The story on Ryan Miller and Milan Lucic has had a few days to simmer, both in the national media and here in Buffalo.
The big news came down yesterday when it was confirmed that Miller had indeed been concussed on the collision with Lucic. After having a hearing with the Shanahmmer, Lucic was cleared of any supplemental discipline, the right call in my book. Perhaps the hit was worthy of one or two games off, but really it was no more than a dirty play – it wasn’t even close to the things Matt Cooke has done.
The dirty hit wasn’t even the most despicable part of the play. The worst part is that he did not have to answer for his actions; the Sabres failure to respond was downright embarrassing.
Yes, Lucic runs around the ice and plays a game that toes the line between clean and dirty. Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand do the same thing; their style is to intimidate and grind out their opponents. More often than not, Lucic and Marchand are well into dirty territory regarding their play. Sometimes they get a call, sometimes not. It is just how they play the game, you need to accept it in some regard but it certainly makes hating them an easy task.
In regards to Saturday, Lucic took a cheap shot at Miller and was trying to do nothing other than put the Sabres goalie onto the main concourse of TD Garden. In no way was he thinking of avoiding the goalie and slowing down, he saw Miller in his path and made sure to clear him from the tracks. For some reason, the Sabres chose not to respond in kind. Suspension or not, something needed to be done.
Thomas Vanek shouldn’t be required to step up in that situation, at least he attempted to return the favor, although his hit barely affected Lucic. Then the purse tossing started from the boys in blue and gold. Andrej Sekera slid in and softly pushed Lucic against the boards, meanwhile Tyler Myers came in with a similarly weak effort. Paul Gaustad was late to the party, but really didn’t do much to stand up for Miller either. After that? Nothing from the Sabres. Cody McCormick was quiet, as was Pat Kaleta. There were no big hits or fights, they didn’t run at Tim Thomas (the wrong response) nor did they attempt to reassert themselves from a general physical standpoint.
Maybe trying to fight Lucic in that moment would have been foolish. The only two players on the roster truly capable of handling Lucic in a fight – Robyn Regehr and McCormick – weren’t on the ice. Of course they didn’t challenge him later in the game. So, maybe you don’t have someone who can immediately drop the gloves and make Lucic pay. However, you have the option of taking an eye for an eye.
This is going to come across as extremely dirty, but if I wasn’t capable of holding my own in a fight with Lucic I would have taken the next step. Whether it was trying to put the butt end of my stick through his nose or giving him a lumberjack hack elsewhere, I would have made him remember the time he ran Ryan Miller. Is that overkill? Certainly. Would it be a better response that what the Sabres put forth? Yes, by default. Still, it would have been a response.
Now, those are the most extreme measures of retribution for the actions Lucic took. Maybe the best course will be to have Kaleta or someone else catch him with a big body check. McCormick or Regehr could even engage him in a fight. It doesn’t matter, so long as he pays for his actions and pays hard.
That brings this argument back to square one. Where was the rest of the team for that very play or for the remaining 40 minutes of hockey? How is it possible for a professional hockey team with their eyes set on the Stanley Cup unable to respond when their starting goaltender and top star gets scummed by the other team?
Not only did the Sabres fail to step up and answer the bell on Saturday, they put up a billboard for the rest of the NHL saying, “you can push us but we won’t push back.”