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Open Season On NHL Goalies

November 14, 2011 - Matt Spielman
It was bound to happen eventually, and Saturday night in Boston it finally did. At the 13:12 mark of the first period, Buffalo's franchise goaltender Ryan Miller left his crease to play a loose puck before Bruins forward Milan Lucic could reach it. Lucic, clearly beaten to the puck, didn't peel off and continue playing the game the right way like any classy National Hockey League player would do. Instead, he decided it would be a good idea to run Miller with what seemed to be the clear intent of injuring the former Vezina Trophy winner.

"(Lucic has) 50 pounds on me and he runs me like that? It's unbelievable," Miller said after Saturday's loss. "Everyone in this city sees him as a big tough solid player. I respected him for how hard he played. That was gutless."

NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan came out Monday saying Lucic's hit deserved nothing more than the two-minute charging penalty it was assessed. "The minor penalty called on the ice was the correct call," Shanahan said. "And, while it's unfortunate that Miller was hurt I saw nothing egregious about this hit that would elevate it to supplemental discipline."

Agree with the lack of discipline or not, fans and media who follow the Sabres could see this coming for years. The cry has always been: "the Sabres need to get tougher." I, for one, didn't always buy it. What did that even mean? Throw a bunch of guys out there to drop their gloves, get a bunch of penalties and give up a bunch of power-play opportunities. Miller has been hit before and seemingly nothing has been done. Scott Gomez hit him behind the net a couple of years ago, was given a couple of love taps from the Sabres, and let go on his merry way. Opposing players crash the crease night after night knowing: 1), it is one of a few ways to get into Miller's head to get him off of his game; and 2) nobody on the Sabres will do anything about it. Andrej Sekera, Tyler Myers, Thomas Vanek, Paul Gaustad and even captain Jason Pominville were on the ice when Miller was drilled, but nobody gave Lucic anything more than a bit of a glove wash to the face for his actions. This is unacceptable for a core group of players that has been together for as long as the Sabres have been.

Lindy Ruff sounded like he knew what needed to be done Saturday night with his comments following the game. "I thought it was a major," Ruff said. "I thought if it was open season on goalies then let's get at it." But nothing was done to Lucic, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas or anybody on the Boston bench for that matter.

Ruff slapped a letter on Gaustad's chest this summer because he's a big guy who plays the game hard, but rarely does Gaustad send much of a physical message anymore. Cody McCormick drops the gloves pretty often, but he seems to do it for the show, not for the message. Patrick Kaleta talks the talk, but rarely if ever walks the walk. Robyn Regehr was traded for in the offseason to add a rugged, physical presence to the blueline but that has also yet to be seen.

A few years ago Ottawa's Chris Neil hit Sabres captain Chris Drury setting off a memorable brawl at then-HSBC Arena. Following the hit, Ruff threw out a line of players who knew what needed to be done and they did it. That moment brought the team together and helped set up a magical playoff run that didn't end until the Eastern Conference finals.

There are a couple of new faces on this year's Sabres squad that could probably use a nice bonding moment like Saturday night's unfortunate hit to show them what it means to be a member of the 2011-12 Buffalo Sabres. Miller suffered a concussion and the Sabres are not sure if he will be out long term or not. Fans have wavered due to Miller's lackluster play recently, but the Sabres will only go as far as Miller takes them this year — they need him healthy.

Boston will visit Buffalo the night before Thanksgiving and hopefully Buffalo makes Lucic the new Neil and the Bruins become the new Senators. I'm not one to condone an-eye-for-an-eye justice, but if the league isn't going to do anything to protect its star players not named Sidney Crosby, individual teams will have to.

 
 

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Blog Photos

Players from the Boston Bruins, including Johnny Boychuk (55) and Zdeno Chara (33), scuffle with the Buffalo Sabres as Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) gets up after coming out of the net and being decked by the Bruins' Milan Lucic on a breakaway in the first period in Boston, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Lucic was called for charging. The Bruins won 6-2. AP photo