction.
And while Lucic’s collision was nasty-looking, the fan outcry around here probably stems more from the fact that he’s a more effective pest than anyone wearing crossed swords on his chest. Compare Lucic to Patrick Kaleta: he’s bigger, has more scoring ability, and has clearly mastered the art of getting a shot in without making it appear pre-meditated. Actually, there’s no player on the Sabres (and very few in the league) with that combination.
Also, consider the merits of restraint: Lucic could have really wiped out Miller if he wanted to; we’ve seen him deliver more devastating hits without an 80-foot head start.
I understand why NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan didn’t give Lucic a suspension. Just a couple of weeks ago, Montreal’s Brian Gionta didn’t serve a sentence for his elbow to the head of Toronto’s James Reimer. And that incident occurred while the Maple Leafs goalie was in the crease.
Miller perhaps said it best on Tuesday when he mused, “What can you really do? You’re going to get a suspension yourself? … Then you’re no better than he is.”
“I think it was pretty humbling, that situation,” Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said prior to Wednesday’s game. “For whatever reason it played out that way, I don’t think it would ever play out that way again.
I don’t think it would have played out that way before. It happened to be that time and that place.”
There’s a fine line between restraint and goon hockey. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has mandated physical thuggery from time to time. But I don’t recall there being any long-term benefits from the 2007 line brawl against Ottawa. And I was about six feet away from then-Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock, before the famous expletive heard ‘round the NHL in the 2006 playoffs, when he said, “I’ve seen Lindy’s teams do the same thing (play like idiots) so he ought not talk about that.”
Ruff’s comment after Tyler Myers’ hit on New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus Wednesday night could have easily applied to previous events: “If you want to play physical and the guy’s stretched out and bent over, sometimes bad things can happen.”
It comes down to winning, and there’s no reason for Ruff to resort to anything that will compromise his chances to add more W’s to the game log. The Sabres are, after all, still in a tie for first place. If he believes restraint this last Saturday will serve his team better in the five remaining games against Boston, I’ll trust his judgment. (The first rematch occurs next Wednesday at First Niagara Center.)
In the end, getting power plays should end up being more important than sending the opponent a short-term message. To me, smart play on the ice, while perhaps not as attention-grabbing, is a better option than playing mind games and posturing like the NHL’s become the WWE.
… … …