The Sabres won their first game already and are .500. Too bad its the pre-season where those kind of stats are irrelevant to the playoffs. Fortunately it’s the preseason and those things matter for fans and management alike. So the Sabres finished in last place a season ago but that was a prior season when Tim Murray was so painfully sick he up-chucked nearly the entire roster. Murray’s purge led to his subsequent binge of draft picks and free agent signings. Those acts make for an exciting pre-season for fans, management, people, and probably players alike!
After watching a practice on Saturday and attending their win versus Carolina last night a great deal of my focus this season will be on the defense. The defense will be the litmus test for subsequent seasons, in my opinion. The Sabres have a burgeoning defense. Fan favorite Myers, soon to be if not already a favorite Gorges (if for nothing else than spurning Toronto and CHOOSING to play in Buffalo), and of course young twin towers in Ristolainen and Zadurov. The later is perhaps a couple years in the works but the best promise according to many scouts. My favorite defender though is Mark Pysyk. Aside from good looks and charm – never having met him – he is my player to watch. He has the ability to shut down the opposition which he demonstrated in his time with both the Sabres last season as well as the Amerks.
He has a skill I highly value in my defensemen (in any sport); the ability to play offense while on defense and defense while on offense. Some may liken it to transitioning simultaneously from defense to offense or from offense to defense but it’s actually a more subtle skill though comparable. If one is familiar with world football think gay friendly Philip Lahm of Deutschland. Much like Lahm I believe Pysyk to be the teams keystone on defense. He will be able to transition this latent ice-capped volcano to erupt like Mount St. Helens.
Pysyk suffered an upper-body injury in the first minute of play during Tuesday nights contest against the mighty Hurricanes. As a result Nolan adjusted all night his defense pairings. As a whole the defense did not use their space well nor did they transition from one side of the rink to the other with much vigor. Their play was admirable marked by highlights from none other than Tyler Myers. His defense is noticeably better already. He starred in both the open game more akin to his skill set as well as the closed game corresponding to the mentality of the Sabres. Myers allowed his body to get some work in! Meszaros’s highlights are mentioned here. He is a player I am incredibly happy we signed. I have liked his play since he first came into the league despite him being a Flyer for a few seasons. I firmly believe Meszaros will do so well for us and us for him!
With all this defense talk my star of the game is a forward, shockingly. It came out of nowhere and surprised you just like Zac Dalpe did to me Tuesday night. At practice on Saturday he wasn’t even on my radar in Group A. Overshadowed by the likes of Pysyk, Reinhart, Ristolainen, Zadorov, and by promising players in Carrier and Samuels-Thomas (look for them to shine wherever they play!!!), was Dalpe. Only drills were had in practice. Come game time Tuesday night he was the one player I couldn’t help but observe. Speed abound he had while being everywhere on the ice.
At 24 yrs old 6’1″ 195lbs he wasn’t doling out hits nor did he shy away from them either. He used his body as needed to strip the puck (my kind of player). He had the best pace of all the players on the ice including his former franchise in Carolina. I couldn’t help but be astonished with his positional play. Offense went to defense which turned to offense with each twist and turn of his sound frame. All I saw was #20 skating everywhere. Only when he was on the bench and not moving was there a name with that number – Dalpe. Never had I heard of him, impressive he was though.
No doubt playing against former friends aided his drive. Coach Nolan though gave him plenty of respect to prove himself. Zac played a minute and a half on both the PP as well as the PK – he shone on the PK in the first period. Nolan rewarded with the second most ice time by a forward despite Dalpe winning only 33% of his faceoffs. Clearly that is a skill he’ll have to work on. He was at 45.9% last year in 55 games with the inept Vancouver Canucks.
While researching for this article I found out his history. He’s a native of Paris, ON. He played last season with Vancouver, his childhood team. Zac signed with Buffalo in a one year deal over the summer. I have already mentioned his speed, like Speedy Gonzalez.
In addition he has energy, shoots well, passes well, and is very versatile. He can play center or on the wing – the Sabres might require him on the wing despite performing well with Stewart. The critical side has him not being assertive (physical contact) while his defense needs some polishing. Even as he is I forsee him playing on either the 3rd (most likely) or the 2nd line and garnering short-handed goals. The Sabres could use some PK threats (a lost thought in hockey). He has the skills and qualities I look for in a player. I hope he performs well-enough for a contract extension as I see him being a talent. Be it in Buffalo or my hometown Rochester – where he purchased his truck (9:40 mark) – the waves of barley atop his head, the two spheres of a calm night’s sky below those golden stalks will be a heart-warming sight come game time.