The Sabres don't have to make a decision right away on their top six defensenen because of an injury to Andrej Sekera, but a decision will have to come soon enough. It will be difficult to decide who sits but it won't be "Big Hank".
Over the last couple of seasons we have seen the rise and fall of Henrik Tallinder. With the way he is playing this year, we might see him rise again.
During the 2005-2006 season, the pairing of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman became the Sabres shutdown pair. They played against the other team's top line and helped the Sabres advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Tallinder suffered a broken arm in that series after being hit awkwardly into the boards by then Hurricanes forward Mark Recchi. The Sabres went on to lose that series in seven games and the Canes beat the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup.
Those days seem really far away after watching this team the last two seasons. The team regressed dramatically, mainly because of the regression of some key players. Tallinder was at the top of the list of disappointing players.
Tallinder had regressed so far that it was painful to watch his struggles. He was often out position, he was slow to react, he made awful decisions with the puck and just played with no confidence. At first his struggles were surprising but by the end of last season, you expected him to make a mistake every time he was on the ice.
This past off-season speculation about his future reached a fever pitch. Fans and media wanted to see changes after the team missed the playoffs two seasons in a row and Tallinder was one of the first to go in many people's mind. Darcy Regier promised changes and many of us thought it were a foregone conclusion the Sabres would start the season without Hank on the roster.
The off-season came and went with Tallinder still on the roster. That only made speculation increase that much more "surely he won't actually play" or "This team doesn't want to win if they play Tallinder" were common phrases for Sabres fans. There was a general certainty that he was on the roster because of his contract but he would never see the ice.
Just days before the seasons started, Toni Lydman suffered an injury that opened up a spot for Tallinder to play. The first couple of games passed by and the Sabres played good team defense. Immediately the defense gained some positive energy.
Now the season is eight games old and Tallinder leads the team as a plus-9. He has been good in both ends of the ice and even had two assists against Florida on Wednesday night.
|2009 - Henrik Tallinder||8||0||3||3||9||12||0||0||0||0||3||0.0|
Maybe it was clearing his head in the off-season, maybe it is being rejuvenated by playing alongside 19 year-old rookie Tyler Myers, maybe it is the play of the entire defense or it might even be luck. Whatever it is, it's working. Tallinder is playing his best hockey since the 2005-2006 season.
The pairing of Myers and Tallinder has been a pleasant surprise for the Sabres. We all knew that Tallinder could play at an elite level in the NHL and we all knew that Myers had the potential to become an elite player in the league but none of us knew it would happen so quickly. Tallinder is quickly erasing the memories of the last two seasons and him and Myers have us thinking of the future.