Open Season

After he decided not to suspend Milan Lucic after he ran Ryan Miller a few weeks back, NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan disagreed with Lindy Ruff’s assessment that it was open season on the goalies. Well, if Brendan was watching tonight’s Buffalo/Nashville game, he may realize that his shortsighted decision may very well have resulted in that situation. Or at least against Ryan Miller that is.

In Miller’s first game back, he was yet again bowled into, this time by resident Predator goon Jordan Tootoo. On this occasion, Miller wasn’t playing the puck outside the crease but simply manning his position as Tootoo leaped into him with his arms up.

Two things are important to note here. First off, Tootoo will obviously claim innocence saying that he couldn’t avoid Miller at that speed and was leaping to get over him. I’ll do a preemptive BS call. Brian Duff said in best during the intermission – he hit Miller accidentally on purpose. Players like Tootoo have made an art of putting themselves in situations where you can question their intent or excuse it in the heat of the moment. But Tootoo knew what goalie he was coming in against and took advantage of the tight spot. He expected to take his shot and inspire his team who were looking a bit sluggish at home. And he thought he’d get away with it after what happened with Lucic, in terms of a penalty call and a response from the oft labeled “soft” Sabres.

Which leads me to the next point. The Sabres did not wither and back away from the confrontation. Led by Miller, who took swings with his blocker on Tootoo, and Paul Gaustad who looked like he wanted to kill somebody along with gesturing towards the Nashville goalie, Anders Lindback, the Sabres showed they learned from the previous physical intimidation by the Bruins. All 5 players on the ice jumped into the fray and didn’t back down, which I imagine was a surprise to the Predators and hopefully to the league as a whole. Even as the game went along, we saw unlikely players like Christian Ehrhoff throwing forward Patrik Hornqvist to the ice when he got too close to Miller. Heck, little Tyler Ennis got a little scrappy in the corner on a play vs Chris Mueller.

I’m not sure whether Tootoo’s play will earn a suspension. You would think based on Shanahan’s comments and the sensitivity to the issue, he might receive a game or two, but consistently the NHL makes me scratch my head on non-suspensions so I’ll just wait and see. 

So not your typical ho-hum Saturday night in Sabreland. A fun game, indeed. Yeah, there really was a game played too. Sabres won 3-2 and despite being heavily outshot, played a pretty solid road game. Goals were scored by Luke Adam, Zach Kassian (a beauty play), and Ennis. More importantly, Ryan Miller looked terrific in making saves too, not just excelling at taking hits and punching goons with his blocker, while appearing comfortable and confident out there. The importance of him bouncing back can’t be understated. Maybe, just maybe, later in the year we’ll be thanking Lucic and Shanahan for getting our emotional netminder back on track. Funny how things work out sometimes.

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