How typical of the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres picked up a point for a fourth straight game in a hard-fought road game against the New York Rangers last night, eventually losing in a shootout 3-2.
Ryan Miller was great. The defensive zone coverage was solid. The neutral zone wasn’t quite the bumbling mess it has been the last month.
But then Pat Kaleta happened.
First, before we get to the hit, it should be said that Kaleta has played the smartest — yes, it is a relative term with Kaleta — hockey in years so far this season. He’s a pest, and he always will be, but he seemingly has kept his nose out of the mud for the most part. He also has become one of the team’s top penalty killers as of late. His offensive skill is extremely limited, but he hasn’t been the weakest link mentally that he has been in seasons past.
It’s understood that Kaleta is one of the more well-liked Sabres by Buffalo fans. His spat with Ilya Kovalchuk on Saturday afternoon was a great example of it.
But regardless of what Sabres fans’ feelings may be, Kaleta may be running his course, and last night’s hit is a great example of that.
That sentiment doesn’t come from the type of player Kaleta is generally; it comes from the notion that the type of player Kaleta is now hurting the Sabres as a whole.
Sure, you can stomach the occasional dumb minor, but last night’s penalty itself, never mind the situation in which he took it, is something that a team cannot and should not stomach. A five minute major is devastating in a close game, never mind in the third period on the road. Add in the fact that it was on the penalty kill and gave the Rangers almost a full two minute 5-on-3 makes it about as bad as it gets.
It took the Rangers about 10 seconds to score on the 5-on-3 and they cashed in less than a minute later on the major penalty. It took a game that the Sabres had pretty well in hand, given the solid road effort they were giving to that point, and turned it on its head.
It’s not even like it was close. I’m sorry but if you wholeheartedly believe Kaleta did nothing wrong you may need to get your head checked. It was an objectively awful hit. Many have commented on Richards “putting himself in a vulnerable position,” but that is an awful excuse for an awful hit. Richards had his back to Kaleta, but had his back to him from at least the faceoff dot and Kaleta hit him as he left the circle. Beyond that, Kaleta was on the penalty kill and reasonably shouldn’t be applying that kind of pressure on the half wall when the puck was clearly Richards’.
Kaleta simply cannot keep putting himself in this position. Richards’ comments were a window into what the rest of the NHL thinks of Kaleta. “I don’t know what game he plays, actually,” may be the most telling quote, but it’s obvious the rest of the NHL is not a fan of No. 36.
This is where the Sabres have to come to terms with whether or not they want a guy like Kaleta on the ice anymore. They have an agitator in Steve Ott that has played well offensively and is well-respected across the league (by everyone except Jack Edwards). Kaleta probably cost the team a point and will be the target of the ire of more than just the Rangers in the future.
Simply put, his contract at $1.25 million per year for this and two more years seems a bit much for someone who seems to only bring negatives, which is now the ire of the entire NHL.
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