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When it comes to winning, Kaleta takes advantage

Just for kicks and giggles, let's start with Friday night's game and move backward before determining whether lovable little homegrown winger Patrick Kaleta is the dirty, nasty, despicable, miserable human being as is alleged by his adversaries. And when we reach the end, you make the call.

The Sabres had a 1-0 lead in the first period over the Canucks when Kaleta popped defenseman Shane O'Brien after the whistle. O'Brien obviously hasn't been watching recent video on the Sabres, hasn't read the book on Kaleta. His response was belting Kaleta with a right to the head in an attempt to bait Kaleta into a dust-up.

Kaleta kept his gloves on his hands, folded himself into a fetal position that's known in street-fighting circles as the turtle, absorbed a few more blows and watched O'Brien skate into the penalty box for four minutes. Clarke MacArthur scored on the power play, the Canucks were off their game and the outcome was predictable.

The final result: Sabres 5, Canucks 2.

On Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden, the Sabres were locked in a tight-checking 1-1 tie when Kaleta took a run at Rangers defenseman Paul Mara. OK, so he was guilty of leaving his feet. But at worst it was a glancing blow, a whiff. Afterward, Mara called Kaleta classless for making a wisecrack about his face during the scrum. It was a touchy subject considering Kaleta did, in fact, rearrange Mara's face last season.

Of course, to suggest Mara overreacted is like saying Americans are slightly dissatisfied with the White House. In reality, Mara snapped, became unglued, lost his marbles, went berserk. He dropped his gloves and began firing away while Kaleta, who kept his composure, attempted to protect himself. Mara was issued a five-minute major and ejected. Thomas Vanek scored the winner on the ensuing power play.

The final result: Sabres 3, Rangers 1.

On Monday afternoon, the Sabres had a 4-0 lead against a frustrated Islanders team when three fights simultaneously broke out. Adam Mair shouldn't have been fighting, which was why Craig Rivet came to the rescue. Kaleta was prepared to get involved when tough defenseman Brendan Witt attacked him.

Kaleta's mistake was trusting for a millisecond that he could ease up without retribution from Witt after the two wrestled to the ice. Big blunder. Witt gained his feet and again charged Kaleta, who body-slammed Witt to the ice. Lesson learned. Witt needed five stitches to repair a gash that opened when his head bounced off the ice. He was ejected.

The final result: Sabres 7, Isles 1.

Last Friday, in the season opener against Montreal, Kaleta was on the ice for about 12 seconds before getting under the Canadiens' skin like a prison tattoo. Ryan O'Byrne wound up taking an interference penalty later in the period. The Sabres didn't score, but it was two fewer minutes that they had to deal with the Habs.

The final result: Sabres 2, Canadiens 1 (SO).

Kaleta has drawn 28 minutes in penalties, three of which resulted in power plays, two of which resulted in four minutes or more with the extra man, two power-play goals and two ejections.

Look, folks, I don't need to defend Kaleta. He's a big boy who is plenty capable of standing on his own two feet and facing charges that he's a troublemaker who refuses to fight. The allegations are fair enough on the surface. There's going to come a time in which, yes, he'll be forced to drop his gloves. Believe me, he knows.

But why would he start brawling now when boneheaded opponents insist on doing all the fighting for him? He had half of the AHL after him when he played in Rochester, so this is nothing new. He's the kind of player opponents despise and teammates adore. He plays with an edge and sometimes goes over the edge.
Yeah, I know, there's the unwritten code among tough guys that says players should be accountable for their actions on the ice. Here's a secret: Kaleta doesn't give a hoot about the code. The only thing he cares about is winning, and so far he has contributed more to winning than O'Brien, Mara, Witt and O'Byrne have combined.

The final result: The Sabres are 4-0.


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