This was my second trip to the new Buffalo Arena. On my first trip it was named after some other corporate entity and now it is named after a different corporate entity. Despite playing a game of musical names, the building remains one of my favorite places to see a game among the nine NHL arenas I have visited thus far.
Getting to the arena was easy and we found $5 parking a short walk from the front entrance. The arena in Buffalo has one main entrance and all the fans file in through multiple doors into a three-story high glass atrium. After you pass through the doors you then stand in line to have you ticket scanned--which means you don't have to wait outside in the cold as long—an important arrangement in chilly upstate New York. You then turn to your right or left to go up an escalator to the main concourse level.
We arrived fairly early so we had time to stroll around the place. There is a good amount of space on the lower concourse and you can move around quite easily. The same cannot be said of the upper concourse which was rather crowded and hard to navigate. There are also fewer ways for you to go between the upper and lower concourses which means that you don't really have time during the intermissions to dash downstairs for something like you do in Atlanta.
The biggest drawback to their arena is the food, which is extremely boring at best. Our local ECHL team, the Gwinnett Gladiators has more interesting food choices than this place. The menu consisted of: popcorn, piazza slice, candy, cotton candy, pretzels, soft drinks, peanuts and beer, of course. When I asked the guy sitting next to me what was good to eat here he said "I don't know. All I ever get is beer" which may sum up the dining interests of the typical Sabres fan. Certainly the menu doesn't really entice you into spending money on something new or different. Seems to me that Buffalo could earn some more concession dollars with a better menu.
My seat was in the very first row of the upper deck (Section 313) right behind Lehtonen (for periods 1 and 3) so I had a great view--very similar to my seats in Atlanta--but nearly three times as expensive.
Buffalo fans gave me a LOT more grief about my Thrashers jersey than the Pittsburgh fans did. I was encouraged to go back to Atlanta several times. A few people just stared at me like I had two heads or something. When I first sat down the fans next to me gave me some good-natured kidding about being in the wrong section. There was some good banter back and forth as the game remained close until the very end. The people on my right explained that they came to this particular game because the Thrashers had ended the Sabres points streak at the start of the season and they were hoping for a bit of revenge.
Perhaps the most striking thing about walking around the arena is that virtually everybody was wearing the new Buffalo jerseys with the Buff-a-slug on the front. The new jerseys just became available this season and seemingly every man, woman and child had one in their possession.
I went down by the glass for warm-ups and saw another couple on wearing a Lehtonen St. Patrick's Day jersey that had been autographed. There was a Buffalo STH who had created a large sign for Eric Boulton. She was standing next to me by the glass and explained that Boulton used to go to her husband's gym and that he was "good with the kids" (her kids were also on the glass to say hello). Jon Sim skated by and touched his stick blade to the sign and shook his head with this funny expression like he was sorry that she was wasting her time on a 4th liner like Boulton.
After both national anthems were sung the game began and the Thrashers had the puck in the Buffalo end most of the first period. The Buffalo goal came on one of their few offensive chances. I was surprised that the game was not more of shoot-out given the offensive nature of both squads. The Thrashers did an outstanding job of limiting Buffalo's speed through the neutral zone. The goals that the Thrashers did give up were on close in shots that Lehtonen had very little chance to stop. I though Kari played outstanding despite giving up three goals. For what it is worth I talked to someone who watched the Buffalo feed on CenterIce and the Buffalo play-by-play guy stated that the Thrashers outplayed the Sabres and that Buffalo was fortunate to win the game.
The failure of the Thrashers power play in the 1st period really came back to haunt them, because you only get so many opportunities to score against a top team and Atlanta tossed away their man advantage chances early on. Without crunching any numbers it seems to me that a weak power play has become a real drag on the Thrashers offense of late.
Hossa was fairly invisible with just one power move to the net, I know that he left the bench at one point so perhaps he has some injury we were not made aware of. Kovalchuk was forced to the outside far too often, needs to try to cut back to the middle more often in my opinion. The failure of Krog to cash in on point blank slot chance on PP in the third really hurt, a goal there would have tied the game. I'm glad they called up Krog to give him the answer but he sure looks like a NHL 3rd line center and not a solution for the 1st or 2nd line center problems. The Holik, Vigier and Slater group were the best line in the game. As much as it pains me to admit this, Vigier had another good game in what has been a good month for him.